How to Place Stress in a Sentence

//How to Place Stress in a Sentence

How to Place Stress in a Sentence

By | 2019-01-05T23:48:48+00:00 January 4th, 2019|Blog|1 Comment

How to place stress in a sentence

Last time, we discussed how to place stress in a word. This time, we’d like to discuss a more complicated matter: how to place stress in a sentence. If you haven’t read our last post, check it out here! It will give you some background information that will make it easier to learn how to place stress in a sentence.

Moving on from syllables to words

Now that you’ve mastered the rules of stress within a word, let’s expand to sentences. Don’t stress; we’ve got some clear and simple rules for you to follow to ensure you’ll place the emphasis on the proper word!

Each thought contains only ONE primary stress point.

It’s common that English Language Learners (ELLs) will use multiple primary stress points, due to the stress rules of their native language. Adding more stress points than is necessary can lead to speaker confusion and miscommunication.

Place the stress on what’s important.

Structure words are used to sound more grammatically correct and give the sentence its form. They can also be called “filler” words. Structure words are not usually stressed, and can be words like “the”, “and”, or “for”.

The opposite of structure words are called content words. Content words are the keywords of a sentence, giving the thought meaning. Without them, we would be confused about the speaker’s intention. These can be words like “buy”, “house”, or “America”. Content words are where we place stress.

Primary stress usually falls on the last significant, or content word in the thought (think nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs – don’t think articles like “the” or “a”, or  prepositions like “to” or “from”).

Primary stress is placed on the last significant word in a sentence.

This does not necessarily mean that the stress is placed on the absolute last word in the sentence. It can be placed in two ways:

  1. The last word of the sentence:

Verb: “The employees overheard.”
Adjective: “Their supplies were sufficient.”
Adverb: “He laughed loudly.”

2. The last significant word, followed by less significant words. These can include prepositional phrases, compound nouns, verbs and objects or modifiers, or adjective phrases:

Noun: “I’d like a glass of it.”
Verb: “We ate it.”
Adjective: “It appeared fake to me.”
Adverb: “He acted foolishly about it.”
Compound Noun: “He has a new office space.
Compound Verb: “I asked her to put it out.”
Modifiers in Comparisons: “I finished the race after she did.”

Stress is placed where the highest pitch point is.

Another way to identify the primary stress point is to determine where the highest pitch point is. This can be identified by listening to the speaker, as this website demonstrates with some free practice exercises and audio! Check out the exercises and see if you can determine the primary stress point by listening to where the highest pitch in the sentence is located.

To produce a word with a primary stress point in a sentence, make it louder, longer, and at a higher pitch than the other words. Immediately after saying the primary stress word, your voice should gradually decrease in pitch to say the remaining words.

Consider the context.

Lastly, one sentence can have multiple different meanings depending on how the speaker places the stress. Usually, if the speaker wants to emphasize or draw attention to a particular part of the sentence, that word will be stressed.

For example, the sentence, “I don’t think she will listen to him” can have 7 different meanings, depending on what the speaker intends to convey. This may sound daunting, but once you consider the context, it’s much easier to determine!

If you missed us last week, check out our last post, Where to Place Stress in a Word!

Questions or Comments? Contact us here.

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Sikorski, L. D. (2014). Mastering Effective English Communication: Intonation Patterns of American English (1st ed.) [EBook].

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