Tonic Syllable

Listen to the following sentence. The sentence is broken up into three parts, or tone units. Which words are the most stressed?

I’m going to the shops / to buy a pint of milk / for my tea.

The words ‘shops’, ‘milk’ and ‘tea’ are the most stressed words in the tone units.

How can you tell where the main stress goes?

  • The main stress in a tone unit is called the tonic syllable.
  • The tonic syllable is normally within the last content word in a tone unit.
  • A tone unit contains only one tonic syllable.
  • Using a clear tonic syllable in every unit is a key aspect to the sound of English.


Listen and repeat the sentences placing a strong stress on the tonic syllable.

Have you ever been to Cuba?
It’s wonderful!
Why are you so happy about it?
They told me!


Find the most natural tonic syllable in each tone unit below:

A. Don’t let him leave! B. Karen learnt a valuable lesson. C. It’s fascinating! D. How long do we need to stay there? E. Rainbow sunglasses are really on trend. F. Aren’t you going to help me? G. I need to get in the shower. H. That dog won’t stop barking!

A. leave B. lesson C. fascinating D. stay E. trend F. help G. shower H. barking

Tonic Syllable is covered in chapter 1 of ‘The Sound of English’ and covered on all accent reduction courses at Pronunciation Studio.