What is word stress?

1 English words are made up of syllables. For example, the word indeed has two syllables. The word confidence has three. Each syllable contains one vowel sound.

2 One syllable is always "stressed" more than the others. This means that it is spoken a little louder and longer than the other syllables.

Click the buttons to listen to the stress.


Why is word stress important?

1 The wrong word stress makes a word sound 'weird' and you may be misunderstood.

Listen to the right and wrong versions here.

Sounds right
Sounds 'weird'
2 If word stress is different in your first language, it is important to adjust this in the way you speak English.

For example, in French, the LAST syllable is stressed (and only a little more), whereas in English, it may be any syllable.

Listen to the French pronunciation of the word cathedrale (slight stress on the final syllable) compared to the English word cathedral (stress on the second syllable).


Important Concepts: Fixed word stress

In English, stress patterns are FIXED. In the word cathedral, for example, the stress is ALWAYS on the second syllable and never on the first or third syllable.

This is true even if the word is used in a question or a sentence showing uncertainty or so on.

Important Concepts: Word stress and pronunciation

Is word stress the same as pronunciation?

No. It is possible to pronounce the individual sounds of a word correctly, but still get the word stress wrong. It's a separate issue to study and practice.

How do I know where to add the word stress?

1 In a standard dictionary, you will find a quote mark BEFORE the stressed syllable in the phonetic pronunciation.

So, we can see that the word stress in hilarious is on the SECOND syllable.

2 The Google pronunciation tool shows the stressed syllable in bold.

To access the Google pronunciation tool, type pronounce + [word] into a Google search.

3 But the very best way to master word stress is to learn to recognize and be aware of word stress whenever you hear a new word.


Most two-syllable English words have the stress on the first syllable for nouns or the second syllable for verbs.