Welcome to Daily Tips on Learning English. Today’s tip is on contrastive stress.
If you listen to previous daily tips, you will recall that content words, such as nouns, main verbs, adjectives and adverbs are normally stressed, and function words, such as personal pronouns, possessive adjectives and prepositions are normally not stressed.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. The exceptions to conform to the universal rule for word stress, namely, you should stress the words that are important in the context. Let’s look at some examples. The sentence “I put your pen in my desk” would normally have the words “put”, “pen” and “desk” stressed, but if the listener didn’t hear me clearly and started looking for his pen on my desk. I would change the stress to the word “in”. I would say, “No, I put your pen in my desk, not on my desk.” The information conveyed by the preposition “in” has now become the most important word, and so receives the greatest stress. So now he looks in my desk and finds the pen. But he says, “This isn’t my pen. This is your pen.” Although the possessive adjectives “your” and “my” are not normally stressed, here they are very important to convey the message and so they receive the greatest stress.
Let’s look at another example. Two people are ordering in a restaurant. One says, “I will have a ham and cheese sandwich and a small bow of soup.” And then the other says, “I will have a ham and egg sandwich, and a large bow of soup. Did you notice how the second person who order stresses the word “egg” and “large”? That’s because those words were different from what came before. This is called contrastive stress.
Today’s daily tip is to make sure to stress the most important words in your speech. Tune in tomorrow for another daily tip.