What's the correct pronunciation of "influence"? Specifically, which syllable is stressed?
I always thought it was INfluence, but recently I heard it pronounced inFLUence by some people.
Which one is correct, or is it a matter of accent?

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  • 1
    Are you using it as a noun or a verb? – Jim Aug 30 '14 at 23:34
  • @Jim does it make a difference? If I have to choose one, then let's say verb. – aditsu Aug 30 '14 at 23:41
  • 1
    I pronounce it stressed on syllable 1 for both verb and noun. If somebody stressed the second syllable I'd figure them for trying to make a lame joke about being under the influence of fluids. – John Lawler Aug 31 '14 at 0:46

There is a semi-general pattern, though by no means followed strictly, of words which can be used as both nouns and verbs to have the noun form stressed on one syllable, and the verb stressed on another (generally the syllable after the noun's). This effect is stronger in some dialects than others. For example, I (SAE) refer to security forces as the police, and they police the community. Likewise, in construction, one uses cement to cement things together, but I believe most dialects would say the police police the neighborhood (weirdos ;-) ).

All that said, I'm not sure I've heard it applied to influence. I hear both pronunciations regularly (or, at least, certainly a strong secondary stress on the second syllable, versus no secondary for others), but even being from a dialect that follows the pattern more strictly than others, I don't make a distinction between verb or noun and probably pronounce it both ways depending on sentence context. So I think you'll be fine with either pronunciation, although the first-syllable one is clearly the preferred. If you stress the seocnd one too strong, I'll definitely interpret it as an odd (though understandable) version of "influx" especially, as John Lawler points out, with liquids or similar.

(Interestingly, the OED only marks the primary stress, cf. confluence where both primary and secondary are marked)

  • CEment is also rare these days (though there was a time when it was deemed proper in areas that no longer use it), but the noun/verb stress shift can be seen all over the language. That said, I have never heard anyone put the stress on the second syllable of influence, either in person or recorded, in well over a half-century of complete immersion in various (and often wildly varying) English dialects. – bye Aug 31 '14 at 4:50

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