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Intonation in English refers to the method in i m sorry the voice rises and also falls when speaking or singing.

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

You might have noticed that, when a aboriginal English speaker says something, details words or phrases have a higher pitch, if others have a lower pitch. This is what intonation means.

Voice interval in English matters since it can govern definition and mood.

There are basically three varieties of intonation: fall intonation, increasing intonation, and flat or unchanging intonation. Fallout’s intonation describes speech the goes from a high pitch to a short pitch, increasing intonation describes speech the goes native a short pitch come a high pitch, and also flat intonation describes speech that has actually no change in pitch.

All three of this have different functions based upon the mood and also intention that the words. However, falling and rising room the most common patterns that English intonation. Falling and also rising intonation room both denoted by arrows. A downward arrowhead (↘) signifies fall intonation, if an upward arrow (↗) signifies rising intonation.

Falling intonation (↘)

In English, falling interval is the most usual pattern. Plenty of statements, commands, and also Wh- questions manipulate falling intonation. Typically, the intonation falls on the last word or rate in a sentence. In the intonation examples below, the pitch falls on the underlined native or syllable:

StatementsI like your (↘) haircut.We relocated to brand-new (↘) York.They have actually three (↘) cats.He was born in (↘) September.CommandsGo to her (↘) room.Bring me my (↘) keys.Open the (↘) door.Help me carry this (↘) upstairs.Wh- QuestionsWho is the (↘) man?What is your (↘) name?When will certainly you be (↘) home?Where room you (↘) going?Why does the look (↘) sad?How space you (↘) feeling?

As you can see, these space all pretty traditional sentences and also questions the one might hear in an English conversation. Falling interval is common because it denotes a neutral tone. So, throughout casual conversation, you will certainly hear it commonly at the end of countless sentences.

Rising intonation (↗)

Rising intonation is no as typical as falling intonation, yet it is equally important for details situations. Using increasing intonation at the finish of a question motivates the other human to to fill in the lacking information. That is most frequently used in yes/no questions and tag questions. For example:

Yes/No QuestionsAre you a (↗) Gemini?Do you want to clock a (↗) film?Is he your (↗) friend?May I use the (↗) bathroom?Tag QuestionsWe studied English together, (↗) didn’t we?You want to go to the park, (↗) nothing you?The weather is therefore nice, (↗) no it?He likes bowling, (↗) doesn’t he?

Flat or Unchanging Intonation

Unlike fall or increasing intonation, unchanging interval is not typical in English.

This form of intonation pattern is frequently referred to as “monotone.” people don’t usage unchanging intonation in normal conversations due to the fact that it deserve to sound unnatural or robotic.

Rise-Fall interval (↗↘)

In enhancement to the three English intonation patterns noted above, there are additionally two combination patterns: Rise-Fall and Fall-Rise Intonation. We commonly use the rise-fall pattern because that “either/or” questions, lists, and also conditional statements. For example:

“Either/Or” inquiries or StatementsYou deserve to have either (↗) the fish or (↘) the beef.Do you desire to go (↗) long or (↘) fishing?Is she (↗) a student or (↘) a teacher?Is the football game on (↗) Saturday or (↘) Sunday?ListsI have (↗) 3 books, 2 pencils, one ruler, and (↘) one eraser.I like (↗) swimming, dancing, and (↘) play tennis.The apartment has (↗) 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and (↘) a kitchen.He ate (↗) breakfast, lunch, and also (↘) dinner.Conditional StatementsIf friend have any type of (↗) questions, feel totally free to offer me a (↘) call.If girlfriend keep having actually (↗) pain, placed ice top top (↘) it.If you (↗) happy, ns (↘) happy.If he wants to (↗) come, he demands to start (↘) packing.

A emphasize syllable is the component of a word the you say with greater focus than the other syllables. Alternatively, an unstressed valuation is a component of a word that you say with less focus than the emphasize syllable(s). However, you nothing emphasize or deemphasize syllables utilizing volume; instead, you usage pitch.

You’re most likely wondering just how stressed and also unstressed valuation are related to English intonation. Though focus (stress) and also pitch (intonation) room different, they space connected. Just how we stress particular syllables or words transforms the pitch. Similarly, the pitch we use in certain contexts deserve to also affect which syllables get stressed.

Rules because that Stressed and Unstressed Syllables

Figuring the end which syllables to stress is not always easy in English. However, there space a few rules the can assist you:

If the word is a two-syllable noun or adjective, the tension usually falls on the first syllable. For example: PIzza, LAzy, BOttle, QUIet.If a word end in -al, -cy, -ty, -phy, or -gy, the stress drops on the 3rd from the critical syllable. Because that example: geneOLogy, LOgical, phoTOGraphy.If a word ends in -ic, -sion, or -tion, the anxiety usually falls on the alongside last syllable. Because that example: atTRACtion, FUsion, BASic.If a indigenous is a two-syllable verb or preposition, the anxiety usually falls on the second syllable. Because that example: beSIDE, aDAPT, reCEIVE.

Naturally, this rules don’t cover every word in the English language (not even close!) and most of this rules have actually exceptions. With numerous words, you will certainly simply have to memorize which syllables are stressed or unstressed.

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That said, if you’re stuck on a specific word, shot saying it number of times, stressing a various syllable each time. In most cases, girlfriend can figure out just how it need to be stressed through the procedure of elimination. Some syllables just sound unnatural as soon as you shot to stress them. Let’s use the word “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 definitely wrong. Additionally, while the third option doesn’t sound fully wrong, it no sound as natural as the first option.


Though finding out the rules for intonation and stressed or unstressed valuation is important, the best way to find out is to listen and practice with indigenous English speakers. Actually hearing the way that pitch and stress readjust in organic conversation will aid you implement correct intonation and syllable stress and anxiety in your own speech. So, right here are a couple of free resources to aid get you started:

In organic English conversations, stresses and intonations room far an ext nuanced. Because that example, a emphasize syllable often sounds rounder and higher-pitched 보다 the rest of the word, and changing the syllable tension could readjust the definition of the word itself. Stop tune right into a quick tutorial indigenous our lead instructor, Anita.