I wonder is there any simple rules to recognize is a syllable stressed or unstressed.

When I try to pronounce any word, I don't recognize any of the following features of a stressed syllable: 1) longer, 2) louder, and 3) change in pitch. All words sound "the same" because I'm not a native English speaker.

For example, why "admit" is stressed but "limit" is unstressed?

  • 1
    How do you recognize it? Look in a dictionary. There is no rule that always works.
    – GEdgar
    Nov 10 '21 at 13:16
  • What is the best dictionary you know? Nov 10 '21 at 13:21
  • I think you already understand this, but just to clarify for others: "admit" and "limit" are both two-syllable words. The syllable "-mit" is stressed in "admit" and unstressed in "limit." Nov 10 '21 at 13:22
  • Lots of English "words" can be used as either verbs or nouns. The general rule in English when we have two words which are the same (one being the verb and the other the noun), is that the stress when saying the noun is on the first syllable and with the verb is on the second syllable. Examples include upset, conduct, object, record. Nov 10 '21 at 13:22
  • @FumbleFingers I was about to make a similar point about the homonyms of "minute" (noun for unit of time, adjective for very small). And, homonyms aside, you might find the occasional word that has two accepted pronunciations (perhaps regional) with different stress patterns. Nov 10 '21 at 13:24

You mention "simple rules," so a lot of responses have focused on why certain syllables are stressed, but I think the core of your question is about how to hear and pronounce stress patterns. (The reverse can be challenging for me, as an English speaker; I have a hard time with languages that approach inflection and stress differently like Mandarin or Japanese.) I can offer a few tips:

  • Once you know the stress pattern of a word, practice exaggerating it. (Just practice—you don't want to actually talk this way in public or you'll sound like Eliza Doolittle.)
  • Pay attention to the difference and interaction between stress and inflection. For the moment, I'm using those words to mean "differences in loudness" and "differences in pitch—high or low." This can get confusing, because the two are related—in "admit," the "-mit" is usually a bit higher in pitch as well as volume, and in "limit" the opposite is true; your voice goes down a bit toward the end. However, in English, patterns of inflection over a whole sentence convey different meanings. If your pitch rises on the final syllables, it communicates a question. You could, in fact, say a declarative sentence with a rising inflection at the end and turn it into a question. "We're out of coffee." "We're out of coffee?!" —In the first sentence, the "-fee" in coffee falls in pitch, but in the second sentence it rises. (The "cof-" is still the louder syllable, though; "cofFEEE" would be odd.)
  • Practice with poetry. Poetry traditionally uses certain meters, in which the stressed and unstressed syllables fall into predictable patterns. "Twin- kle twin- kle lit- tle star..." Saying these patterns out loud, and especially exaggerating them, can help you keep track of the stressed and unstressed syllables. Try listening to recordings of readers with good diction reading poetry as well. (Of course not all poetry is metric, and you might also run into exceptions in which the meaning of a sentence stress a syllable that the meter would not. For instance, much of Shakespeare's work is in iambic pentameter, so technically in the line "To be or not to be, that is the question," the word "is" would be stressed, but most actors would emphasize "that" instead.)

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