Yesterday I had a lesson about stressed words.

My question is how do i know if the word is stressed or not without listening to the pronunciation?


  1. He wants a job that lets them travel. How do i know the words that are stressed?
  2. An accountant is someone who is good at numbers. How do i know the words that are stressed?

I am looking forward to the answer and I appreciate your effort and time

  • 1
    What about looking up the word in a dictionary, where the pronunciation and the stress is given? Ah, I see, you talk of sentence stress. There is no rule of the thumb. It's a matter of practice to know the words that have the principal meaning and are stressed.
    – rogermue
    Jul 2 '15 at 6:45
  • @rogermue Not so. There's pretty good rules of thumb here old bean! Aug 7 '15 at 2:00
  • My rule of thumb: stress only words you think important. Most of the time, most speakers will have a similar stressing pattern for a given utterance (though possibly different intonations, according to their accents). But they may adjust the pattern accordingly when they want to emphasize something unusual. Then again, this is not the easiest rule (and thus probably not the best) because it requires you to know what native speakers think important in each and every given case. (Virtually, native speakers "just know it".) And this needs a lot of exposure and practice. Aug 7 '15 at 3:17

You can stress any word, and it will give a slightly different meaning on what you're saying. The most natural stress for example one is on the word travel, and for number two it's accountant. I'm going to list out the different stresses for the first example, then tell you what they mean:

He wants a job that lets them travel.

(For these examples, I'll pretend that them refers to his family)

Someone else wants him to have a different job. Maybe his wife wants him to have a job that earns a lot of money, but he wants a job for the reason above.

He wants a job that lets them travel.

He already has a job doing something else, but he wants a different one.

He wants a job that lets them travel.

He doesn't want more than one job. Sounds a bit clumsy, if that's what you're trying to say then you'd say "He wants a single job that lets them travel."

He wants a job that lets them travel.

He probably already has the means to let his family travel, maybe he has a lot of money saved up, but he wants a job to be his new means of paying for his travel.

He wants a job that lets them travel.

Doesn't add any meaning to the sentence, you'd never add stress here unless someone didn't hear you say that the first time.

He wants a job that lets them travel.

He doesn't want a job that forces his family to travel.

He wants a job that lets them travel.

He cares more about letting his family travel than himself travel

He wants a job that lets them travel.

His family doesn't travel yet, he wants a job so that they will be able to.

(Without any context, this is the most neutral place to put a stress on a word)

So in summary, whenever you add stress on to a word imagine what the sentence could be if you swapped the word with something else. That will tell you what information you're really trying to get across to the listener:

"She is my girlfriend" -> You probably thought someone else was my girlfriend

"She is my girlfriend" -> You don't believe she's my girlfriend, but she is

"She is my girlfriend" -> You might have thought she was someone else's girlfriend

"She is my girlfriend" -> Maybe you thought we were brother and sister

  • I'm afraid if this student has been having a lesson on stress then your post is slightly confused. What you're calling stress here is actually the nucleus or tonic syllable. Both sentences (1) and (2) are likely to have at least 4 stresses. Jul 2 '15 at 15:15
  • Another interpretation when the emphasis is on "lets" is that he doesn't want a job that forbids his family from traveling.
    – Jesse
    Jul 2 '15 at 15:43

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