Word Stress

Word Stress

Find the rules for Word Stress

These are much easier than you think.

Vibration or no vibration

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Voiced or unvoiced


Voice box

This is to help you to understand the different pronunciations of the -ed verb endings.

When we speak we make some sounds with vibration in our voice box (larynx) and some without vibration.

Phoneticians call this “voiced” and “unvoiced”.

Voice box

All vowels and most consonants are said with vibration in English.

Often the vibration is very small so you may not notice it.

A practical exercise:

To feel the difference, put your hand firmly on your voice box at the front of your throat and say:





Do you feel the vibration?





Do you feel the vibration?

——————– ——————–

The most common pronunciations of the -ed verb endings:

When the verb ends with no vibration, the sound ‘t is added.
When the verb ends with vibration, the sound ‘d is added

Don’t be influenced by the writing: you don’t usually add a syllable when you see -ed.

Here is a table of contrasted English consonant sounds written in phonemic symbols:.

no vibration p k f θ s ʃ ʧ ‘t
with vibration b g v ð z ʒ ʤ ‘d
θ as in thank
ð as in the
ʃ as in she
ʒ as in pleasure
ʧ as in catch
ʤ as in edge

But don’t try to memorise the table, just say “t or ‘d – whichever is easiest.

What about when the verb ends with a t or a d?

These are quite rare.

Well, you can try to say t’t or d’d but it’s not very easy and English speakers don’t attempt it.

They add in a very small unstressed sound: /i /or /ə/.

These are exceptions: the -ed is pronounced as an extra syllable.

In the exercises the ending after a t or a d is written id.

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Introduction to the limericks exercises

Stressed Syllables and the Schwa Sound


Stressed Syllables

The important words and syllables in a sentence are said with extra energy in English.

This is called stress or the tonic accent.

In the following sentence the stressed syllables are written in bold letters.

The woman went to the station and waited until the train arrived.

 (There are other possibilities for which syllables are stressed or not – they change the meaning of the sentence a little.)


The Schwa Sound

This is the most frequent vowel sound in English.

It’s the sound in most unstressed syllables.
Here is the phonemic symbol for the schwa: ə.

The schwa is what remains when you remove almost all the energy from a vowel.

It’s the sound “you don’t hear”. It’s also called the “neutral e”.

Many “grammar” words have two pronunciations:

  1. One strong, stressed full vowel sound, used to emphasise the word.
  2. The other, unstressed, schwa sound.
    This second sound is by far the most common in natural speech.

The schwa sound can be written with many different letters.
In the following sentence all the coloured letters are examples of the schwa sound.

The woman went to the station and waited until the train arrived.

The alternation of stressed syllables and the schwa sound gives the typical rhythm of English.

Thə womən went tə thə statən ənd waitəd əntil thə train ərrived.

ðə ˈwʊmən ˈwɛnt  ðə ˈsteɪʃən ən ˈweɪtəd ənˈtɪl ðə ˈtreɪn əˈraɪvd. 

Limericks illustrate this pattern particularly well.

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