Stressed and unstressed words when Speaking English

Not every word in a sentence is stressed in English. We tend to stress “information” words, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. Grammatical words, like prepositions, auxiliaries and articles tend not to be stressed.

This means that it can be hard to hear grammatical words in a sentence, as they become shortened.

In the following sentence, all the words are stressed:

I play piano.

In the following sentence (which lasts the same length of time) the word “can” is not usually stressed:

I can play piano.

The “can” is shortened to fit into the space between I and play, and so it sounds more like “kun”.

In the following sentence (which lasts the same length of time as the first and second sentences) the words “can” and “the” are not stressed:

I can play the piano.

“The” is shortened to fit into the space, and sounds more like “th”.

Tips for practising stressed and unstressed words.

Choose a sentence which has both information and grammatical words in it. Take out all the grammatical words until you have only the information words. Practise saying this sentence at regular speed, speaking only the information words (in bold) and not speaking the grammatical words.

Do you think we can afford a holiday to Greece this year?

Now gradually put back the grammatical words, still keeping to the speed of the sentence.

Make vowels shorter

Instead of pronouncing “a” (as in can) or “oo” as in “to”, pronounce an “uh” – like the sound at the end of the word “banana”.

Take out vowel or consonant sounds between words

For example, take you the vowel sound “oo” in “do” when it’s followed by a consonant sound as in “you”.
Instead of separate “do you think”, run together the “do” and “you” to get “dju”.


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