This Video at 2:55 said that "when we have a list, we use rising intonation in each phrase until we get the final item of the list... the final item of the list will have falling intonation"

Ok, let apply the above rule into this simple question:

I love summer, winter, and autumn.

In dictionary, summer /ˈsʌmər/ got stressed at the 1st syllable & winter /ˈwɪntər/ also got stressed at the 1st syllable

But if we read the above sentence, then I think we have these 2 possibilities:

-do not stress the 1st syllable but do stress the 2nd syllable of summer (ie, /sʌˈmər/) & the 2nd syllable of winter (ie, /wɪnˈtər/)

-do stress both syllables of summer (ie, /ˈsʌˈmər/) & both syllables of winter (ie, /ˈwɪnˈtər/)

So, which option is correct? very confused!

Extra Info: In the dictionary, the word "instrument" /ˈɪnstrəmənt/ got stressed at the 1st syllable. However, in this video at 2:00, the lady said "Do you play other instruments?". Since that is the question so we have to use rising intonation for the word "instruments". And you can see that she stressed the /mənt/ so that it sounds like /ɪnstrə'mənt/.

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    The stress doesn't change. The intonation does. – Mitch Dec 28 '15 at 13:14
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    You are confusing intonation (high and low pitch) with stress (loud and soft). They're different. For your extra info question, Americans often put secondary stress on the third syllable of instrument, which she pronounces /'ɪnstrəˌmɪnt/. I that's what I think you're hearing; we don't usually say /ɪnstrə'mɪnt/. – Peter Shor Dec 28 '15 at 15:39
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    @Tom: and here are instructions saying that the "final stressed syllable" in a phrase can have several different intonations. – Peter Shor Dec 28 '15 at 18:40
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    @Tom A stressed syllable has rhythmic prominence. It's like a strong drumbeat. So imagine the sound of someone banging a drum. Some beats are stronger than others. Those stronger beats are like stresses in a sentence. Now sentences also have tunes. These tunes go together with the beats. The most common tune ends with a high pitch on the last stressed syllable and a low pitch on any syllables after that. If you say a word on its own, you normally say it with that kind of tune, so that stressed syllable will tend to be higher than the others. But when we use words to actually communicate ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 29 '15 at 7:05
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    @Tom .... there are many different types of tune. For example, we can give the last stress in an utterance a very low note with any other syllables getting gradually higher till the end. This is what we do with lists. Each item is like a mini tune.The stressed syllable will be very low and any following syllables will get gradually higher. This pattern is called a low rise. Here is someone saying the word handbag with a low rise. Notice that the stressed syllable hand is very low, and that the syllable bag gradually rises. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Dec 29 '15 at 7:10

As a native speaker of American English living on the west coast, I very slightly emphasize the first syllable of all three words in the list, with a very slight drop in pitch on the second syllable of "autumn." This is a very subtle shift in intonation; my voice drops perhaps a note or two at most in pitch.

In the second example, my pitch starts to rise on "other" and remains raised on "instruments." My very slight emphasis on the the first syllable of both "other" and "instruments" remains unchanged when I am asking a question. This is because the question means, "Do you play other instruments as well?" (i. e., "in addition to the instrument" the question refers to). In this case, my pitch rises only on the words "other" and "well." This is a mild lift in pitch, without changing emphasis on the syllables of any word in the sentence.

Thank you for asking these very well phrased questions. Please do not be offended or concerned if a Moderator moves this to English Language Learners, where it will help the most people reading it.


English is a toneless language, meaning that words do not change their meaning when the pitch is changed. This is different from prosody where a sentence can change meaning if the intonation contour of the sentence is changed.

But pitch (or intonation) is not the same as stress. Stress (or accent) is notated in dictionary entries. And intonation is not.

That doesn't necessarily mean that a change in intonation doesn't modify things like stress or vowel quality in a word. Though it doesn't necessarily mean that, I don't think a change in intonation modifies seriously a word in English.

  • And what you say should not be taken literally. A change in intonation can change a simple statement into a question or an accusation. – Hot Licks Dec 28 '15 at 21:26
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    @HotLicks I was careful in my statement to avoid that. Intonation does not change a single word's meaning but can modify the meaning of a sentence. So I think 'literal' still stands. – Mitch Dec 28 '15 at 22:28

Only the stressed syllables matter for intonation/pitch contour, but stressed syllables needn't have high pitch. Generally, they have different pitch. Your example

I love summer, winter, and autumn.

illustrates this. You can pronounce this in a monotone modified by dropping the pitch of "sum", "win", and raising the pitch of "aut". There are other possibilities, but this one works.

With this intonation, a listener can tell that these three syllables are stressed, because their pitches are all different from the monotone of the rest of the sentence. This intonation also satisfies the requirement that pitch should rise on each non-final item in a list and fall on the final item.


after doing some research, here is my conclusion:

Stress: Loud, Long voice at a High pitch (you may raise to the high pitch quite suddenly)

High Pitch: Gradually raise to the high pitch of the last syllable of a word. See this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyuoUwxCLMs) in which the lady spoke the word handbag. The word "bag" was spoke with a pitch that was raised from low to high gradually

Low Pitch: Gradually lower the pitch to the lowest pitch of the last syllable of a word.


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