When I heard the phrase: "Sorry to keep you waiting" [sɔri tə kip jʊ weɪdɪŋ] in an American movie it sounded to me that: Sorry, keep, and waiting are the stressed words. I may be wrong because I'm not a native speaker. I'm not sure about the degree of the stress. I'm curious when you pronounce the phrase above as a native speaker which words do you stress more. I know stress depends on the context, but let's say the context here is the most common way to say it, for example someone left a room and returns after a certain time. Any suggestion would be appreciated.

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    Interesting question. I don't normally think about stress like this. I guess normally I'd stress the words like this: Sorry[1] to[3] keep[2] you[3] waiting[1]. The numbers in brackets represent stress level. "Sorry" and "waiting" get the highest stress, "keep" just slightly less stress, and "to" and "you" the least stress. Mar 30, 2015 at 8:49
  • See the end of the Quirk et al bible for several chapters on this. Mar 30, 2015 at 8:50
  • William- functions words usually don't take stress. I see no reason to stress "to" or "you" as long as we don't want to convey a special meaning. BTW I thought the same as you, to put stronger stress on "Sorry" and "waiting" and a bit lower stress on "keep", but it would be useful to have other feedbacks as well. Thank you. Your time is greatly appreciated. Mar 30, 2015 at 8:56
  • William- This is how I pronounce it with the stress pattern you mentioned earlier: clyp.it/gm2qdpho Mar 30, 2015 at 9:02
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    It's normal for articles and prepositions to be less stressed than the remaining words in a sentence, and the same is true for pronouns that are not critical to the meaning. But, in any event, a native English speaker would not consider any of the words in the sentence to be more highly stressed, except perhaps for "sorry". Emphasis (within reasonable limits) is rarely critical to the understanding of English, and is mainly used to convey emotion/sincerity. If a non-native speaker doesn't use the "right" stress pattern most native English listeners will catch on and adapt how they listen.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 30, 2015 at 12:09

1 Answer 1


You are right.

However if you expand the sentence to "I am sorry to keep you waiting." then you can choose which of "sorry", "keep" and "waiting" you stress in order to modify the intended meaning. Do you, the speaker, want to stress how sorry you are, or that it's not the waiting but the prolonged nature of it that is bad, or that waiting itself is just something you are really sorry has happened?

You could in fact stress "you" to indicate that you might not be as sorry had it been someone else who had been kept waiting. You could stress "I" to show how deeply personally you mean the apology. You could even stress "am" to say how definite you are that you are sorry and that no one should doubt it. The only word that it doesn't make sense to stress is "to".

Of course you can't stress all the words at the same time and still make sense. I am not sure what the maximum number you can meaningfully stress at once in that sentence is but my guess would be three of them.


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