I know that any word can be stressed in a sentence to give it emphasis, but in the following sentences I'm interested in a default unemphatic accent. When I pronounce these phrases:

A: I have a question.

B: I have a problem.

we usually don't stress 'have' in the phrases above as long we don't want a special meaning. Right?

I think that the content words "question" and "problem" get stressed. They usually carry the new information. Right? I'm not sure about the pronoun "I". I think that putting a lower stress on the pronoun doesn't really change the meaning of the sentence and can be used in a day-to-day conversation. Right?

level of stress: [2]I have a [1]question.

This might be a silly example, but let's say for example, you ring at a plumber's door. He opens the door and say Hi. Then you say: Hi, I have a clog. In this situation which words would you stress in "I have a clog"?

I would be grateful for any suggestion. Thank you.

  • 1
    I've been sitting here repeating these sentences out loud over and over again for a few minutes. My conclusion: Yes, you've stated the stress levels correctly. Mar 31, 2015 at 10:59
  • I have a question; I have a question; I have a question; I have a question are all possible and acceptable.
    – Kris
    Mar 31, 2015 at 10:59
  • "I have an idea". These words are connected together phonetically. I tried to pronounce it just giving "I" a tiny stress and stress the second syllable in "idea" as in the dictionary. I didn't stress have. clyp.it/ghqx5mam Mar 31, 2015 at 12:05
  • 2
    @Kris Yes, and "Peter John hit" is grammatical too - but it's not the default word order. There is a general rule for what kinds of words take stress in what situations, and it's easy to predict a default pronunciation. Saying that you can stress any word in a sentence is not insightful or helpful - quite the reverse. It's just like saying that any phrase in a sentence can be topicalised. Mar 31, 2015 at 12:20
  • @Araucaria & up voter: Think again. Good Luck :)
    – Kris
    Mar 31, 2015 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


Word stress is key when understanding the meaning of the sentence.

In the sentence - "I have a question." - It can have the following meanings when the bolded word is emphasized.

  1. I have a question.

There may be several people interviewing a person and You are stressing the word "I" in order that the person being questioned looks at you.

  1. I have a question.

Here the person who is being questioned by others, listens to your comments but is bored and is about to shift their attention to someone else. However, you make this statement with emphasis on "have" to let them know you are not finished yet.

  1. I have a question.

You have only one question...not more than one.

  1. I have a question.

This is more of a demand for attention. Very similar to answer #1 but stronger.

Word stress is something that learners of English have difficulty with. They say the right words but stress the wrong word. This can cause misunderstandings.

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