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Pronounce BIG words in American English!


(Video Transcript)

Do you recognize any of these people? 


They are what you call “social media influencers.” 


An influencer is a person or thing that influences another person or thing. You could also say they are very INfluential.


Wait, IN-fluential? Nope, that wasn’t the correct syllable stress. Let me try that again:








Ah, now that sounds right.


But why did the stress shift from IN-fluence to in-flu-EN-tial?


I’m Julie from San Diego Voice and Accent, and that’s exactly what you’ll find out in today’s video. 


What is a suffix?

If you’ve been studying American English for any amount of time, then you already know that it’s very challenging to predict the syllable stress pattern of words in English. Two syllable words are pretty easy - stress is either on the first syllable, like in the words oven, table, and pencil, or stress is on the second syllable, like in the words hotel, express, and control.


When words get longer and longer, like when the word photo becomes photograph, and photograph becomes photographer, photography, and photographic, then the stress patterns get more difficult to predict. But have no fear, in today’s video, you’ll learn some of the rules about how to pronounce the syllable stress patterns of long words in American English.


When we take a basic word, like photograph, and add an ending to it, like going from photograph to photographic, we are adding what’s called a suffix to the end of the word. 


A suffix is an additional element that is placed at the end of a basic root word to change its meaning. 


A photograph is a noun. It’s a picture that you take with a camera. “I took a million photographs on my vacation.” But when you add the i-c ending to it, it becomes photographic, which is an adjective, like in, “She has photographic memory.”


Adding the i-c ending changed the meaning of the word, and it also changed the rhythm and stress of the word.


Photograph has stress on the first syllable: PHO-duh-graph


And photographic has stress on the third syllable of the word: pho-duh-GRAF-ic


Suffixes: Two main categories

The question I’m asked all of the time is, “How do I know which syllable to stress in these longer words in English?” And I’m sorry to say that the answer is a little complicated…but stay with me here.


There are two main categories of suffixes. One group of suffixes will change the stress pattern of a root word when they are added to the end, like in my earlier example of influence and influential. 


The primary stress in the word influence is on the first syllable. But when you add the i-a-l ending, the primary stress shifts to the third syllable. 





The other group of suffixes won’t change the stress pattern of a root word when they are added to the end, like the f-u-l ending in beautiful. The root word is beauty, and when you add the f-u-l ending, you get beautiful. Beauty and beautiful have the same primary stress; the first syllable.


So now you know a little bit of background about suffixes. There are two main categories. Either the suffix changes the stress pattern of a root word, or it doesn’t change the stress pattern.


Suffixes in American English: Practice

And the best way for you to learn about the pronunciation of these two categories of suffixes is to practice, so let’s jump right in. I know this may feel overwhelming at first - there are a lot of suffixes in American English, and a lot of possible stress patterns - but the point of this practice is to help you to understand what is happening to the stress patterns of these longer words in English. You don’t need to memorize every single suffix - that would be impossible.


Instead, we’ll practice five of the most common suffixes that fall under the first category. These are suffixes that change the stress pattern of a root word when they are added to the end. This practice will help to improve your awareness of the stress patterns of American English, and the more your awareness improves, the better your future pronunciation will be.


And I have some good news for you - there is a rule that you can follow here! When you add these five suffixes to the end of a root word, the primary stress is always on the syllable before the suffix. That’s the rule to remember: primary stress is on the syllable before the suffix.


Let’s practice a few words from each suffix. We’ll practice the root word first, and then we’ll add the suffix to the end so we can practice changing the stress pattern of the longer word. You’ll hear each pair of words three times, then you’ll have the chance to repeat in the pauses.


How to pronounce the -ical suffix

Suffix number one: the i-c-a-l ending:


History historical 

Politics political

Alphabet alphabetical


How to pronounce the -ity suffix

Suffix number two: the i-t-y ending:


Available availability

Compatible compatibility

Functional functionality


How to pronounce the -tion suffix

Suffix number three: the t-i-o-n ending:


Celebrate celebration

Civilize civilization

Communicate communication


How to pronounce the -ic suffix

Suffix number four: the i-c ending:


System systematic

Problem problematic

Therapy therapeutic

How to pronounce the -ify suffix

Suffix number five: the i-f-y ending:


Solid solidify

Syllable syllabify

Object objectify

Thanks so much for joining me today for this lesson on American English stress. I hope you found it useful! And don’t forget to join me at Julie’s Conversation Club if you want to practice your pronunciation with me during my next live class! The information on how to join is in the description below. Thanks for watching, and have a great day!


And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!

Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent Julie Cunningham | San Diego Voice and Accent

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