I have two sentences:

  1. I'm in a hurry. [aɪm_ɪn_ə ˈhɜri]
  2. I'm not in a hurry. [aɪm nɑd_ɪn_ə ˈhɜri]

I linked the words together (consonant + vowel). I use the flap T in the second sentence (I marked it with a /d/ sound. I know, some people say it's a different sound, but this is irrelevant now).

In the first sentence, the primary stress is on the noun. Am I right? The first part "I'm in a" doesn't need to be stressed. Right?

In the second sentence however I introduced the negative (not). Does this change the word stress. I mean do we need to use secondary stress on NOT? or is it not necessary?

Thank you!

  • 1
    Why can't you have primary stress on both not and hurry? Do you believe that only one word per sentence gets primary stess? And yes, you should stress the not; whether it gets more, less, or an equal amount of stress as hurry depends on exactly what meaning you want to convey. Feb 8, 2015 at 13:49
  • Hi Peter, thank you very much for your answer. Your time is greatly appreciated. The meaning is something like this: Someone says to me "It will take some time", and I answers: "It's okay, I'm not in a hurry". I wanted to know if "not" gets any stress or not. Feb 8, 2015 at 13:53

2 Answers 2


In sentences there is no such thing as primary or secondary stress. Primary and secondary stress are word internal concepts. Depending on which system you use to analyze sentences there are three (or more) different types of prominent syllables that we can find in sentences:

  1. stresses
  2. accents
  3. nucleuses

A STRESS is a syllable which has rhythmic prominence. An ACCENT is a stressed syllable which involves a distinct pitch change. Accented syllables are therefore more prominent than other stressed syllables. The NUCLEUS, sometimes known as the TONIC syllable, is usually the last stressed syllable in the intonational phrase (read sound-sentence). Each intonational phrase has exactly one nucleus. It is musically distinct from the rest of the sentence and has its own tune, which starts on the nucleus and carries on till the end of the intonational phrase.

The Original Poster's Question

I'm in a hurry.

I'm not in a hurry.

As a crude rule of thumb, nouns, adjectives,verbs adverbs and wh- question words carry stress. So do negative words, such as not and negative contractions such as can't. Pronouns, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, articles and so forth do not usually take stress.

Under normal circumstances, the first sentence will only have one stress. This will be on the first syllable of hurry. As it is the only stress in the intonational phrase, it will also be the nucleus and determine the nuclear tone. Everything before the word hurry is likely to be said at a low level pitch. This section is what is known as the prehead.

In the second sentence, there will be two stresses, one on the negative word not and another on the first syllable of hurry. They will both involve changes in pitch and are therefore both accents. The pitch will be low and level for the pronunciation of I'm. It will then jump up for the negative word not. The nucleus will be on hurry. There is often a misconception that the nucleus will be the loudest or most prominent syllable in the sentence. However, very often the onset, that is to say the first accented syllable in the sentence, is the loudest and often the most prominent. It is perfectly possible that the word not will be more prominent here than the first syllable of hurry.


I find that the most natural stress contours for the two examples, indicating levels of stress with numbers 1 2 3 ..., are "2I'm in a 1hurry" and "3I'm 2not in a 1hurry". This is what the theory of SPE would predict, except that theory would give higher stress on the subject, "2I'm 3not in a 1hurry", but it's well known that pronouns take less stress than full nouns. If we substitute a noun subject, we should get "The 2man's 3not in a 1hurry."

If you say the sentences in succession, you might not get the most neutral intonation, because there will be a tendency to contrast the "not" with the positive first sentence, giving contrastive stress on "not": "2I'm 1not in a 3hurry."

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