Prominence on Function Words

Listen to the following sentences. Which word is the most stressed in each sentence?

What are you doing here?
Where did you get that from?

The words ‘you’ and ‘that’ are the most stressed words in the first and second sentence respectively.

How do the words we stress affect the meaning of the sentence?

  • The most stressed word in a sentence is often the last content word:
    • What are you doing here? (emphasises the action)
  • But we can also stress function words when we want to emphasise their meaning:
    • What are you doing here? (emphasises the person)
    • Where did you get that from? (emphasises the object)


Repeat these sentences with the stress on the function word in bold:

This bar is the place to be tonight! (emphasises the uniqueness of the place)
You must be able to do some of it! (emphasises the quantity)
They don’t have any milk? Well what do they have? (emphasises the positive verb ‘have’)
So what do you think? Can you do it for me? (emphasises the ability to do the action)


Decide which word Emma should stress most:

A. Zoe: I don’t want it. Emma: Well what do you want then?
B. Zoe: Who’s better looking, you or me? Emma: I’m sure it’s me!
D. Zoe: Do you know any words in Russian? Emma: I only know a few.
E. Zoe: Don’t touch that, it’s for Jen! Emma: Sorry, I thought it was for us.
F. Zoe: Can I eat this cake? Emma: You can only have some of it!
G. Zoe: Which room gets more sun? Emma: I think it’s this one.
H. Zoe: I can’t find my glasses. Emma: Look, there they are!
A. do B. me C. all D. few E. us F. some G. this H. there