33: -ate suffix word syllable stress and heteronyms

Words ending in the -ate suffix are stressed on the 3rd-from-last syllable, but the suffix itself can sound differently depending if the word is a noun, adjective, or verb. Advanced level ESL lesson.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 33rd episode.

Before I begin the topic of syllable stress today, I'd like to make an announcement: Pronuncian.com now has forums! The forums link is on the right-hand side of the page and will take you directly into this new feature. In order for any forum to be successful, I need you to take part. So, be brave, and don't worry about spelling errors or grammar errors, and go post a question for me or for other speakers of your language, or for anyone at all. But someone needs to start it. I know the color scheme doesn't match the rest of the Pronuncian site yet, but don't worry about that; the colors will come. So, please, please, please, go there, and post your comment or question and get help me get things started.

Now, on with the show.

Today I am going to continue talking about the confusing and complicated topic of syllable stress. By carefully memorizing these details, you really can develop a more intuitive approach to syllable stress, and you will certainly have fewer miscommunications when you are talking with native speakers. Unfortunately, it isn't easy. There are simply a lot of rules to learn and memorize. But, if you've gotten your English skills high enough to listen to and understand this podcast, you can also master syllable stress.

First, let's review. I know our list of things to review each week is getting long, but review leads to long-term memory development, and that's what I want for all of you.

Three long weeks ago I began this topic by telling you that 2-syllable nouns, adjectives, and adverbs are usually stressed on the first syllable. 2-syllable verbs are usually stressed on the second syllable. Don't forget, we have that special group of words, called heteronyms, which are two different words with different pronunciations that are spelled exactly the same. For 2-syllable heteronyms, the difference in pronunciation is usually a shift in the stressed syllable.

For example, the word o-b-j-e-c-t:


an OBject is a noun, meaning a thing
to obJECT is a verb, meaning to protest something


We'll come back to the subject of heteronyms in a little bit. (By the way, in the past 2 sentences, I said two more heteronyms, to proTEST and a SUBject. If I would have stressed the other syllable of either of those two words, as in PROtest and subJECT I'd have said the wrong word.) I know, it's tricky.

Three weeks ago I also introduced the idea that suffixes control which syllable of a word receives the stress. Words that end in the -tion or -sion suffix get stressed on the syllable before the -tion or -sion. Examples are the words attention and comprehension.

Two weeks ago, I told you that words that end in the -ic suffix also get stressed on the syllable before the suffix. Examples are the words heroic and enthusiastic.

Don't forget that the -al and -ally suffix can get added to the -tion, -sion, or -ic suffix and the stress stays on the syllable before the original suffix. Whew, that was a lot of information. But I'm not done yet.

Last week, I told you about verbs that end in -ize. Those words are stressed on the third from the last suffix. An example is the word memorize. Yes, this is a lot to memorize.

If any of this is still confusing to you, please go back and listen to those first shows on this topic or visit the free lessons online. Syllable stress is all about the details, and you need to be able to organize these details in your head.

This week I'll introduce another suffix that controls syllable stress, the -ate suffix. The -ate suffix is similar to the -ize suffix because, like the -ize suffix, we stress the third from the last syllable. Also, the -ize suffix is used to create verbs, and the -ate suffix also creates verbs. Examples are the words generate and decorate.

However, the -ate suffix can do more than create verbs. It can also create nouns and adjectives, as in the noun certificate or the adjective passionate. Luckily, it doesn't matter if a word that ends in -ate is a verb, noun, or adjective, it is always stressed on the third to last syllable. There is a different difference in pronunciation, though.

Listen carefully to the following -ate ending words and try to hear the difference in the pronunciation of the final syllable. Generate, certificate, passionate. I'll say them again: generate, certificate, passionate.

I hope you could hear that the final syllable of generate sounded like -ate, with a long a sound, but the final syllable of the words certificate and passionate sounded like -it, with a short i sound.

I hate to pile pronunciation rules on top of pronunciation rules, but this is one to remember. When a verb has the -ate suffix, the -ate is pronounced with a long a sound. It will sound like -ate, as in the word generate.

When a noun or an adjective has the -ate suffix, the -ate is pronounced with a short i sound, like -it, as in the words certificate and passionate.

And remember, all words with the -ate suffix are stressed on the third to the last syllable.

Now, remember that I said that we'd return to the topic of heteronyms. The -ate suffix, due to its two different pronunciations, also creates heteronyms (two words that are spelled the same but sound different). Here are some examples:


(verb) graduate, (noun/adjective) graduate
(verb) advocate, (noun/adjective) advocate


In those words, the syllable stress was the same, but the final syllable of the word had a different pronunciation based on the word's part of speech.

Well, I think that is definitely enough for today. I've decided that I will spend one more week on syllable stress. The final rules I will teach you next week will really allow you to know a rule for the majority of multi-syllable word stress rules in English. For the most part, these rules are true no matter what dialect of English you are speaking, however, if you want to know for certain, you always need to check your dictionary. My dictionary is my most used reference. I usually use the electronic dictionary on my computer. It is quick, accurate, and necessary.

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, Sounds of American Accent, has a chapter on syllable stress, including a nice list of words that are quite frequent and follow these rules. There are also lists of all the different kinds of heteronyms in English. 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. With the book purchase you also get 3 months subscription to Pronuncian.com and access to all the audio that goes with the book. Or, you can buy the book and the sound practice MP3 files for the combination price of $30US. The sound files are the most convenient way to practice the lists of words located in the sounds tab on pronuncian.com. That is pretty inexpensive, and you get 4 1/2 hours of audio with those files. Go to the products page on Pronuncian.com for the details.

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. Also, don't forget to go and post something to the Pronuncian forums. We need your help to get them started.

One last note, today. I thought I had fixed the stereo audio problem last week, but I found out that I still had a problem with it. THIS podcast should have equal sound coming from both left and right speakers. In the next few days I'm going to go back and fix the previous shows. So, if you want equal sound in your iPod earbuds, wait a couple of days and you can re-download the shows. I have heard that there is a way to manually fix it in iTunes as well. Hey, maybe I'll post about it in the forums! I know some of you have found the way to fix it after it is downloaded. I'll also make an announcement there when I get the new files uploaded.

Thanks for sticking with me for these longer and more complicated syllable stress lessons. Now I'm finished for this week!

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Thanks for listening everyone!