Languages › English as a Second Language How to Stress Syllables in English Share Flipboard Email Print izusek/Getty Images English as a Second Language Pronunciation & Conversation Vocabulary Writing Skills Reading Comprehension Grammar Business English Resources for Teachers By Kenneth Beare English as a Second Language (ESL) Expert TESOL Diploma, Trinity College London M.A., Music Performance, Cologne University of Music B.A., Vocal Performance, Eastman School of Music Kenneth Beare is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher and course developer with over three decades of teaching experience. our editorial process Kenneth Beare Updated June 26, 2019 Words are made up of letters and those letters create syllable sounds. You can recognize a syllable by remembering that each one contains a vowel sound. For example, in the word computer, there are three syllables: com / pu / ter. The word bike, however, has only one syllable. A single syllable may contain as little as just one letter, or as many as five: idea - i / de / a (three syllables) cough - cough (one syllable) In words that have more than one syllable, one syllable will be stressed. In English, there are a number of word syllable stress patterns. Counting Syllables You can check how many syllables a word has by putting your hand under your chin and saying a word. Each time your chin moves to make a vowel sound, count a syllable. For example, the word difficult moves your chin three times. Therefore, difficult is three syllables. Exercise Count the number of syllables in each of these words. Answers are below. housejacketglassesencyclopediaemployerinformationtroublemaker thought happyincoherent Answers 1 (house)2 (ja / ket)2 (gla / sses)6 (en / cy / clo / pe / di / a)3 (em / ploy / er)4 (in / for / ma / tion)4 (trou / ble /ma / ker)1 (thought)2 (ha / ppy)4 (in / co / her / ent) Word Syllable Stress In multi-syllable words, the stress falls on one of the syllables. The other syllables tend to be spoken quickly. This leads to sounds that are not clear (muted) on unstressed syllables. In order to improve your pronunciation, focus on pronouncing the stressed syllable clearly. However, don't be afraid to mute (not say clearly) the other unstressed vowels. For example: Listen to these specific examples. Notice where the syllables are stressed: PersonNELTOtallyInDUstrialToMAtoFanTAstic One Syllable - Stressed All one-syllable words have the stress on the one syllable. The intonation should go down. Listen to the general pattern. EATDRINKSIGNWELL Two-Syllable First Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: GIantPICtureHEAting Second Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: toDAYaHEADaLLOW Three-Syllable First Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: ENergyOperateORganize Second Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: meMORialaSSUMPtioncaNAdian Third Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: employEEjapanESEvoluntEER Four-Syllable Second Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: psyCHOLogyeVAporatecerTIficate Third Syllable Stressed Listen to the general pattern and these specific examples: poliTIcianindiVIdualrepuTAtion Double Vowel Sounds It's not the number of letters that make up a syllable, rather it is the number of single vowel sounds. Sometimes, a number of vowels combine to make just a single sound. For example: tree = 1 sound goal = 1 sound because = 1 sound Common Double Vowel Sounds It's important to learn spelling patterns for these sounds. Here are some of the most common: ay - (diphthong EI sound) play, say, may au - (long A sound) fault, launch, haunt augh - (long A sound) caught, taught, daughter augh - (short A sound as in "cat") laugh ee - (long EE sound) tree, see, three ea - (long EE sound) each, peach, teach ea - (short E sound) dead, head, health ea - (long EE sound) break, steak, great eu - (long U sound) deuce, sleuth ei - (diphthong EI sound) beil, eight, weigh ey - (diphthong EI sound) they, grey eigh - (diphthong EI sound) eight, freight eigh - (long EE sound) seize eigh - (diphthong AI sound) height ie - (long EE sound) thief, pice ie - (long I sound) die, tie oo - (long U sound) moo, boo oo - (short U sound) book, foot oa - (long O sound) boat, moat oe - (long O sound) hoe, Joe oi - (diphthong OY sound) soil, toil ou - (long O sound) soul, your ou - (short U sound) tough, rough ue - (long U sound) cue, muse ui - (long U sound) fruit, juice Schwa for Unstressed Syllables Unstressed syllables keep the correct sound, but are muted. Sometimes, unstressed vowels become a schwa sound - like a soft uh sound. Listen to these specific examples: LittleRepeatTomato At other times, the vowel is pronounced but not stressed. Listen to these specific examples: IndustrialNoisily Generally speaking, stressed syllables retain a clear vowel sound, while unstressed syllables tend to soften towards a schwa-like sound.