130: 2-syllable word stress

How accurate are the 2-syllable word stress patterns?


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 130th episode.

Today's podcast has some numbers and statistics along with the lesson, so I would recommend reading the transcripts while listening to the show. You can find the transcripts, for free, by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

Today we're going to talk about 2-syllable words, and some interesting facts about 2-syllable words derived from my frequency dictionary. I don't think I've talked about frequency dictionaries on this podcast before. A frequency dictionary uses a giant corpus to tell us which words are used most often.

So, what's a corpus?

In the linguistic sense, a corpus is a very large body of texts from a bunch of different sources. This allows linguists to study which words are being used, how they're being used, and what other words are used with them.

My favorite frequency dictionary is Mark Davies and Dee Gardner's A Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English. I like this dictionary because it focuses on American English and uses a corpus of formal and informal written text and spoken dialog. Plus, I like that it's really easy to use.

Now, you won't find phonetic transcriptions in this dictionary; it doesn't tell us how to pronounce a word. And it doesn't provide definitions, so it doesn't tell us the meaning of a word. It does tell us other words that are often used near a word, the part of speech the word is being used in, and most important to me, how frequently we use the word.

I found an interesting chart on the OxfordDictionaries website about word frequency. They calculated, based on a corpus, that the 10 most frequently used words make up 25% of the overall words we use in English. This is incredible because it means that one in four words we use are comprised of the same 10 words! Now, let me get a little specific and tell you that this includes conjugations of a word as a single word. So, for instance, the words have, has, and had all count as the same word, the base word have.

OxfordDictionaries says 50% of all of the words we use are made up of only 100 different words, and 75% of all the words we use are included in only the top 1000 words.

This week I decided to dive into my frequency dictionary to see how relevant the 2-syllable word stress patterns actually are in the words we use most often. I was very surprised at the accuracy I found, and I got so excited about it that I decided to create 4 new exercises for the 2-syllable word stress lesson.

Let's review the pattern. The 2-syllable word stress pattern states that 2-syllable nouns, adverbs, and adjectives are usually stressed on the first syllable and 2-syllable verbs are usually stressed on the second syllable.

I counted all of the 2-syllable nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs in the top 500 most frequently used words.

Within the 50 nouns on the list, 88% are indeed stressed on the first syllable. That's pretty good.

Within the 12 adjectives, all of them are stressed on the first syllable. Wow.

Within the 23 adverbs, however, only 62% are actually stressed on the first syllable, so that pattern is not followed so closely.

And finally, of the 19 2-syllable verbs in the top 500 words, 84% are stressed on the second syllable. Again, that's pretty accurate for an English pronunciation pattern.

So, if we do a little math, of the 104 total 2-syllable nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs in 500 most frequently used words of American English, almost 84% follow the 2-syllable word stress pattern.

Like I said, I took these findings and created 4 new Pronuncian exercises from them. On Pronuncian, exercises are the additional material that's only available to our subscribers and members. This is the only way we can afford to keep so much material, including these podcasts free to everyone. So, if you want the whole lists, along with their audio and including the words that do not follow the pattern, you'll have to join Pronuncian.

Since I love my podcast listeners so much, though, I'm going to do a listen-and-repeat activity with the most frequently used 5 words that do follow the pattern in each category.

I'll start with nouns, which we expect to be stressed on the first syllable:


Here are the adjectives:




And here are the verbs, which we expect to be stressed on the second syllable:


I'll link to the free 2-syllable word stress lesson on this topic in this week's transcripts, and the links to the new exercises are at the bottom of that lesson.

I always encourage learners to listen to lots of genres and speakers of English to help notice and review the skills learned on these podcasts. A perfect place to find great speech is to listen to an audiobook. You can download a free audiobook, to keep, by signing up for a free 2-week trial of audible.com by going to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian. After you download your book, you can cancel your subscription and keep your book. Trust me, one book will last you a long time if you really use it to evaluate speech.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.