For example, can declarative be pronounced similar to declaration for the accent (stressed sound)? I thought before that sometimes the position of the "accent", or the stressed sound of a word, depends on how many syllables there are in the word.

But it seems that the words declaration and declarative have the same number of syllables, but declaration is stressed at the first syllable, while declarative is stressed at the second syllable. Is there a rule for this? Does the placement of the stress depend on the variety of English? (I suppose the word declarative is not pronounced with the first syllable stressed no matter it is British or US pronunciation?)


2 Answers 2


You can't figure out the stress on a word ending in -ative from the corresponding word ending in -ation. That's because, as far as I can tell, all words ending in -ation are stressed on the second-to-last syllable. (This is true of the word declaration; the stress on the first syllable is secondary stress, which often occurs two syllables away from the main stress of a word.)


If it's two syllables, the stress is on the first syllable.

  • nátive
  • státive
  • dátive

If it's three syllables, the stress is probably on the first syllable. This may be different from where the stress is in the related verb.

  • reláte, rélative
  • negáte, négative
  • sedáte, sédative
  • abláte, áblative
  • narráte/nárrate, nárrative

I know of only one three-syllable word with the stress on "-at-":

  • creáte, creátive

If it's four syllables or more, the primary stress is on the third-to-last syllable or earlier. (However, some polysyllabic words that end in "-ative" and have primary stress earlier than the third-to-last syllable may optionally have secondary stress on, or at least an unreduced /eɪ/ vowel in, the second-to-last syllable; e.g. "ímitative" may be pronounced as either /ˈɪmɪtətɪv/ or /ˈɪmɪteɪtɪv/.)

To get an idea of where an -ative word of four or more syllables is stressed, you can look at the related verb, if it exists. According to English Pronunciation in Use, by Martin Hewings,

In words ending -ative, stress is usually on the same syllable as in the root word.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule that are just stressed on the third-to-last syllable instead, like "interrogative" (which is stressed on the "o", even though "interrogate" is stressed on the "e").


with the stress on the syllable before "-at-":

  • accúse, accúsative
  • decláre, declárative
  • consérve, consérvative
  • represént, represéntative
  • provóke, provócative (note: the vowel has a different sound in these two words)
  • fórm, fórmative

with the stress two syllables before "-at-"

  • spéculate, spéculative
  • admínister, admínistrative (with possible secondary stress on the second-to-last syllable)
  • coóperate, coóperative

And there are also some words that don't have a corresponding verb (or at least not one that's commonly used):

  • quálitative
  • I think you mean declaration rather than declarative in the first paragraph. And for me, narrate would come in your exceptions, because I stress it on the second syllable.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 0:48
  • ablate, ablative
    – Drew
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 2:27
  • 2
    Interestingly, all the instances you give where the stress changes are words where the adjective is homophonous with a noun: relative, negative, sedative, ablative, narrative. Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 10:40

Declaration is actually stressed at the third syllable in both British and US English, as can be seen and heard here: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/declaration

Declarative is always stressed on the second syllable.

-ative is called a "weak ending." There are a number of these in English. When considering a weak ending word, one must find the key syllable.

Finding the Key Syllable

The Key Syllable is composed of a vowel spelling pattern and all extra consonant letters to the right of it. For instance, in the examples below, the Key Syllable underlined in two different contexts:

• at the end of a word: hint, boast, culprits, quickly

• before a weak ending: hint(ed, boast(ing, whit(en(ed

In order to find the Key, learners start at the right end of the word and work toward the left. They separate neutral endings, weak endings and terminals. Then they begin to underline the letters to the left of those endings. If the first one is a consonant, the learners continue to underline to the left until they find a vowel. Then they look to the left one more time to see if this vowel is part of a twovowel, VV, spelling pattern. If it is, they underline both vowels. Some two-vowel patterns are affected by consonants to the left of them, like the CCów· pattern (that is, a pattern of two consonants followed by the letters ow in a stressed syllable and then followed by either the end of the word or a basic weak ending). So, in these specific cases students continue scanning to the left to see if there are any more relevant consonants for their analysis. If none are present, they stop looking left, and all of the consonants and vowel(s) they have underlined constitute the Key Syllable.

Then one can determine the accented syllable.

This is why, for example, 'declarative' is stressed on the second syllable of four, 'alliterative' is stressed on the second syllable of five, and 'multiplicative' is stressed on the third syllable of five.


  • The title, you must admit, was confusing, and directed me toward the answer I posted. I did notice "Is there a rule to this?" but assumed you were asking about a rule concerned the two words you had posed. By the time I hit "add an answer," you had changed the title, and thus the focus of your inquiry.
    – M. E.
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 23:05
  • I did read the entire post, and did see it. Again, it appeared that "Is there a rule to this?" referred to what you had titled the post: pronouncing 'declaration' and 'declarative.' I'll look into an overarching rule.
    – M. E.
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 23:08
  • Thank you for adding information about this rule, this is interesting! I'm not sure I understand it. in "declarative," we take off the weak ending "ative," and the syllable immediately to the left is stressed. OK, that works. But in "alliterative," how do we know that the word is not stressed on "ter"? The "-ter-" doesn't seem to be an ending of any sort.
    – herisson
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 23:38
  • "Declaration is actually stressed at the third syllable in both British and US English" really? Because I usually hear "Declaration of Independence" and it is stressed at the first syllable Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 21:43
  • 1
    That's going by your ear. But it's actually de-cla-RA-shun of in-de-PEN-dence
    – M. E.
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 22:30

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