Syllable Stress in heteronyms

You may be familiar with the general patterns of syllables, as outlined in this helpful article on intonation and stress. However, syllable stress in heteronyms is perhaps still a foreign concept to you. Many English words are spelled the same but pronounced differently. We call these words heteronyms. Mispronouncing these words is one of the most common English mistakes!  Check out the video below to see why pronouncing these heteronyms correctly is so important.


Today, we are going to look at a few examples of heteronyms and how to place the right stress at the right syllable, and we’ll also give you a handy rule that you could use. Say goodbye to mispronunciations of heteronyms!


Take a look at the following sentences and try to figure out how to read these properly. Once you’ve tried reading these aloud, listen to the audio and see if you can find a pattern in pronunciation – there’s a rule that can help you out!

1) The farm was used to produce produce.

2) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

3) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

4) Since there is no time like the present*, he thought it was time to present the present.

5) I did not object to the object.

6) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

7) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.


The rule of syllable stress in heteronyms

Did you catch the pattern?  Syllable stress in these words depends on the words’ part of speech.  In most cases, the syllable stress in nouns and adjectives is placed on the first syllable whereas it’s placed on the last syllable of verbs.   

Let’s add a few more challenging minimal pairs to create sentences with:  

Moral     morale      Envelope   envelop       conflict (n)  conflict (v)    suspect (n)   suspect (v) 

To learn more about patterns of syllable stress in words with the same suffix, check out these articles

To learn more about syllable stress in heteronyms and practice using it correctly in conversation, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional and experienced English teacher.  The first week is free for you to try it out!  

Sam Ju

Sam Ju

Sam loves examining data to help roll out new features that make test-takers’ lives easier. He has an MS in Development Practice from UC Berkeley, and a BA in Management from Renmin University of China. In his spare time, he enjoys playing tennis and singing along with his electronic keyboard.
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