I'm interested to learn why the following four-word phrases have stress on different words.

  1. "Little Red Riding Hood" (stress is on little and riding)
  2. "Infamous National Rifle Association" (stress is on infamous and rifle)
  3. "heavily bearded young man" (stress is on heavily and man)

Here are the sentences:

  1. There was a cute little redhead named Little Red Riding Hood.
  2. She was a recently paid-up member of the infamous National Rifle Association.
  3. The heavily bearded young man jumped out.

Only the third sentence has its stress on the last word of the four-word phrase: "man".

Can someone please tell me how the four-word phrase stress works based on the examples provided above?

  • As a native speaker, I'm not sure I agree with this. I normally think of stress as accent on some syllables within a word. Are you thinking of tone? I think I match on sentence 1 but for sentence 2, 'national' and 'rifle' are emphasized for me, and in sentence 3 the 3 words before man are emphasized.
    – Mitch
    Feb 7, 2013 at 15:56

3 Answers 3


The stress you sense actually reflects your own assumption about what the writer of each sentence intends to emphasize. This is in no way fixed or consistent. There is no rule about where to put the stress in such a phrase. If any stress is placed, it is placed on the part the writer wants to emphasize. Here's an easy way to look at it: If I wanted to emphasize that the last sentence pertained to a YOUNG man, I could stress that word and not put ANY stress on any of the others.

Don't forget that the idea of stressing any of these words comes primarily from spoken inflections, not from any intrinsic structure of a "four word phrase," which isn't a known, recognized, or established grammatical entity. In your examples, in fact, you are linking sets of words that really bear no grammatical linkage. The first is a four-word proper name, the second is a three-word proper name preceded by an adjective, and the third is a single noun preceded by two adjectives, one of which is modified by an adverb. Therefore, "four-word phrase" in no way defines what we are looking at here, and we would have no expectation that the stresses WOULD fall in the same place.


Stress should show emphasis of some sort; perhaps, you wish to set your words in priorities and let the most important words stand out when you speak. This could vary with people and intent:

  1. "Little Red Riding Hood" (Hood is little and Usually Rides compared to her being Red)
  2. "Infamous National Rifle Association" (Rifle is key here but obviously infamous)
  3. "heavily bearded young man" (Heavily for degree and of course the man spoken of based on verb that follows)

Stresses for the above phrases might differ with speakers. Point is for these phrases, stresses are on Adjectives mostly, because the seem to say more about the noun and those could be what we wish to emphasize (based on who is speaking, why, to who, and for what purpose).

  1. There was a cute little redhead named Little Red Riding Hood. (Qualities that qualifies the noun hood are emphasized);
  2. She was a recently paid-up member of the infamous National Rifle Association. (Qualities that qualify or define association)
  3. The heavily bearded young man jumped out. (I can't say how you come up with a stress on the word man, I'd rather have put a stress on the word jumped. In any case, if the purpose was to emphasize a man as against a woman, boy or girl, I'd buy that)

This is no science I'm presenting. It's just my assumption and how I sometimes come up with stresses based on importance of words and what I need to emphasize. Their are stress syllables in words, idioms, etc that shouldn't be messed with. The dictionary spells those out. In sentences that are not restricted, I'd stick with what matters. This should not be taken to mean stress only means emphasis. It's just my take on the issue.


Because nobody has answered this, I'll take a shot to say that none of the words you pointed out would have a particular emphasis added, unless the emphasis was being added by the speaker to highlight the word for some particular reason (sarcasm for instance).

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