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Understanding Intonation and Stress in Speech

By: Sarah Folega - Updated: 15 Nov 2016 | comments*Discuss
Understanding Speech Stress English

Tone, pitch, stress and intonation are terms used to refer to different aspects of a language’s pronunciation. Every language has the same aspects in different variations; however, In English, a wide range of intonation, stress, pitch and tone is used.


The pitch of someone’s voice is the degree of lowness or highness that someone speaks with. Some people may have a naturally high pitched voice, whereas others may have a naturally low pitched voice.

There may also be emotional factors to the pitch of a person’s voice. When surprised, a person’s voice may be in a higher pitch; but, that same person’s voice may be a lower pitch when they are tired or upset.


The ‘tone’ of someone’s voice may indicate their actual emotions. Tone can convey happiness, sadness, anger, and a wide variety of different emotions. The expression “I don’t like the tone of his voice” can help you understand what ‘tone’ means in relation to the spoken language.


Intonation refers to the music of a certain language; this basically means how a person’s voice falls and rises when reciting words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.

There are some instances where intonation in a language, specifically the English language, where the intonation carries the meaning of a particular phrase. When looking at question tags on the end of a sentence, this can show that the speaker is looking for agreement.

  • “I thought that was excellent, didn’t you?” (Didn’t you is the question tag.)

When learning English as a second language, it is important to understand intonation. Another language, when compared to the English language, may not have the same degree of intonation; this may cause problems when learning to speak English.

Word Stress

As well as intonation, word stress is extremely important when learning English as a second language. Native speakers will be able to use word stress naturally; so natural that many are unaware they are even using word stress when they speak.

What Is Word Stress

In the English language, we do not say every syllable with the same strength or force. In any one word, we accentuate only one syllable, while we pronounce the others quietly. Word stress can also help us understand the ‘shape’ of a spoken word as it helps us to pronounce it.

Look at the following words:

  • Photograph
  • Photographer
  • Photographic

Although they are related in meaning, they are pronounced differently. This is because the word stress is put on different syllables within each word; this is what makes them sound different.

In the word photograph, the syllable we add stress to is ‘Pho’ (Pho – to – graph); in the word photographer, the stress is added to the syllable ‘to’ (Pho – to – grapher – er); and, in the word photographic, the stress is added to the syllable ‘graph’ (Pho – to – graph – ic).

When syllables are not stressed, they are known as small, quiet or weak syllables. Native English speakers will listen for the stressed syllables in a word, and not for the weak syllables.

As a learner of English as a second language, if you can apply word stress and intonation to your speech, you will instantly improve your understanding, and your practice of the English language.

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How much for the intonation e-book? Best regards, Lily
Lily - 20-Jul-16 @ 8:28 AM
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