34: consonant+y suffix (-cy, -ity, -graphy, -fy) word syllable stress

The consonant+y covers a wide number of suffix-based syllable stress patterns. Learn one and you learn many.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 34th episode.

I want to start today by thanking Kaoki, Monica, and ShortHair for starting topics in the forums! I am really excited about the learning opportunities we all have as the online community builds at pronuncian.com. If you haven't checked it out yet, just click the forums link on the right-hand side of any pronuncian.com page. Join the discussions about the ng sound, zh sound, coffee verses tea, or start your own new topic. It is free, and it is for everybody! If you are a teacher and listen to these shows, please, add your input, too.

I have to say, the discussion about the nasal g sound in Japanese compared to the ng sound in English has me very curious. If you are a native Japanese speaker, let us know what your opinion is. It would also be great to have some other non-native speakers' comments about the zh sound.

ShortHair, I'm not exactly sure if I answered your question or not. I wasn't exactly sure what you were asking.

Wherever you are from, whatever your first language is, go to the forums at Pronuncian.com, and let's all learn together.

Well, today is the final day of the topic of syllable stress. Five weeks is a long time to spend on any topic, so I hope these in-depth podcasts have been useful to all of you. Syllable stress is more important than I feel most teachers realize. It's not just sound that causes miscommunication, and all of the rhythm of English builds on syllable stress, so if your syllable stress is off, your rhythm and intonation will also be off, and that will make you sound less fluent.

We've learned a lot of things already about syllable stress. We learned the 2-syllable word rule, which states that 2-syllable nouns, adverbs, and adjectives are usually stressed on the first syllable, and that 2-syllable verbs are usually stressed on the second syllable.

Then we learned that suffixes in English control which syllable of many words receives the stress. Words that end in the -tion/-sion suffix or the -ic suffix are usually stressed on the syllable before that suffix. Don't forget that we can also add -al and -ally to those suffixes and the stress remains on the syllable before the -tion/-sion or -ic. You can review all of that information in episodes 30 and 31.

In episodes 32 and 33 we learned that words that end in the -ize and -ate suffix are stressed on the third from the last syllable. It is because we count backward to find the syllable stress that syllable stress doesn't seem to follow a pattern. But it does, it is just a little hard to notice at first. We also learned that the -ate suffix has two different pronunciations depending on the part of speech of that word. Verbs that end in -ate sound like -ate, with a long a sound, as in the word decorate. Nouns and adjectives that end in -ate sound like -it, it with a short i sound, as in the word passionate. Either way, the word is stressed on the third from the last syllable.

Today I am going to talk about words that end in consonant+y suffixes. This includes quite a few suffixes, including -cy, ty, gy, phy, and fy. So, you can see that this includes a huge number of words. Luckily all these words follow the same rule. Consonant+y suffixes are stressed on the third from the last syllable.

Before I give you examples of this rule, I want to point out that this rule does not include the -ly suffix. The -ly suffix often creates adverbs, and it does not have a syllable stress rule. Many words that end in -ly have another suffix before the -ly. If that suffix has a syllable stress rule, the stress will stay in the same spot when the -ly is added. For example, the word accurate ends in -ate, so it is stressed on the third from the last syllable. If I add an -ly I'll get the word accurately. Both accurate and accurately get stressed on the -ac- syllable because of the -ate suffix. The -ly just gets added to the end of the word, and the stress doesn't change.

Now, let's get back to the consonant+y rule and some examples of that. Because there are lots of consonant+y suffixes, I'll have quite a few examples.

Listen to some 3-syllable words. We will stress the third from the last syllable, so in 3-syllable words, it is the first syllable that is stressed. Please repeat after me.

-cy, pol-i-cy
-ty, qual-i-ty
-gy, all-er-gy
-phy, at-ro-phy
-fy, clar-i-fy


Now listen to and repeat some 4-syllable words:

-cy, dem-o-cra-cy
-ty, e-qual-i-ty
-gy, a-pol-o-gy
-phy, pho-tog-ra-phy
-fy, i-den-ti-fy


Here are just a few 5-syllable words:

-ty, dur-a-bil-i-ty
-gy, ar-che-ol-o-gy
-phy, chor-e-og-ra-phy


As I've said before, many of my students have professions in computer programming, economics, and the sciences and healthcare. These professions use a lot of multisyllable words in everyday speech. I often hear my students rush through these words, trying to say them very quickly in order to try to hide any syllable stress or sound errors. Don't do that! Speaking faster does not make you sound more fluent, it only makes you harder to understand, which then makes you sound less fluent. Speaking more clearly makes you sound more fluent. Learn the rules and slow down! The only way to learn the rules is to study them and then practice them. The longer you've been speaking English, the more practice it will take to break incorrect speaking habits.

If you have any questions about syllable stress, go ahead and post them in the stress section of the Pronuncian forums. Nobody has made any posts there yet, so you could be the first! There is also a section for suggestions and comments. So if you have anything you want me to talk about here or that you want to see on Pronuncian, let us know! We'd love to hear from you. You can also email me personally at podcast@pronuncian.com.

Check out Pronuncian.com for the transcripts for this show which have links to the free online lessons associated with this topic. For more in-depth learning, you can also purchase Pronunciation Pages: Sounds of American Accent from Pronuncian.com for $25. That text includes lessons for all the sounds of English as well as a chapter about syllable stress with practice word lists and additional online lessons. Along with the purchase of that book, you receive a full 3-month subscription to Pronuncian.com in order to hear all the audio included with the book.

You can also purchase the text along with MP3 files for convenient practice of all the sounds of American English for $30. All purchases from Pronuncian.com directly support production of this ongoing American English Pronunciation podcast. I truly appreciate all of you that have already made a purchase. Without that support, I don't know if I'd be able to still create these podcasts every week. So, thank you very much.

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Thanks for listening everyone!