31: -ic suffix word syllable stress

Learn about -ic word stress (as in 'classic' and 'economic') and review the 2-syllable word stress rule and -tion/-sion syllable stress


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 31st episode.

Last week, I began talking about syllable stress. Hopefully you have already heard that show, because I think it'll make today's show easier to understand. Last week I talked about the 2-syllable word stress rule. Do you remember it? It goes like this:

2-syllable nouns, adjectives, and adverbs are stressed on the first syllable. So, this would include words like, "table, quiet, and often."

2-syllable verbs are usually stressed on the second syllable. So, this would include words like, "predict, suspend, and remove."

Some words, called heteronyms, can have two different pronunciations, but only one spelling. 2-syllable heteronyms often use a change in the stressed syllable to show a change in the usage of the word. For example, the word c-o-n-t-e-s-t. A "CONtest" (noun) is a competition, but to "conTEST" (verb) means to oppose something. "Wilma won the CONtest, but her opponents intend to conTEST the results."

English has lots of heteronyms, and we'll talk about more of them in the coming weeks.

The other aspect of syllable stress that I talked about last week was that suffixes play a large part in deciding which syllable to stress. I told you that words that contain the -tion/-sion suffix are usually stressed on the syllable before the -tion or -sion. By knowing this rule, we know where to stress the words, "creation, intuition, and reputation."

I also told you that we can add the -al and -ally suffixes to the -tion/-sion suffix and the stress will still remain before the -tion or -sion. Now we will also know where to stress words like, "oppositional, situational and nutritionally."

If you could understand all of that, you'll have no problem with the new topic for today, the -ic suffix. The -ic suffix rules are identical to the -tion/-sion rules. Words that contain the -ic suffix are stressed on the syllable before the -ic.

Let's talk a little bit about what the -ic suffix is, and what it does. While both nouns and adjectives can end in -ic, adjectives are far more common. With the -ic suffix, we can take nouns like athlete, hero, or alcohol and create the adjectives: athletic, heroic, and alcoholic. Or, we can take verbs like symbolize or specify and create symbolic and specific. For some reason, the word specific is really hard for a lot of my students to say. Listen carefully to the pronunciation of this word, specific. Repeat it after me: specific.

All of those adjectives we just created: athletic, heroic, alcoholic, symbolic, and specific, follow the same syllable stress rule as the -tion/-sion suffix; the words are stressed on the syllable before the suffix.

Let's practice words from 2 to 6 syllables to hear this rule in action. Repeat after me to get the feel for this stress rule.


2 syllables: tragic
3 syllables: athletic
4 syllables: alcoholic
5 syllables: enthusiastic
6 syllables: materialistic


Okay, everybody understand that? I hope so, because now I'm going to make it harder. Remember how we could add the suffixes -al and -ally to the -tion/-sion suffix? Well, we can do the same thing to the -ic suffix. And, just like the -tion/-sion suffix, the addition of these extra suffixes does not change the syllable stress. What is weird about this is that we can add the -al suffix to a word that is already an adjective. I'm not going to get into why we would do this, and it doesn't happen very often, but it can. What I want you to know, for the purposes of pronunciation, is where to place the syllable stress in those words.

Let's listen to some examples.

I can take the noun, logic, and add -al to get the adjective logical. The stress didn't move.

Or I can take the adjective, logistic, and add an -al to it and get logistical. Still, the stress didn't move.

I can create a 7-syllable word by adding an -ally to enthusiastic and the stress will remain on the syllable before the -ic. I'll have the word enthusiastically. That is a very long word! Say it after me: enthusiastically.

The sciences use suffixes like these all the time, and if you are in a scientific field, you should pay attention to this stuff. Also, if you are in any kind of computer programming field or have a job in economics, it is well worth your effort to learn and pay attention to suffixes in a new way.

I wouldn't encourage you to go out and create words just because you know how to use suffixes, you really can't. You need to know that the word exists first, or you will likely come up with words that don't actually exist. However, if you come across a new word, spend some time dissecting it. Find the root of the word, guess the syllable stress, and see if you can think of other words with the same root. Because I am an English teacher with a love for linguistics, I find games like this to be lots of fun. I realize that few other people actually care to the extent that I do. I'll tell you, though, that when you see how many new words you can learn doing this, you may find my tiresome games fun as well.

Now I've got a quick promotional note, because your purchases from Pronuncian.com make it possible for me to spend the time on these podcasts. The text, Pronunciation Pages, Sound of American Accent, has a chapter on syllable stress, including a nice list of words that are quite frequent and follow these rules. I'd encourage you to read those lists aloud so you can start to develop a more intuitive approach to syllable stress. You can purchase that text from Pronuncian.com for $25US, and you can buy it and the MP3 sound files for the combination price of $30US. That is pretty inexpensive, and you get 4 1/2 hours of audio with those files.

That's it for today everyone. I'm planning to spend at least 2 more weeks talking about syllable stress, and even that will only touch the surface. Don't forget, all the podcast transcripts are available for free online at www.pronuncian.com, and the transcripts pages have links to other free lessons online to give you more information.

As always, I would love to hear from you! Specifically, I'd like to know the languages of the listeners of this show, and specific problems that you know you have. Please email me at podcast@pronuncian.com.

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Thanks for listening everyone!