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Intonation in English refers to the way in i m sorry the voice rises and also falls once speaking or singing.

You are watching: How to tell the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables

You could have i found it that, once a indigenous English speaker states something, certain words or phrases have a greater pitch, while others have a lower pitch. This is what interval means.

Voice interval in English matters because it deserve to govern meaning and mood.

There are essentially three varieties of intonation: fall intonation, rising intonation, and flat or unchanging intonation. Fall intonation refers to speech the goes native a high pitch to a short pitch, increasing intonation describes speech the goes native a low pitch come a high pitch, and also flat intonation refers to speech that has actually no change in pitch.

All three of this have various functions based on the mood and intention the the words. However, falling and rising room the most usual patterns of English intonation. Falling and rising intonation are both denoted by arrows. A downward arrowhead (↘) signifies falling intonation, while an upward arrow (↗) signifies rising intonation.

Falling intonation (↘)

In English, falling intonation is the most usual pattern. Many statements, commands, and Wh- questions exploit falling intonation. Typically, the intonation falls on the critical word or valuation in a sentence. In the intonation examples below, the pitch drops on the underlined word or syllable:

StatementsI choose your (↘) haircut.We relocated to new (↘) York.They have actually three (↘) cats.He to be born in (↘) September.CommandsGo to her (↘) room.Bring me mine (↘) keys.Open the (↘) door.Help me lug this (↘) upstairs.Wh- QuestionsWho is that (↘) man?What is her (↘) name?When will you be (↘) home?Where space you (↘) going?Why does that look (↘) sad?How are you (↘) feeling?

As you have the right to see, these space all pretty traditional sentences and also questions the one can hear in one English conversation. Falling interval is common because it denotes a neutral tone. So, during casual conversation, you will hear it typically at the finish of many sentences.

Rising intonation (↗)

Rising interval is no as typical as fallout’s intonation, yet it is equally vital for details situations. Using increasing intonation in ~ the finish of a question encourages the other person to fill in the absent information. That is most commonly used in yes/no questions and also tag questions. Because that example:

Yes/No QuestionsAre friend a (↗) Gemini?Do you desire to watch a (↗) film?Is he your (↗) friend?May I use the (↗) bathroom?Tag QuestionsWe learned English together, (↗) didn’t we?You want to walk to the park, (↗) don’t you?The weather is therefore nice, (↗) isn’t it?He likes bowling, (↗) no he?

Flat or Unchanging Intonation

Unlike falling or climbing intonation, unchanging interval is not typical in English.

This type of intonation sample is frequently referred to as “monotone.” civilization don’t usage unchanging interval in typical conversations since it have the right to sound unnatural or robotic.

Rise-Fall intonation (↗↘)

In enhancement to the three English intonation patterns provided above, there are additionally two combination patterns: Rise-Fall and also Fall-Rise Intonation. We commonly use the rise-fall pattern for “either/or” questions, lists, and also conditional statements. For example:

“Either/Or” questions or StatementsYou deserve to have one of two people (↗) the fish or (↘) the beef.Do you desire to walk (↗) hiking or (↘) fishing?Is she (↗) a college student or (↘) a teacher?Is the football game on (↗) Saturday or (↘) Sunday?ListsI have actually (↗) three books, two pencils, one ruler, and (↘) one eraser.I like (↗) swimming, dancing, and (↘) beat tennis.The apartment consists of (↗) 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and (↘) a kitchen.He ate (↗) breakfast, lunch, and (↘) dinner.Conditional StatementsIf girlfriend have any type of (↗) questions, feel complimentary to give me a (↘) call.If friend keep having actually (↗) pain, put ice top top (↘) it.If you’re (↗) happy, i’m (↘) happy.If he desires to (↗) come, he demands to start (↘) packing.

A emphasize syllable is the part of a word the you say with greater focus than the various other syllables. Alternatively, an unstressed rate is a component of a word the you say through less focus than the stressed syllable(s). However, you don’t emphasize or deemphasize syllables using volume; instead, you usage pitch.

You’re probably wondering exactly how stressed and unstressed rate are regarded English intonation. Though focus (stress) and pitch (intonation) are different, they space connected. How we stress certain syllables or words transforms the pitch. Similarly, the key we usage in specific contexts can also impact which syllables get stressed.

Rules for Stressed and Unstressed Syllables

Figuring the end which rate to stress is not constantly easy in English. However, there room a few rules the can aid you:

If words is a two-syllable noun or adjective, the anxiety usually drops on the an initial syllable. For example: PIzza, LAzy, BOttle, QUIet.If a word end in -al, -cy, -ty, -phy, or -gy, the stress drops on the 3rd from the critical syllable. Because that example: geneOLogy, LOgical, phoTOGraphy.If a word end in -ic, -sion, or -tion, the stress usually falls on the beside last syllable. For example: atTRACtion, FUsion, BASic.If a word is a two-syllable verb or preposition, the tension usually falls on the 2nd syllable. For example: beSIDE, aDAPT, reCEIVE.

Naturally, this rules nothing cover every indigenous in the English language (not also close!) and most of these rules have actually exceptions. With numerous words, you will simply need to memorize which syllables space stressed or unstressed.

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That said, if you’re grounding on a certain word, shot saying it several times, stressing a various syllable every time. In most cases, girlfriend can number out exactly how it need to be stressed through the process of elimination. Part syllables simply sound unnatural when you shot to stress them. Stop use the word “memorize” to practice. For example:

ME-mo-rizeMe-MO-rizeMe-mo-RIZE

If you say the word out loud, you will probably realize the the 2nd option is absolutely wrong. Additionally, when the third option doesn’t sound fully wrong, it doesn’t sound as organic as the very first option.


Though finding out the rules because that intonation and stressed or unstressed valuation is important, the best method to discover is to listen and practice with native English speakers. In reality hearing the way that pitch and stress change in natural conversation will help you implement correct intonation and also syllable anxiety in your own speech. So, below are a few free sources to help get you started:

In herbal English conversations, stresses and intonations space far much more nuanced. For example, a stressed syllable often sounds rounder and also higher-pitched 보다 the remainder of the word, and changing the syllable stress could readjust the definition of words itself. Stop tune into a short tutorial indigenous our command instructor, Anita.