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Word stress in English 


Where to put the tonic accent on words in English 


SIX BASIC RULES
for placing the tonic accent on multi-syllable words in English.



These rules do not cover all the aspects of word stress in English; but they do cover the large majority of plurisyllabic words in the language.
Word stress in English can seem to be a very complicated issue. Where do we put the accent on multi-syllable words in English? English people don't often make mistakes, but they never learn any rules! Obviously therefore there must be some fairly simple basic "rules" that apply .

The problem:  should you say:  difficult or difficult or difficult?
Here are the six main principles that determine how words are stressed or accentuated in English.

  1.  A word is normally stressed on the first syllable, unless there is a reason to put the stress somewhere else.

  2. The "reasons" are either suffixes (like -ity or -ion) or prefixes (like con-, dis-, ex- or in-).

  3. If the suffix (ending) starts with the letters i or u this will usually affect the position of stress in a word.
    Sample suffixes: -ion, -ual, -ial, -ient, -ious, -ior,  -ic, -ity, etc.
    The stress comes on the syllable before the suffix.
    Examples: Atlantic, comic, sufficient, explanation, residual.
    There are only a very few exceptions to this rule.

  4. Other suffixes do not affect the stress of a word.
    Sample suffixes: -al, -ous, -ly, -er, -ed, -ist, -ing, -ment 
    Examples: Permanent,  permanently, develop, development

  5.  ► Prefixes are not normally stressed in two-syllable words, except in  some nouns or adjectives.
    Examples:  To ex'pand, to de'fend; but an 'expert, a report.
    Bisyllabic nouns starting with a prefix need to be learned individually.

      Prefixes are usually stressed in three-syllable nouns and adjectives, but not always stressed in verbs.
    Examples: 'Continent, 'incident, 'exercise;
         to con'sider, to en'visage but to 'indicate
    (All three syllable verbs ending in -ate are stressed on the first syllable)
    .

  6. Rule 3 takes priority over all others, notably when a "rule 3 ending" is followed by a "rule 4 ending",
    Examples :  perpetually, deliciously, conditional, conditioner, illusionist.
This list of rules is not complete, but it does explain where to place the main accent  in  the majority of  words in English.

Example Take a selection of words in the family of the word nation. The position of the tonic syllable changes according to the rules above.
Nation   national  international  nationalist  nationalistic nationalistically nationalising  nationalisation


Can you correctly place the tonic syllable (main stress) in these words which all obey the rules?

Britain,  England,  Edinburgh,  region, regional, economic, to complain, community, to refuse, considering, complexity.


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