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Intonation In English: Nouns And Adjectives Are Stressed Differently Than Verbs

By Frank Gerace

Listen and Learn: Nouns and Adjectives one way; Verbs another

Chinese has "tones" but all languages have their own special intonation. The "music" of a language is its intonation and it is perhaps the most important element of a correct accent.

A "ggod" accent is not only a question of good pronunciation. Many people think that pronunciation is what makes up an accent. It may be that pronunciation is very important for an understandable accent. But it is intonation that gives the final touch that makes an accent correct or native. Often we hear someone speaking with perfect grammar, and perfect formation of the sounds of English but with a little something that gives her away as not being a native speaker.

Therefore, it is necessary to realize that there are three components to an accent, pronunciation, intonation, and linking. In other places we will examine pronunciation, the proper formation of vowels and consonants, and linking, the way that syllables within a word, and the beginning and ending of words come together.

But what interests us now is the issue of intonation, and in particular the difference in intonation of nouns and adjusctives on the one hand, and the intonation of verbs on the other. A review of this gives us a perfect example of how meaning affects intonation.

Noun/Adjective and Verb

In other articles, we saw: that verbs of two syllables often have the stress on the second syllable, while the related noun has the stress on the first syllable. We also saw that expressiones of two words are stressed differently according to their meaning.

This article, along with the others, is an example of the effect that meaning has on intonation in English. Many native speakers do not realize that the "rule" of this section is pretty rigorous. To know it can help you in building your vocabulary at the same time that you perfect your intonation. Even native speakers can profit from being more precise in the intonation of their English.

This is another intonation pattern that you must master. Verbs ending in the letters "ate" pronounce the letter "a" of the last syllable with the "long a" sound (the name of the letter "a", the sound of the words steak and make). Related nouns or adjectives pronounce the letter "a" of the last syllable with the indefinite schwa sound (the sound of the "a" of the word about, or the second "e" in the word elephant)

For each word, indicate that you know the difference between the two uses of the same word (by "same" we mean having the same spelling.)

First, give a brief meaning of the word used as noun or adjective and put the letter "I" to indicate that the final letter "a" is the indefinite sound of the "a" in about.

Next, give a brief meaning of the word used as a verb and put the letter "A" to indicate that the final letter "a" is the sound of the "long a" of the word make.

I start the exercise with two examples, the words alternate and appropriate. I have indicated the stress with CAPITAL LETTERS. You underline the syllable that is stressed, and write a brief explanation to indicate that you understand the difference. You do the rest of the table. And make sure you pronounce the words OUT LOUD.

alternate I


Noun: A substitute

alternate A


Verb: To take turns.

appropriate I


Adjective: correct or suitable

Appropriate A


Verb: To take over.

Now, you do the rest of the table, underlinging the accented syllable and defining the word to emphasize your understanding that the accent goes with the meaning.

approximate, to approximate


articulate, to articulate


associate, to associate


deliberate, to deliberate


duplicate, to duplicate


laminate, to laminate


graduate, to graduate


intimate, to intimate


moderate, to moderate


predicate, to predicate


precipate, to precipate

Practice on the following sentences that contain some of the words of the list used buth as noun or adjective, and as verb. Underline the accent and read the sentences out loud

The facilitator wanted to separate the general topic into separate categories

Would you care to elaborate on his elaborate explanation?

Have you heard that your associate is known to associate with gangsters?

How much do you estimate that the estimate will be?

Look for other articles on this same subject by searching for the word "intonation"!

About The Author

Frank Gerace Ph.D has worked in Latin America in UN and national Educational and Communication Projects, and has taught in Bolivian and Peruvian Universities. He currently teaches English in New York City at La Guardia College/CUNY. He provides resources on accent reduction and the proper American English accent at http://www.GoodAccent.com.


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