The Music of English – Syllable Stress & Almost Rules

Episode 4 of The Music of English explores the challenge of trying to  learn the “rules” of English pronunciation from a book.

While simple language “rules” make learning easier, English pronunciation is full of exceptions. But we can begin by learning to listen actively for some of the most common patterns of stress in the two-syllable words we hear most frequently. I call these patterns ”almost” rules and, as well as identifying them, I also provide exceptions.

“Almost Rule #1” — We tend to stress most two-syllable nouns, adjectives, and adverbs on the first syllable. You hear me use the following examples: really, music, English, difference, sometimes, almost, every, adverbs, and tired. I also use two exceptions: again and relief. Here are some others: balloon, request, belief, dessert, before, and away (to name only a few).

“Almost Rule #2” — We tend to stress most two-syllable verbs on the second syllable. You hear “begin” and “explain,” but I could have included others, such as repeat, attend, prevent, and permit. While we stress most verbs on the second syllable, we also have many that are stressed on the first syllable. The two examples used in this episode are “study” and “listen.”  Here are some others: travel, offer, suffer, happen, cater.

“Almost Rule #3” — We tend to accent most two-syllable words that are both nouns and verbs or adjectives and verbs on the first syllable of the noun and the adjective but the second syllable of the verb. I use “proGRESS” as a verb,  “PROgress” as a noun; “perFECT” as a verb,  “PERfect” as an adjective, “reCALL” as a verb, “REcall” as a noun; and “PREsent” as a noun but “preSENT” as a verb.

It’s important to be aware of common stress patterns and to listen carefully for that higher pitch, louder volume, and longer beat. Only by listening carefully can you absorb the music. But once you do, every exception becomes obvious and sticks with you.

This episode’s listening suggestion is a song called “I Believe”. It was written for the winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it was sung by then 16-year-old Nikki Yanovski — such a terrific singer. It’s a great song and so life-affirming!

And, of course, it’s always good practice to read along with this episode Episode 4-Syllable stress-almost rules to give your ears a good “work-out,” listening carefully to the pronunciation, then speaking the text aloud, stopping and starting the video to check what you’re hearing against what you’re reading AND how you’re saying it. Each two-syllable word is identified with the correct stress to help you at I Believe lyrics.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.