The Music of English – Syllable Stress & Compound Verbs

Episode 6 of The Music of English looks at syllable stress in stand-alone compound verbs.

[Episode 6 YouTube]

Compound words are just little words put together to make a big word. There are so many, and the list of compound words keeps growing. It’s as if we’re always looking for some kind of shorthand, some simpler way, to communicate all the thoughts constantly swirling around in our heads.

In Episode 5, I focused on compound nouns. In this episode, I focus on compound verbs. And there are so many different kinds—from the single-word verbs, such as “babysit” or “double-click,” to the verbs with adverbs, prepositions, or both, all followed by an object. So I decided to address only one kind, the stand-alone compound verb. They don’t need to be followed by an object because the object is understood from the context. In Episode 6, there’s “Get on” (the streetcar) or “The peacock “flew away” (zoo is the object in the understood prepositional phrase “from the zoo”). In other examples, it’s because it’s a cultural reference. The compound verb “veg out” came about (another stand-alone compound verb) because of the association between vegetables and a lack of intelligence. A little aside here: the adverb that functions as a preposition followed by an object is properly called a “particle,” but whatever we call it, the stress pattern never changes. When it comes to stand-alone compound verbs, we always say the second word a little bit louder and a little bit longer. And if that word has more than one syllable? Well, we put the biggest stress on whichever syllable in the second word is normally stressed.

In order to study the stress pattern in the stand-alone compound verb, I invite you to “come along” with me on a visit to High Park, the largest public park in Toronto, Canada, located in the Bloor West Village neighbourhood. We have time to “catch up,” while we “wander around.” As the day ends, we go to a restaurant for a big meal of pasta and salad, a decadent dessert, and lots of wine. Since you don’t need to work the next day, you’ll be able to “veg out.”

Oh, and every time I end an episode with “Don’t give up,” you’re hearing a stand-alone compound verb.

This episode’s listening suggestion is a song called “Baby Step Back. [Baby Get Back] It’s by one of Canada’s most famous singer-songwriters, Gordon Lightfoot. If you’re not already familiar with Lightfoot, he wrote a lot of hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of his most famous include “Early Morning Rain,” “If You Could Read My Mind,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” and “Sundown.” My personal favourite is “Pussywillows, Cat-tails.” You can check them out on YouTube. The song I’ve chosen for this episode was written a bit later in his career, in 1982. It’s perfect for our purposes because the refrain is almost entirely composed of stand-alone compound verbs.

The lyrics are here [Baby Step Back lyrics] with the stand-alone compound verbs and their stress pattern highlighted. By the way, “highlight” is a single-word compound verb. Compound words really are everywhere.

Here’s the transcript of Episode 6. [Episode 6-Compound Verbs]

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