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Lesson 14.6

Word or Sentence Stress

La acentuación de las palabras o frases
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As we have seen in the last lesson (Syllable Stress), within words there are specific syllable stresses. The same is true within sentences. Sentence stress is what gives English its particular rhythm.

As we have seen in the last lesson, Syllable Stress, within words there are specific syllable stresses. The same is true within sentences. Sentence stress is what gives English its particular rhythm.

Sentences are composed of generally two types of words: content words and structure words.

Content Words:
Content words are the key words that give the sentence meaning. Content words include the following types of words: principal verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and negative auxiliary verbs (don’t, can’t, etc.)

Structure Words:
Structure words are generally small, simple words that give the sentence correct grammatical structure. Structure words include: pronouns, prepositions (except when part of a phrasal verb), articles, conjunctions and affirmative auxiliary verbs.

Generally if we remove the structural words from a sentence, it can still be understood. Therefore we place the stress in English on the content words.

Take a look at the examples below. Stressed words are in capital letters.

Examples:

 The VALLEY GLISTENED as the SUN SET SLOWLY over the HORIZON.
 I’m GOING to the PARTY with him, but ONLY because he PROMISED me we’ll BE back EARLY.

Say the above sentences to yourself. Notice that while the second sentence is longer, both take approximately 3.5 to 4 seconds to say. Notice also that both contain the same number of content or stressed words. As we have said, English is a time-stressed language. The amount of time between stressed words is the same, regardless of the number of unstressed words between them. For this reason, while the second sentence is longer, it takes the same amount of time to say as the first sentence.

Note: As we saw earlier in the lesson on syllable stress, the meaning of a word can change depending on where we place the stress (deSERT [v.] vs. DEsert [n.]). The same is true with word stress within sentences. We can stress a structure word for example, to give emphasis. Take a look at the following examples.

Examples:

HE doesn’t think it’s a good idea.(meaning: it is “he” not someone else who thinks it is a bad idea, the emphasis is therefore on who)
He DOESN’T think it’s a good idea.(meaning: he thinks it’s a bad idea, the emphasis is on the fact that he doesn’t believe something, it may be used to respond or correct someone’s position: “He thinks it’s a good idea?” “No. He DOESN’T think it’s a good idea.”)
He doesn’t THINK it’s a good idea.(meaning: by emphasizing “think”, the speaker is indicating that he has considered the idea and has come to the conclusion that it is not a good idea, it is indicating a personal opinion)
He doesn’t think IT’S a good idea.(meaning: that among the various possible ideas, this particular one is not a good one)
He doesn’t think it’s a GOOD idea.(meaning: by using “good” the speaker is indicating a qualitative judgement about the idea; this sentence could be followed by “He thinks it’s a FANTASTIC idea.” or “He thinks it’s a TERRIBLE idea.”)
He doesn’t think it’s a good IDEA.(meaning: the emphasis here on “idea” could indicate that the speaker is focusing on the idea, rather than something else, such as the plan for implementing the idea)
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