Learning Blog

Communicate your meaning in English with Sentence Stress

What is sentence stress?

Sentence stress is the way we emphasise or make some words sound strong and unstress or make some words sound weak. Here is an example of a sentence with weakly stressed words and strongly stressed words. Read it aloud and stress the bold words and not the others.

  1. The sun is shining and the waves are rolling onto the shoreline.

How do we stress words and unstress other words?

We can stress or emphasise words in different ways. We can say them a little louder, a little slower, or a little higher in pitch and pause a little before and after the word. When we don’t stress words we say them more quickly, more softly and with a lower pitch. Contractions of auxiliary verbs are another way to not stress words in a sentence. Again, read the following sentence aloud and stress the bold words and not the others.

  1. There are fisherman with their buckets and fishing lines.

Which words do we stress and which words do we not stress?

Usually we stress the information words such as the adjectives, nouns, verbs and adverbs. Other parts of speech such as prepositions, auxiliary verbs and articles are often not stressed. Cleverly, we can change the meaning of a sentence by choosing to stress the correct words. Now watch how we can change the meaning of the same sentence:

  1. I really like your coat.Stressing I and not somebody else.
  2. I really like your coat. Stressing really meaning I like it a lot.
  3. I really like your coat. Stressing like instead of dislike.
  4. I really like your coat. Stressing your coat and not somebody else’s.
  5. I really like your coat. Stressing coat and not something else of yours.
  6. What happens if we give all words equal stress in English?

    We will sound like robots and our meaning will not be clear to our listeners. Try saying this sentence like a robot and give every word the same stress.:

    1. Please enter the gate and close it behind you.