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Sentence stress

Helen and Michal in the sitting room
In spoken English, we use sentence stress to show our listeners which parts of our sentences are the most important (the parts that carry the most meaning).

We usually stress content words, for example, main verbs, nouns and adjectives rather than articles or auxiliary verbs.

We stress words by saying them slightly louder and more slowly than the other words in the sentence.

Helen: Have you seen the new film with Tom Cruise?

The bold words (a main verb, an adjective and two nouns) are the ones Helen stresses.

Sentence stress examples:

What did he say to you in the garden?

He's had a heart attack.

How long are you going for?

Shifting stress

If we want to contrast or show disagreement with what someone else has said, we use shifting stress. We do this by changing the usual patterns of sentence stress. So in this next example, John knows the conversation is about films and Tom Cruise so he doesn't have to stress those items. Instead he stresses the new or contrasting information:

Helen: Have you seen that new film with Tom Cruise?
John: No, but I saw the last one he was in. It was terrible!

Here are some more examples from The Flatmates:

Shifting stress examples:

Not your dad, my dad.

It's a one-way ticket I've booked.

I'm going back to Poland for good.


commitment (n):
being ready to give a lot of your time, attention or love to something or someone because you believe in the person or thing is right or important

a one-way ticket:
a ticket you use to go somewhere but which you can't use to come back

for good:
for ever

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