For example, the word co·a·li·tion has its primary stress on the third syllable.

Therefore, on which syllable does the word el·e·phant have its primary stress?

  • 7
    Generally speaking, stress in English can't be predicted from a word's spelling and has to be learned for each word. Jul 20, 2017 at 23:43
  • One of the reasons that I loved Spanish; comparably simple stress rules.
    – vpn
    Jul 21, 2017 at 2:18
  • 1
    Generally speaking, pronunciation in any language can't be predicted from a word's spelling and has to be learned for each word. And then re-learned constantly because nothing stops it from changing over time. Or from place to place. Or from person to person. Now that is what I call "generally speaking". Leave poor English alone, it's done nothing wrong or fancy. Spelling just does not encode pronunciation. I am not sure where that myth comes from, as anyone can easily dispel it simply by looking at a word. Any word.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 21, 2017 at 4:14
  • 2
    Bloomberg television news (financial, primarily) has a wide variety of English speakers--Australian, British, American--and many non-native English speakers. Stressed syllables in the same word vary widely.
    – Xanne
    Jul 21, 2017 at 4:32
  • This is something that you just have to learn. (And consequently it is sometimes how you can identify a person for whom English is a second language.) Arguably, this is something that the French language has in its favour; its words are pronounced with equal stress.
    – Dog Lover
    Jul 23, 2017 at 10:05

3 Answers 3


A decent set of rules comes from the TOEFL website:

(1) Stress the first syllable of:

  • Most two-syllable nouns (examples: CLImate, KNOWledge)
  • Most two-syllable adjectives (examples: FLIPpant, SPAcious)

(2) Stress the last syllable of:

  • Most two-syllable verbs (examples: reQUIRE, deCIDE)

(3) Stress the second-to-last syllable of:

  • Words that end in -ic (examples: ecSTATic, geoGRAPHic)
  • Words ending in -sion and -tion (examples: exTENsion, retriBUtion)

(4) Stress the third-from-last syllable of:

  • Words that end in -cy, -ty, -phy and -gy (examples: deMOCracy, unCERtainty, geOGraphy, radiOLogy)
  • Words that end in -al (examples: exCEPtional, CRItical)
  • 4
    "HOWEVER in spoken English you'll generally hear people default to emphasizing the first syllable, regardless the word." I'm a native speaker of English, and don't agree with this. It would sound bizarre indeed. Jul 21, 2017 at 1:33
  • The distinction between nouns and verbs seems to be good, e.g. "OB-ject" vs "ob-JECT" and "PRE-sent" vs "pre-SENT."
    – MAA
    Jul 21, 2017 at 3:08
  • 2
    @anongoodnurse what do you mean, "bizarre indeed"? Certainly you meant to say "BIzarre INdeed"?
    – RegDwigнt
    Jul 21, 2017 at 4:17
  • @RegDwigнt - InCRE'ibly eNOUGH', I meant exACT'ly what I said. Your SAR'casm does not adDRESS' my exPRESSED' conCERN'. It is, aGAIN', a red HER'ring, for which you show great FOND'ness. Jul 21, 2017 at 17:54
  • :-) The comments have been delightfully humorous, but I've elected to remove the offending comment since it violated a fundamental tenet of Dr. Seuss: "The writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads."
    – JBH
    Jul 21, 2017 at 20:27

Some languages have stresses placed relative to the end of the word, or relative to the beginning. English stress, to the extent it has a regular system, is placed relative to the end of a word. Both your examples have (or at least had) stress on the third syllable from the end of the word -- EL-e-phant, co-a-LI-ti-on. The latter example however has lost a syllable -ti- due to historical sound change, so in contemporary pronunciation, the LI stress winds up on only the second syllable from the end.

The Sound Pattern of English by Chomsky and Halle has a thorough-going but disputed analysis of English stress.


The emphasis is on the first syllable--EL-e-phant. I don't know if there is a rule in English that can be applied to all words, since there are so many different sources/languages incorporated into the English language.


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