American English Pronunciation: Sentence Stress
Hierarchy of Content Words: Nouns and Main Verbs
Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are all content words, and therefore, are likely to receive added stress in spoken English. However, not all content words are euqally likely to be stressed. When thinking about sentence stress, nouns and main verbs are the most important words in neutral stress patterns.
In the following example
it is easy to see and hear that the verb (took) and the nouns (bus and park) are the stressed words of the sentence. The pronoun (I), articles (the, the) and the preposition (to) fall into the background when the sentence is said aloud. According to the Rhythm Rule, the phrase "to the" must be said quickly in order to keep the stressed syllables of the sentence occurring on regular beats.
The sentence above is also easy because the subject of the sentence is a pronoun (I), and pronouns are not usually stressed words.
If the pronoun I is changed to a noun, Wilma, we simply add another beat to the sentence.
However, if Squid were the subject of the sentence, we'd need to account for two single-syllable stressed words occurring next to each other. When we have two stressed syllables next to each other, we need to expand the length of the first syllable to keep the beat and continue to follow the Rhythm Rule.
Next, let's look at what happens when nouns and main verbs have descriptive words (such as adjectives and adverbs) next to them.
Next Sentence Stress Lesson:
Sentence stress guidelines
Introduction to sentence stress
The Rhythm Rule
Content words and function words