The Music of English – Syllable Stress & Compound Words

Episode 5 of The Music of English looks at stress in compound words with a particular focus on compound nouns.


Compound words are just little words put together to make a big word. They can be attached, separate, or even hyphenated. They can be nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs. And they’re really important because you hear them all the time. Every day, more and more compound words creep into the English language. For example, in February 2017, the Merriam-Webster dictionary added “binge-watch,” “first world problem,” “safe space,” “town hall,” “humblebrag,” and “chef’s knife” (to name just a few).

In this video, I take you on a little sightseeing tour around Toronto, Canada, to show you just how common compound words are. In fact, from the beginning of the video to the end of our little tour, I use 23 compound words—actually 25. I’m also using compounds when I mention the year “2017” and say the number “23.” I’m planning another episode devoted to dates and numbers.

Although I use adverbs such as “everywhere” and “anyway,” the adjective “commonplace,” and the verb “sightseeing,” you mostly hear compound nouns in this episode. The nouns are usually stressed on the first word, which describes the second and naturally draws our attention. It’s having that bit of detail that helps us to remember the entire compound word. Some of the examples I give are “Eaton Centre,” “lakeshore,” and “ice cream.” But since English pronunciation is very inconsistent, there are other compound nouns with the stress on the second word, such as “City Hall,” “afternoon,” and “Prime Minister.”

And when it comes to multi-syllable compound words, we simply accent the syllable that would normally take the stress in the stressed word anyway, so: “everywhere,” “swimming pool,” “credit card.”

This episode’s listening suggestion is a Molson’s beer commercial, one of the most famous Canadian television commercials of all time, aptly called “I Am Canadian.” You can tell that it was made in 2010. There was always that sense that we, as Canadians, felt inferior to our American cousins, that we had to prove ourselves. How things have changed in seven years! These days, Canada is very much on the map. It’s a very, very funny commercial! The music is rousing and patriotic, but still leaves us with the image of the self-effacing “nice” Canadian. Check it out at [I Am Canadian].

It always helps to read along with each episode 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. Here’s the transcript of Episode 5. [Episode 5-Compound Words]

And, finally, here’s the text of the commercial, with the compound words highlighted and the stress identified, as well as explanations for some of the words (which you probably won’t need). [I Am Canadian (beer commercial)].

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