In a discussion with someone whose first language is not English, the phrase "that is fun" came up, with the stress applied to emphasize agreement. This was taken as an insult; he thought the stress on 'is' was used in a corrective manner (thus implying that he didn't know it was fun), rather than how it was meant. How can I explain this usage to him? It's a part of English that I take for granted, so I don't know any words for it.

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking how sarcasm works Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 14:34
  • @FumbleFingers - I think you're being too hasty. There was no sarcasm implied; the OP is asking how the use of emphasis works to call attention to agreement. The person thought his English was being corrected. He was offended. It's a fair question. Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 14:38
  • @medica: Maybe OP's specific context isn't a "sarcastic" usage. But I still think it is Off Topic to ask how placing audible stress on a copula conveys "emphasis". Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 17:43
  • @FumbleFingers - Why? Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 18:44
  • @medica: I'm not exactly a polyglot, but it seems to me most likely all languages support the idea of using (audible) stress to convey (semantic) emphasis. And I really can't see why ELU should be concerning itself with a possible distinction between is conveying either emphatic refutation or emphatic agreement. In fact, the only reason I can think of for it being asked at all is because OP is thinking of French Si! (which so far as I know only emphasises refutation, not agreement). Commented Feb 21, 2015 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


The usage of intonation to imply meaning is not as simple as just emphasis. The listener's opinion plays a large part in the interpretation of this kind of intonation.

Example 1:

You: That be fun.
Me: That is fun.

In this context, the emphasis implies a grammatical correction.

Example 2:

You: That isn't fun.
Me: That is fun.

In this context, the emphasis implies a statement correction.

Example 3:

You: That is fun.
Me: That is fun.

In this context, the emphasis implies an agreement.

Example 4:

You: [no statement about the level of fun]
Me: That is fun.

Even to a native speaker, the emphasis here is ambiguous, though it is unlikely (impossible?) that it is a grammatical correction. The listener's interpretation of the emphasis is subjective at this point, depending on their assumption about the speaker's assumption of the listener's stance. This is influenced by countless things and to be an expert in it would be to have extremely well-tuned intuition.

If the listener's opinion was previously stated, you may explain to your peer the intended meaning. If the stance was not previously stated, I would suggest avoiding emphasis with a person that is not comfortable with subtleties of intonation.

  • Thank you! This is what I needed. The stance that was intended was that of agreement, your third one here. I didn't realize that this sort of emphasis was unusual to English, hence why I didn't think anything of using it in the conversation that prompted this question.
    – Hearth
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 19:58

"That is fun" in agreement and "That is fun" in contradiction of someone claiming something is not fun would actually have different intonations in my experience of spoken english. The contradictory one would would have a higher and more emphasised "is".

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