32 Killer Rules for Prosodic Accentuation | Learn How to Accent and Unaccent on Syllable

32 Killer Rules for Prosodic Accentuation or The process of Falling Accent in Prosody

Prosodic Accentuation

In the previous article, entitled, entitled Prosody: Guide for the Beginners, I made you acquainted with a few essential prosodic terms,  their true meaning, usage, and roles as far as scanning a verse is concerned with some easy-going examples. Today I am going to discuss with you a crucial topic – some general rules of accentuation in verse.

Well, I think you have some decent ideas about what accent is and what role it plays in versification. If it’s not clear yet, no matter let’s put one or two words again. Generally accent is akin to Latin ‘ictus’ and signifies that a particular syllable is to receive a blow by which it is rendered prominent and loud. It helps the particular syllable to stand out from the other syllables.

Types of Accent

Accents are four kinds:

  1. Word Accent: – It denotes the normal or accepted placing of stress on the syllable of a word.

Example:    BEAU-ti-ful

  1. Rhetorical Accent:- It denotes the placing of stress on the entire word in a sentence to impart an unusual shade of meaning to it.


The person is poor but HONEST.

If we utter the expression – “He is rich but honest” in the normal way, it will express nothing more than what it actually means, But if we put an accent on the conjunction “but”, then the utterance will insinuate the actually the rich are dishonest by nature, so he being both rich and honest, is an exception.

  1. Metrical Accent:- It is an accent used in poetry, which is a kind of metrical composition. Accents indicates a stress that falls on syllables, however important it may be, according to the demands of the metre.

Examples:   IN a/ BAT-tle


  1. Wrenched Accent:- It is an alliteration of the normal word accent enforced by the metrical accent. As for examples, “depend” or “desire” has the accent on the second syllable. If we have to put the accent on the first syllable instead of the second, then it is called wrenched accent.


far coun-tree

fair la-die

To be frank there is no definite rule where accent will fall. Such as in a-fter, a-bout, af-ter-noon accents falls on the first, second and third syllable respectively. Despite this inconsistency, it is possible to find certain regular features about accentuation.

Before explaining all the general rules let me add one more vital point by which one can master the process of accentuation in prosody. It’s simply through building your recitation technique up with proper modulation of voice, exact intonation using high and low rhythm. In order to find out accented syllables one is to read carefully and note what syllables require the greater effort to pronounce them. Such syllables, it is needless to say are accented, as they can be distinguished from the rest according to their nature, importance and position in a metre.

General Rules of Falling Accent

NOTE: Accented syllables are capitalised.

  • ·        Accent falls on important or root syllables.

o   e.g. LOVE-ly, TRY-ing

  • ·        Accent falls on the important words. A important word draws more attention, it is natural that the stress is laid on them.
  • ·        Accent falls on the alternate syllables. When the first syllable is accented, the next one is generally found unaccented and vice versa.

e.g. The RAIN/-bow COMES/and GOES

  • ·      In the case of Mono-syllabic word, accent depends on the nature and position of the word. If the word is an important one, accent according to Rule No. 2. Falls on it. Again if the word comes after an accented syllable, it generally becomes unaccented in accordance with rule Rule No. 3.

e.g.    IN a/ MAZE


In this case ‘maze’ and ‘gaze’ are two important mono-syllabic words and hence accented. But in the following line –

MU-sic/ WHEN soft/ VOI-ces/DIES

Just take a look on the word ‘soft’. It seems it is an important word. Just because it comes after an accented syllable, the word remains unaccented for the sake of metrical clarity.

  • ·      Di-syllabic words take one accent only. The stress may either fall on the first syllable or the second syllable. About 80% or so of two-syllable words get their stress on the first syllable. There are of course, exceptions to this rule, but very few nouns and adjectives get stress on their second syllable. Verbs and prepositions usually get stress placed on the second syllable, but there are exceptions to this too.

e.g.    a-SIDE  be-TWEEN

  • ·      But the disyllabic words like “any”, “many”, and “very” sometimes may remain unaccented, whereas the monosyllabic words like “yet”, “still” and     “all” are accented very often.

e.g.    DARK-ness, CUR-few, be-LIEVE, ap-PEAR etc.

  • ·      There are a few disyllabic words which are even accented on the first syllable, no matter whether they are used as nouns or verbs.

Examples:- ‘RES-cure(n.v.);  JIN-gle(n.v.); BUS-tle(n.v.);

MAT-ter(n.v.); HUR-ry(n.v.) HUN-ger(n.v) etc.

  • ·        When the word is of tri-syllabic, accent is laid on one syllable which may be the first, second, third syllable. Here one has to identify the root syllable for accentuation.
  • ·        In the matter of tetra/ penta/ or hexa syllables accent falls on the alternate syllables. In general case, either the first or the second syllable must have the accent.
  • ·        Very few exceptional words like “returnee” have the first two syllables unaccented, followed by the accent on the third (re-turn-EE). In fact, the        English tendency is to put the accent as near the beginning of the word as possible.
  • ·        In a polysyllabic word having no prefix or suffix (eg. DE-TERIO-rate, CHLO-RO-form”, HI-PPO-crene” etc) we may have two accents. Here the more     emphatic accent is called ‘primary accent’ and the less emphatic accent is “secondary accent”. But the secondary accent more often falls on the non-        roots.
  • ·        Generally content words, such as nouns, demonstratives, interrogative pronouns, principal verbs, adjectives, adverbs are accented.
  • ·        Apparently structural words such as articles, personal pronouns, relative pronouns, auxiliary verbs, and introductory adverbs, adverbs of time, simple prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections are not accented.
  • ·        Words with weak prefixes are accented on the root syllable.

Examples:   a-CROSS, be-NEATH

There are a few exceptions to this rule, however, like: uninpreex and          mis, which are all stressed in their prefix.


  1. ex:EX-ample, EX-planation, EX-amine
  2. in:IN-side, IN-efficient, IN-terest
  3. mis:MIS-spoke, MIS-take, MIS-spelled
  4. pre:PRE-cede, PRE-arrange, PRE-liminary
  • ·        Words with various endings

Take a good look at the list of suffixes below (suffixes are word endings). Your stress is going to come on the syllable right before the suffix. This applies to words of all syllable lengths.


-able: ADD-able, AR-able, DURable

-ary: PRIM-ary, DI-ary, li-BR-ary

-cial: ju-DI-cial, non-SO-cial

-cian: mu-SI-cian, phy-SI-cian, cli-NIC-ian

-ery: BA-ke-ry, SCEN-ery

-graphy: cal-LI-graphy, bi-ble-O-graphy, sten-O-graphy

-ial: ce-les-TI-al, ini-TI-al, ju-DIC-ial

-ian: co-ME-dian, ci-VIL-ian, tech-NI-cian

-ible: vi-SI-ble, ter-RI-ble, re-SI-stible

-ic: ar-CHA-ic, pla-TO-nic, syn-THEtic

-ical: MA-gi-cal, LO-gi-cal, CRI-ti-cal

-ics: dia-BE-tics, pae-di-A-trics

-ion: cla-ssi-fi-CA-tion, re-po-SI-tion, ve-ge-TA-tion

-ity: im-MU-ni-ty, GR-Av-ity, VA-ni-ty

-ium: Hel-ium, ALU-mi-num, PRE-mium

-imum: MI-ni-mum, MAX-i-mum, OP-ti-mum

-logy: BI-o-lo-gy, CAR-di-o-lo-gy, RA-di-o-lo-gy

-tal: ca-PI-tal, bi-COA-stal, re-CI-tal

-hood: CHILD-hood, WOMAN-hood

-less: HARM-less, ART-less

-ness: GOOD-ness, CALM-ness

-ment: go-VERN-ment, em-PLOY-ment

-ish: WHIT-ish


  • ·        For words ending with the suffixes er or ly, the stress is placed on the first syllable.


  1. OR-der/ORd-er-ly
  2. MA-nage/MA-na-ger


  • ·        If there is a word that ends in a consonant or in a y, then the first syllable usually gets the stress.


  1. RAR-ity
  2. OP-timal
  3. GRA-dient
  • ·        Words that use the suffix ade, eeeseeerqueette, or oon have the primary stress actually placed on the suffix.

This applies to words of all syllable lengths.


  1. ade: lemoNADE, cruSADE, arCADE
  2. ee:aGREE, jamborEE, guaranTEE
  3. eer:sightSEER, puppeTEER
  4. ese:SiamESE, JapanESE, chEESE
  5. ette:cassETTE, CorvETTE, towelETTE
  6. que:unIQUE, physique
  7. oon:baLOON, afterNOON, cartoon
  •  You put stress on the second syllable from the end of the word, with words ending in icsion and tion.


  1. ICONic
  2. Hypertension
  3. Nutrition
  • ·        You put stress on the third from end syllable with words that end in cytyphygy and al.


  1. Democracy
  2. Geography
  3. Allergy
  4. NAUtical
  5. CLArity
  • ·        In most two syllable nouns and adjectives, the first syllable takes on the stress.


  1. SAMples
  2. CARton
  3. COlorful
  4. RAIny


There are of course, exceptions to this rule, but very few nouns and adjectives get stress on their second syllable.


  • ·        In most two syllable verbs and prepositions, the stress is on the second syllable.


  1. reLAX
  2. reCEIVE
  3. diRECT
  4. aMONG
  5. aSIDE
  6. be-TWEEN


Verbs and prepositions usually get stress placed on the second syllable, but there are exceptions to this too.


  • ·        A compound noun is a noun made out of two nouns that form one word. In a compound noun, the most stress is on the stressed syllable of the first word.


  1. SEAfood (sea + food)
  2. ICEland (ice + land)
  3. TOOTHpaste (tooth + paste)
  4. FOOTball (foot + ball)
  5. BAsketball (basket + ball)


  • ·        A compound adjective is an adjective made of at least two words.

Often, hyphens are used in compound adjectives. In compound adjectives, the most stress is placed in the stressed syllable of the second word.


  1. ten-Meter
  2. rock-SOlid
  3. fifteen-Minute
  4. old-Fashioned
  • ·        A compound verb is when a subject has two or more verbs. The stress is on the second or on the last part.


  1. Matilda loves bread but deTESTS butter.
  2. Sarah baked cookies and ATE them up.
  3. Dogs love to eat bones and love to DRINK water
  • ·         Noun + compound Nouns are two word compound nouns. In noun + compound noun, the stress is on the first word.


  1. AIRplane mechanic
  2. PROject manager
  3. BOARD member


  • ·         The compounds ending with “-ever” have the accent on the second syllable:- “how-E-ver”; “what-E-ver”; “when-E-ver”; who-E-ver”; “which-E-ver”.
  • ·         Phrasal verbs are words made from a verb and preposition.

In phrasal verbs, the second word gets the stress (the preposition).


  1. Black OUT
  2. break DOWN
  3. look OUT
  • ·         Proper nouns are specific names of people, places or things. For example: Jeniffer, Spain, Google.
  • The second word is always the one that takes the stress.



  1. North DAKOTA
  2. Mr. SMITH
  • ·         Reflexive  pronouns show that the action affects the person who performs the action. For example: I hit myself.
  • The second syllable usually takes the stress.


  1. My-SELF
  2. Them-SELVES
  3. Our-SELVES
  • ·         If the number is a multiple of ten, the stress is placed on the first syllable.

Also Read:

  1. TEN
  2. FIFty
  3. ONE-hundred
  • ·         Two vowels together in the last syllable of a word often indicate an accented last syllable.

Examples: com-PLAIN, con-CEAL

  • ·         When there are two like consonant letters within a word, the syllable before the double consonants is usually accented.

Examples: be-GIN-ner, LET-ter

  • ·         The combining forms or prefixes having two syllables (eg. “hyper”, “inter-“, “super-“, “hypo-“, etc.) have the accent always on the first syllable.
  • ·         The force of the accent is so strong that while it retains the integrity of that syllable on which it falls, the unaccented syllables run the risk of disappearing altogether. This is shown in the following process:


a) Apheresis:the dropping of an unaccented syllable or sound from the beginning of a word, as in spite for despite, spital for hospitaletc, varsity for university etc. A variant of Apheresis  is Aphesis in which the gradual loss of a short or unaccented vowel at the beginning of a word takes place, as in mend for amend, cute for acute, special for especial etc.

b) Synocope:the dropping of the middle syllable, as in empress for emperess damsel for damosel, e’er for ever, o’er for over, ta’en for taken etc.

c) Apocope: the dropping of the last syllable or letter as in cinema for cinematography, curio for curious, eve for evening etc.

I can sum up suggesting that if one wants to achieve expertise as far as accentuation is concerned his or her good companion is a good dictionary. Dictionaries are great tools for learning word stress. Besides one can take the help of SMARTPHONE DICTIONARY APP featuring Audio facility.

Dear readers, if you have any further information regarding this topic please inform me in the comment box bellow.

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