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Where do I Put Word Stress?

There are some word stress rules about which syllable to stress. But...the rules are rather complicated! Probably the best way to learn is from experience. Listen carefully to spoken English and try to develop a feeling for the "music" of the language.

When you learn a new word, you should also learn its stress pattern. If you keep a vocabulary book, make a note to show which syllable is stressed. If you do not know, you can look in a dictionary. All dictionaries give the phonetic spelling of a word. This is where they show which syllable is stressed, usually with an apostrophe (') just before or just after the stressed syllable. (The notes in the dictionary will explain the system used.)

Look at (and listen to) this example for the word plastic. There are two syllables and the first syllable is stressed.

stressno stress
phonetic spelling for plastic
dictionary A dictionary B
/plæs' tIk/ /'plæs tIk/

Notice that dictionary A uses a different system to dictionary B to show which syllable is stressed. Of course, it's the same word (plastic), and the stress is the same (the first syllable). But dictionary A puts an apostrophe after the stressed syllable, and dictionary B puts an apostrophe before the stressed syllable. You need to check your dictionary's notes to know which system it uses.