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Stress is an emphasis or articulatory prominence placed on a word (in a sentence) or a syllable (in a word). Hence, there are two types of stress placement:

  1. Syllabic stress
  2. Emphatic stress

Syllabic stress is the pronunciation emphasis or prominence placed on a syllable. That is, the vowel sound in such a syllable will sound louder, higher and longer than the other syllable(s) in the word.

Emphatic stress, on the other hand, is the emphasis placed on a word in a sentence to show the focus of the speaker and what s/he wants his/her interlocutor to note.

Syllabic Stress

The addition of certain suffixes changes the stress placement on a word. For example, the word ‘comMUnicate’ is stressed on the second syllable. However, with the addition of suffix ‘-ion’, the stress placement changes from the second syllable to the fourth syllable as in: communiCAtion. Another example is ‘refuge’ which is stressed on the first syllable but with the addition of suffix ‘-e’, the stress placement moves to the last syllable, ‘refuGEE’:

Here are three rules based on suffixes that can guide you:

Rule One:

If a word ends with the following suffixes stress the word on the penultimate syllable:

-ion, -ic, ious, uous, eous, -ial,


compreHENsion, associAtion, asymMEtric, alcoHOlic, cereMOnious, ignoMInious, inconsPIcuous, unamBIguous, advanTAgeous, MiscelLAneous, gubernaTOrial, consequential

Rule Two:

If a word ends with the suffixes/endings below stress the ante-penultimate syllable:

-ate, -ty, -fy, -hy, -cy, -ny, -my, -ry, -ible, cal, -lar, -ous

comMUnicate, inAdequate, unCERtainty, maTERnity, eLECtrify, phoTOgraphy, preSIdency, aCRImony, acCESsory, compreHENsible, parTIcular, nuMErical, meTIculous

Rule Three:

Here there is no stress shift from the syllable that carries the stress in the ‘original’ word or root word. What you do here is you remove the suffix and stress the word with it. Whatever syllable that has the stress maintains it even when you re-add the suffix. The suffixes are:

-ment, -ize/-ise, -able, -ism


For example, the word ‘absolute’ bears the stress on the first syllable ‘AB so lute’. When the suffix ‘-ism’ is added, the first syllable still maintains its stress: ABsolutism.

Other Examples:

abSURD        abSURDism

ACtive            Activism

REAson         REAsonable

aBOminate   aBOminable

CRItic             CRIticise

aPOlogy        aPOlogise

acCOMplish acCOMplishment

enLIGHten    enLIGHtenment

Note: To some of the examples and rules are some exceptions. These exceptions are very few, hence, can be committed to memory.

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