Posted by: Jason | May 8, 2011

Stress for Meaning

First off, a quick apology for missing last week. My hip was feeling very sore and sitting in front of the computer hurt a lot. I went to the doctor last week and it seems to be getting better, so, I’m back behind the computer screen again. Sorry about that.

With that out of the way, let’s dive right in.

Stress in sentences can change the meaning a great deal. What do I mean by stress? Well, stress refers to saying words a little bit louder when you speak. In English, there are a number of words that get stressed usually and many that don’t. We usually stress the words that are the most important, the ones we want to make sure that the listener hears. Unlike Japanese, which tends to be very flat, the stress words in English are a large part of speaking and understanding conversation.

Typically Stressed Words

  • Proper nouns, such as the names of places or people. eg. Jason or Tokyo.
  • Transitive verbs, or action verbs. eg. go, do, make.
  • Numbers.
  • The last word in a sentence is almost always stressed.
  • The object of the sentence.

Typically Unstressed Words

  • Pronouns. eg. I, you, we, our, your, her.
  • Helper verbs. eg. am, is, can.
  • Prepositions. eg. for, in, on, to.

So, if I have the sentence:

I am going to the store to buy milk.

I would read it like this:

I am going to the store to buy milk.

The unstressed words are spoken very quickly and usually run together quite a lot. So, “I am going” becomes “[ah’m GOing]” with a single beat. When you’re listening to music or the television, pay attention to how the words are stressed. To catch the basic meaning, focus on the stressed words and try not to listen to much to the unstressed words. It’s the stressed words where the meaning can be found.

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