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Intonation in English refers to the method in i beg your pardon the voice rises and falls when speaking or singing.

You are watching: How to tell if a syllable is stressed or unstressed

You can have noticed that, once a indigenous English speaker says something, specific words or phrases have a higher pitch, if others have actually a lower pitch. This is what intonation means.

Voice interval in English matters since it deserve to govern meaning and mood.

There are essentially three types of intonation: falling intonation, rising intonation, and also flat or unchanging intonation. Fall intonation describes speech the goes indigenous a high key to a low pitch, increasing intonation refers to speech that goes indigenous a low pitch come a high pitch, and also flat intonation refers to speech that has actually no change in pitch.

All 3 of these have different functions based on the mood and intention of the words. However, falling and rising room the most usual patterns of English intonation. Falling and rising intonation room both denoted through arrows. A downward arrow (↘) signifies fallout’s intonation, if an upward arrowhead (↗) signifies rising intonation.

Falling interval (↘)

In English, falling intonation is the most usual pattern. Countless statements, commands, and also Wh- questions manipulate falling intonation. Typically, the intonation drops on the last word or valuation in a sentence. In the intonation instances below, the pitch drops on the underlined native or syllable:

StatementsI prefer your (↘) haircut.We moved to new (↘) York.They have actually three (↘) cats.He to be born in (↘) September.CommandsGo to your (↘) room.Bring me mine (↘) keys.Open the (↘) door.Help me lug this (↘) upstairs.Wh- QuestionsWho is the (↘) man?What is her (↘) name?When will you it is in (↘) home?Where room you (↘) going?Why does that look (↘) sad?How are you (↘) feeling?

As you can see, these are all pretty traditional sentences and also questions the one might hear in one English conversation. Falling interval is common since it denotes a neutral tone. So, throughout casual conversation, you will hear it typically at the finish of countless sentences.

Rising interval (↗)

Rising interval is not as usual as falling intonation, but it is equally vital for specific situations. Using increasing intonation at the finish of a question encourages the other human to to fill in the lacking information. The is most frequently used in yes/no questions and tag questions. Because that example:

Yes/No QuestionsAre friend a (↗) Gemini?Do you want to clock a (↗) film?Is he her (↗) friend?May I usage the (↗) bathroom?Tag QuestionsWe studied English together, (↗) didn’t we?You want to go to the park, (↗) don’t you?The weather is therefore nice, (↗) isn’t it?He likes bowling, (↗) doesn’t he?

Flat or Unchanging Intonation

Unlike falling or climbing intonation, unchanging intonation is not typical in English.

This form of intonation sample is regularly referred to as “monotone.” people don’t use unchanging intonation in regular conversations due to the fact that it deserve to sound unnatural or robotic.

Rise-Fall interval (↗↘)

In enhancement to the 3 English intonation patterns listed above, over there are also two mix patterns: Rise-Fall and Fall-Rise Intonation. We generally use the rise-fall pattern because that “either/or” questions, lists, and conditional statements. For example:

“Either/Or” concerns or StatementsYou can have one of two people (↗) the fish or (↘) the beef.Do you want to go (↗) hiking or (↘) fishing?Is she (↗) a college student or (↘) a teacher?Is the football game on (↗) Saturday or (↘) Sunday?ListsI have actually (↗) 3 books, two pencils, one ruler, and (↘) one eraser.I like (↗) swimming, dancing, and also (↘) play tennis.The apartment includes (↗) 2 bedrooms, two bathrooms, and (↘) a kitchen.He ate (↗) breakfast, lunch, and also (↘) dinner.Conditional StatementsIf girlfriend have any type of (↗) questions, feel cost-free to offer me a (↘) call.If girlfriend keep having actually (↗) pain, placed ice top top (↘) it.If you (↗) happy, i’m (↘) happy.If he desires to (↗) come, he demands to start (↘) packing.

A emphasize syllable is the part of a word that you say through greater focus than the other syllables. Alternatively, one unstressed valuation is a part of a word that you say v less emphasis than the emphasize syllable(s). However, you nothing emphasize or deemphasize syllables using volume; instead, you use pitch.

You’re probably wondering exactly how stressed and unstressed syllables are regarded English intonation. Though emphasis (stress) and pitch (intonation) space different, they room connected. Just how we stress specific syllables or words changes the pitch. Similarly, the pitch we use in specific contexts deserve to also impact which syllables acquire stressed.

Rules because that Stressed and also Unstressed Syllables

Figuring out which syllables to anxiety is not always easy in English. However, there are a couple of rules the can aid you:

If words is a two-syllable noun or adjective, the stress usually falls on the very first syllable. For example: PIzza, LAzy, BOttle, QUIet.If a word end in -al, -cy, -ty, -phy, or -gy, the stress falls on the third from the critical syllable. Because that example: geneOLogy, LOgical, phoTOGraphy.If a word end in -ic, -sion, or -tion, the stress and anxiety usually drops on the next to last syllable. For example: atTRACtion, FUsion, BASic.If a word is a two-syllable verb or preposition, the tension usually drops on the 2nd syllable. For example: beSIDE, aDAPT, reCEIVE.

Naturally, this rules nothing cover every native in the English language (not also close!) and also most of these rules have exceptions. With numerous words, you will simply need to memorize i beg your pardon syllables space stressed or unstressed.

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That said, if you’re grounding on a specific word, try saying it several times, stressing a various syllable each time. In most cases, you can number out just how it must be stressed v the process of elimination. Some syllables simply sound unnatural when you try to anxiety them. Stop use words “memorize” come practice. Because that example:

ME-mo-rizeMe-MO-rizeMe-mo-RIZE

If friend say words out loud, friend will most likely realize that the second option is absolutely wrong. Additionally, while the 3rd option no sound fully wrong, it no sound as organic as the an initial option.


Though finding out the rules because that intonation and stressed or unstressed syllables is important, the best way to find out is to listen and practice with aboriginal English speakers. Actually hearing the way that pitch and stress readjust in natural conversation will aid you implement correct intonation and syllable stress in your very own speech. So, right here are a couple of free sources to assist get friend started:

In natural English conversations, stresses and also intonations are far more nuanced. Because that example, a emphasize syllable regularly sounds rounder and higher-pitched than the remainder of the word, and changing the syllable anxiety could readjust the meaning of words itself. Stop tune into a short tutorial from our lead instructor, Anita.