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I recently stumbled upon an interesting quirk regarding words that are both nouns and verbs. They seem to all follow the same stress pattern. Here are a few examples:

NOUNS

  • I have a really long address.
  • There is a huge contrast between winter and spring.
  • Not a single object is blue.
  • I'm not very good at creating produce.

VERBS

  • Make sure you address him properly.
  • I try to contrast the two twins in my head.
  • He will object to any change you propose.
  • Produce the paper right this instant!

Why do the nouns have stresses on the first syllable and the verbs have stresses on the last syllable? Is there a good reason for this, or is it just coincidence?

These are just the examples I thought of - I'm sure there are more. There are also some "noun/verb"s that have the same stress:

That was a huge surprise! Next time I'll surprise you!

But I've yet to find a counterexample - one where the noun has an ending stress and the verb has a starting stress.

  • In British English, address is pronounced the same for noun or verb (stress on the second syllable). – Andrew Leach Mar 25 '16 at 20:09
  • Because subtle patterns of stress and rhythm help to carry the meaning of a spoken sentence. – Hot Licks Mar 25 '16 at 21:45
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It does seem to be a common pattern, and has just seemed to "evolve" as such in to English. There's even a wikipedia page on it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Initial-stress-derived_noun

  • 1+ for the link – rogermue Mar 26 '16 at 2:39
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Nouns and adjectives tolerate more unstressed syllables than verbs do. In an article in Essays on the Sound Pattern of English, English Word Stress and Phrase Stress, I argued that this is a general fact which holds true both of unstressed syllables at the end of a word and for unstressed syllables located between the stressed syllables of long words with several stresses.

  • 1
    That makes sense. Unfortunately, I can't see any of the content of the article from the link, not even a summary. Is there some deeper reason for this? – sumelic Mar 26 '16 at 3:57
  • @sumelic, Once upon a time, people used books, and my article is pretty old. I don't know that it is available anywhere on line. However, the part of the article relevant to this answer appears as "English Word Stress" in Papers from the 5th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. Maybe you could find that somewhere. – Greg Lee Mar 26 '16 at 4:04
  • I'll look for it. Would you say the stress change is related to the change in the voicing of fricatives seen in noun-verb pairs like "house/house," "breath~breathe," and "life~live"? – sumelic Mar 26 '16 at 4:12
  • @sumelic, I haven't thought about that. A relationship is not evident. (There's the voicing of s in "exist" vs. "exit".) – Greg Lee Mar 26 '16 at 4:17
  • I wondered if some verbs might have something like underlying final /e/ that is deleted but that can shift stress or trigger intervocalic voicing. The spelling difference between "breath" and "breathe" suggested this to me, although I can't think of any example for stress. I just checked SPE and Chomsky and Halle explain the anomalous final stress in giraffe as deriving from "the underlying lexical representation giræffe" plus "e-Elision and Cluster Simplification." – sumelic Mar 26 '16 at 4:52

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