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Unit 10. Contro'versial and ControVERsial.

Word Stress and Prominence

Unit 10; Part A

In this course we use two terms that are related but different: stress and prominence. Most dictionaries which give the pronunciation of words also indicate which syllable(s) have stress. For example, CALD shows that 'party' and 'remember' have stress on only one syllable:
         party /'pa:ti/                            remember /rιmem.b∂r/

and that 'controversial' and 'kindergarten' have stress on two syllables:
        controversial /,kon.tr∂'vз:.l/   kindergaren /'kin.d∂,ga:.tn/

shows main stress and
, shows secondary stress.

When a word is used in conversation and emphasised (see Unit 33), one of the stressed syllables is made prominent. In a one-stress word this is the stressed syllable, and in a two-stress word it is usually the syllable with main stress. Prominent syllables are shown in capital letters:

          I'm going to a PARty.       I can't reMEMber.
          It was controVERsial.      She goes t   KINdergarten.

Unit 10; Part B

gProminence can move to the secondary stressed syllable in a word like 'controversial' when it is followed by a word with another prominent syllable, particularly when the frst syllable of the following word is prominent:

            She gave a CONtroversial ANswer.

This is sometimes called stress shift. Stress shift can only happen in words where a secondary stress comes before main stress.
Here are some more examples:
               ,understand    I UNderstand EVerything.
               ,disap'pointing    It was a DISappointing OUTcome.

Other words which often have stress shift include:

  • ,alto'gether; ,inde'pendent; ,indi'stinct; ,medi'ocre; ,satis'factory; ,uni'versity; ,week'end; ,worth'while.
  • some place names which have main stress on the last syllable, such as: ,Ber'lin; ,Kow'loon; ,Montre'al.
  • -teen numbers - ,thir'teen; ,nine'teen; and two-part numbers - ,forty-'five; ,seventy-'eight.
note.jpgNote: Some other words with secondary stress rarely have stress shift. For example: a,pproxi'mation; ,corre'spondence; ,inde' cision; pro,nunci'ation.

Unit 10; Part C

For particular emphasis or contrast, syllables other than those with main or secondary stress can be made prominent (see also Unit 47C):
         'hopeful       A: I agree with you that it's HOPEless.
                            B: No, I said it was hopeFUL.
         re' ported    A: Apparently, Kim's been dePORTed.
                            B: No, he's been REported.



flag.jpgAre these one-stress words (write 1) or two-stress words (2)? Cross out the main stressed syllables and underline the secondary stressed syllables. Use your dictionary if necessary.
Key.1    occasional (1)   
2    supplement (1)      
3    temperamental (2) 
4    cosmopolitan (2)  
5    pedestrian (1)
6    incoherent (2)
7    electronic (2)  
8    spectacular (1)
9    documentary (2)

Examples:  experiment (1)    thermostatic (2)
1    occasional (  )   
2    supplement (  )      
3    temperamental (  ) 
4    cosmopolitan (  )  
5    pedestrian (  )
6    incoherent (  )
7    electronic (  )  
8    spectacular (  )
9    documentary (  )

Now listen, check your answers and repeat the words. 
flag.jpgUnderline the syllable you think is most likely to have prominence in the words in bold. In which two of these words is stress shift not possible?
indicates stress shift.
Key.* indicates stress shift
1 pronunciation
2 routine *
3 propaganda
4 Mediterranean *
5 sixteen
6 satisfactory *
7 independent
8 Mediterranean
9 sixteen *
10 propaganda
11 routine
12 independent *
13 satisfactory
14 pronunciation
The words which do not have stress shift are 'pronunciation' and 'propaganda'.

      We used to live near the Berlin Wall.   She's got a job in Berlin.

1    I'm working on my pronunciation.
2    It was just a routine job.
3    The film was made for propaganda purposes.
4    The region has a Mediterranean climate.
5    Next month she'll be sixteen.
6    There was a satisfactory outcome.
7    The country was declared independent.
8    I love living next to the Mediterranean.
9    It cost sixteen euros.
10  The book was just political propaganda.
11  The operation was quite routine.
12  They appointed an independent judge.
13  The result was satisfactory.
14  I'm doing a pronunciation course.
Now listen and check your answers. Then say the sentences aloud.
flag.jpgListen and underline the syllable that has main stress in these words.
Key. concise    


flag.jpgNow use the words to complete these conversations. Then underline the syllable in the word that you think is likely to be prominent.
Key.1. concise
2. handbag
3. lifelike
4. subjective
5. tablecloth
6. paimtbox
7. disarming

      A: So we have to take the old footpath?
      B: No, we take the old   footbridge .    
1    A: So you thought the work was precise?
      B: No, I said it was ___________.
2    A: You've lost your handbook, have you?
      B: No, I've lost my ___________.  
3    A: Yes, I thought the performance was lifeless, too.
      B: No, I said I thought it was ___________.
4    A: I didn't think his findings were very objective.
      B: No, they were very ___________.
5    A: Does the tabletop need washing?
      B: No, the ___________.
6    A: I've brought you the paintbrush you asked for.
      B: No, I wanted my ___________.
7    A: Did you say the country's rearming?
      B: No, it's ___________.
Now listen, check your answers and repeat the corrections

Follow up:   Do you know of any differences in stress in words in British English and in another variety of English you are familiar with?

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