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Think about sentence stress as simply saying the most important words of a sentence a little bit louder, or for a little bit longer than the others. This is demonstrated with the words bought, car, and Tuesday in the following sentence.

I bought a car on Tuesday.

Giving emphasis to these words does the important job of helping the speaker and listener focus on the same information while creating the underlying rhythm to spoken English.

The rhythm created by emphasizing certain words of sentences is very closely tied to syllable stress in individual words. When a word has more than one syllable, a single syllable is given more emphasis than the other syllables in the word. Specifically, the vowel sound of the stressed syllable is said longer, louder, and often at a slightly higher pitch than the surrounding syllables.

Notice that only the first syllable of the word 'Tuesday' is stressed in our example.

I bought a car on Tuesday.

Content Words and Function Words

In general, content words (nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs, question words, and negatives) of sentences are given added emphasis and function words (pronouns, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and determiners) remain unstressed, or even get reduced.

Our example had typically stressed content words and unstressed and reduced function words.

I bought a car on Tuesday.
(pronoun, verb, determiner, noun, preposition, noun)