Lesson 12 – Sentence stress

In today’s lesson, we will start learning about sentence stress.


The only way you are going to get good pronunciation is by doing copious amounts of listening.

This isn’t a children’s course, but listening to children speak is a good way to practice your pronunciation. Stop the video after every sentence and try to repeat it the same way the speaker said it. If you need to, you can also slow down the audio in the settings.



Your homework last time was to find words with matching stress patterns.


minus, judgment, atom, muffin, earner, pencil, student, number, insight, summer, ferry, perfect, princess, Monday, London, people, couple, window


disease, around, reply, apply, involve, attend, provide, employ, imply, deny, insane, hotel, revise, perform, require, demand, supply, today, July, respect, above, complete, today


vigilance, emphasis, personal, industry, actually, challenging, concentrate, happily, hastily, wonderful, melody, critical, sympathy, frequently, cognitive, Africa, animal, Canada, consonant, triangle


abandon, delicious, prestigious, pajamas, electric, formation, linguistic, uncover, disclosure, accustomed, informing, advantage, disorder, semester, expensive, conviction, connection, Melissa, potato, tomato, amazing, vacation, protection, location


guarantee, overlook, kangaroo, understand, undertake, interfere, Japanese, out of work, wildest dreams, well behaved


personally, operator, noticeable, ultimately, carpenterworm, dandelion, isolated, melancholy, similarly, competency, dictionary, mandatory, necessary, supervisor

Note that the following words are usually read with a ‘1-2-3 pattern in spoken English:

memorable, desperately, dangerously, literature, comfortable, interesting, obviously


mechanical, catastrophe, apostrophe, unfortunate, significance, incapable, unpopular, continuous, autonomy, autonomous, photographer, photography, intelligence, monopoly, identify, community, degenerate, insoluble, certificate, appreciate


education, economic, mathematics, uninvited, hyperactive, inspiration, satisfaction, understanding, monolingual, undefeated, independence, innovation, academic, animation, navigation, recognition, execution, obligation, population


mathematical, indeterminate, university, aboriginal, opportunity, biochemistry, archeology, universally, undesirable, technological, geometrical, longitudinal, revolutionize, capability, anniversary, unidentified, intermediate, curiosity, architectural, immemorial


communication, pronunciation, participation, examination, procrastination, imagination, discrimination, determination, denomination, Illuminati, ecclesiastic, intoxication, alliteration

A few notes about marking stress:

You usually put the stress mark before the consonant in the stressed syllable:

  • ˈstudent, aˈbout, adˈvantage

If there is a double letter then put it between the letters:

  • atˈtend, supˈply,  acˈcustom, comˈmunity, conˈnection, alˌliteˈration

Vowels determine the syllable:

  • sport (one syllable)
  • ˈsupport (two syllables)

Sentence stress

Look at the following stress patterns:

  • 1-ˌ2-3-ˈ4-5
  • proˌnunciˈation
  • It’s ˌnice to ˈmeet you.

It’s the exact same stress pattern in all three examples. Even though a sentence is split into different words, you can say it as if it were a single word.

More examples

Listen to the pronunciation of the following sentences. Which words are stressed?

  • I’m glad to see you.
  • What do you do?
  • What’s your telephone number?
  • That’s a nice car.
  • What school do you go to?

Sentence stress patterns in different languages

Some languages have very regular word stress in a sentence. It could almost be likened to marching solders. 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.

Languages like this include the following:

  • Spanish
  • Japanese
  • Filipino (Tagalog)

Find audio recordings of these languages online to listen to them.

Sentence stress pattern in English

English has a much more irregular stress pattern.

This the picture above the little people represent unstressed words or syllables, and the big people represent stressed words or syllables.


English Poetry

Take a look at the first two lines of this poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

Break, break, break,
         On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
Notice that there are three words in the first line and seven words in the second line. But if you listen to it read notice that there are the same number of stressed words in each line.
ˈBreak, ˈbreak, ˈbreak,
         On thy ˈcold gray ˈstones, O ˈSea!
There are three stressed words in each line. You can read the rest of the poem here.

Sentence rhythm

Have a look at the following sentence:

When you read this the stressed syllables (big people) are said at a regular rhythm. The unstressed syllables (little people) get squished together when there are a lot of them between the stressed syllables.

Another poem

Listen to the stressed words in this poem. How many stresses are in each line? Which words have a primary stress?

Sea Fever
by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Listen again to the poem read by the original author. Which words does he stress?



  1. Mark the stressed words in Sea Fever and practice reading it yourself with a regular rhythm.
  2. Find 30 seconds of English audio. Transcribe it in IPA and mark the stressed words.

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