There are some pairs of words that can act as a noun or not a noun (a verb or an adjective.

For instance:

  • rebel
  • present
  • compact

Why is it that the noun version of these words have their emphasis on the first syllable and the non-noun version of these words have their emphasis on the second syllable?

Are there any examples where the emphasis location is reversed?

  • 1
    In the English that I speak, the adjectives rebel and present are stressed on the first syllable. However the adjective compact is stressed on the final syllable. So, for me, that part of your rule doesn't work and/or is inconsistent. I agree about the noun-verb divide though. Nov 3 '15 at 22:20
  • @chaslyfromUK I hadn't thought about the difference between "a rebel" and "a rebel soldier"... good point! (Or "My present is present under the tree")
    – Dancrumb
    Nov 3 '15 at 22:50

This Wikipedia article discusses the origins of the initial-stress-derived noun:

In English, since the early modern period, polysyllabic nouns tend to have an unstressed final syllable, while verbs do not. Thus, the stress difference between nouns and verbs applies generally in English, not just to otherwise-identical noun-verb pairs. The frequency of such pairs in English is a result of the productivity of class conversion.

When "re-" is prefixed to a monosyllabic word, and the word gains currency both as a noun and as a verb, it usually fits into this pattern, although, as the following list makes clear, most words fitting this pattern do not match that description.

Many of these have first syllables that evolved from Latin prepositions, although again that does not account for all of them. . . .

When the stress is moved, the pronunciation, especially of vowels, often changes in other ways as well. Most common is the reduction of a vowel sound to a schwa when it becomes unstressed.


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