Word Stress and Sentence Stress

The Golden Key to English Pronunciation

Josef Essberger

Normally when we say "I feel stressed" it means "I feel anxious". Stress is a kind of worried feeling about life or work. But there is another kind of stress that actually helps us understand. This other kind of stress is an accent that we make on certain syllables and words when speaking English.

In some languages, for example Japanese, people say each syllable with equal force. But in English, and some other languages, we put a big force (stress) on some syllables and no force on other syllables or words. This can make it difficult for speakers of other languages to understand English that is spoken quickly. Of course, for native speakers it is not difficult - in fact, stress actually helps native speakers understand each other. So it is very important.

We shall talk here about WORD STRESS (stress on a syllable inside a word) and SENTENCE STRESS (stress on words inside a sentence).


Word stress is like a golden key to speaking and understanding English.

If you do not already know about word stress, you can try to learn about it. This is one of the best ways for you to understand spoken English - especially English spoken fast.

What is word stress?

Take 3 words: photograph, photographer and photographic. Do they sound the same when spoken? No. Because ONE syllable in each word is STRESSED (stronger than the others).

  • PHOtograph
  • phoTOgrapher
  • photoGRAPHic

This happens in ALL words with 2 or more syllables: TEACHer, JaPAN, CHINa, aBOVE, converSAtion, INteresting, imPORtant, deMAND, etCETera, etCETera, etCETera

The syllables that are not stressed are "weak" or "small" or "quiet". Native speakers of English listen for the STRESSED syllables, not the weak syllables. If you use word stress in your speech, you will instantly and automatically improve your pronunciation and your comprehension.

If you have an English teacher, you can ask her to help you understand word stress. Or you can try to hear the stress in individual words each time you listen to English - on the radio, or in films for example. Your first step is to HEAR and recognise it. After that, you can USE it.

Two important rules about word stress:

  1. One word, one stress
  2. The stress is always on a vowel


Sentence stress is another golden key for speaking and understanding English. With sentence stress, some words in a sentence are STRESSED (loud) and other words are weak (quiet). Look at the following sentence:

We want to go.

Do we say every word with the same stress or force? No. We make the important words BIG and the unimportant words small. What are the important words in this sentence? Yes, that's right: WANT and GO.

  • We WANT to GO.
  • We WANT to GO to WORK.
  • We DON'T WANT to GO to WORK.
  • We DON'T WANT to GO to WORK at NIGHT.

Now that you know that word stress exists, you can try to learn more about it.

You should KNOW that SENtence and WORD STRESS are VERy imPORtant !!!

© 2008 Josef Essberger