Sentence Stress

English sentence stress is affected by several factors, most noticeably:

  • Important information (prominence). 
  • The position of the words in the sentence. 
  • The speed of speech. 

In the sentence:

“I went to the cinema.”

the main stress would normally be on the word CINEMA. There would be no stress on the function words I, TO and THE. There would be some stress on WENT, though it would be less than on CINEMA. 

In fast speech it is common for speakers to stress the first and last important words, so in the sentence:

“I was thinking of buying a new car.”

in fast connected speech, there could be two stressed words: THINKING and CAR, the rest of the words would not be given stress. However, in slower speech, each of the content words THINKING, BUYING, NEW and CAR could be stressed:

“I was thinking of buying a new car.”


Stress is always defined by a speaker’s chosen emphasis, and this depends on the concept of new information. Old information – that which is already in the conversation, is not stressed:

“I’ll have a black coffee.”
“For me a white coffee.”

Word Types & Position

If there are several important words (content words), the main stress (tonic syllable) will normally fall on the last one:

“One thousand yellow daffodils.” 

Function words (prepositions, conjunctions, articles etc.) are not normally stressed wherever they appear in the sentence:

“I put a daffodil in there.” 

so in the above example, DAFFODIL is the main stress though it is not the last word.

Learn English IPA (44 sounds)

Use the interactive IPA chart and practice activities to master the sounds of English. 

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