Geography is stressed on the 3rd last syllable while Geomancy on the 1st and 3rd. Why is this the case? Is my guess true that a word having entered the English language for a long time would tend to have the stress on the third last syllable while a word being formed relatively recently would tend to retain the stresses of the constituent words?

  • Why do you think that stress in English falls on a syllable counted from the end of the word? That's the way Latin did it, and Spanish still does. But English does not have fixed word stress; a great deal depends on the roots. And where one starts counting from. Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 20:35

3 Answers 3


As m.a.a. said, it is based on the different endings. (Note: I will use the IPA stress symbols in this answer as follows: ˈ before the primary-stressed syllable of a word, ˌ before any other stressed syllables).

We can make a further generalization about the position of stress in Greek-based compound nouns ending in -y: in words where the -y is preceded by only a single consonant (such as geˈography, where -y is preceded by the single consonant "ph"), the third-to-last syllable is stressed; in words where the -y is preceded by more than one consonant (such as ˈgeoˌmancy, where -y is preceded by the consonant sequence "nc"), the second-to-last syllable receives secondary stress, and an earlier syllable receives the primary stress.

Other examples like geography: aˈstronomy, osteˈology, phyˈlogeny, pluˈtocracy, miˈcroscopy.

Other examples like geomancy: ˈoliˌgarchy, ˈrhinoˌplasty.

Note that in this context, the exact meaning of "single consonant" is a little tricky since English spelling, modern English pronunciation, and ancient Greek/Latin pronunciation don't always correspond. For example, "x" is a single letter, but multiple sounds, so it doesn't count as a single consonant for this rule: thus, ˈorthoˌdoxy is stressed like ˈgeoˌmancy.

  • 1
    Because language is spoken and only mimicked in the writing, and because this rule is about stress and not about spelling, the rule can be simply framed in terms of phonemes or 'consonant sounds.' In geography the final vowel is preceded by a single /f/. In orthodoxy it is preceded by the consonant string /ks/ etc, etc. Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 14:43
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore: I can't think of a specific example here, but in general, double consonant letters can be relevant in the area of pronunciation of Latinate words, even though their surface pronunciation is no different from single consonant letters. That's why I would resist saying it is only about phonemes
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 14:47
  • I'd be interested to hear the examples in relation to this rule! Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 14:48
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore.: The best example in relation to this rule that I've found so far from OED search is "orthoglossy": not a currently used word, but the OED says "N.E.D. (1903) indicates the stress as ˈorthoglossy", which is how I would pronounce it, not as orˈthoglossy. Outside of compounds, the effect of written double consonants (sometimes interpreted as representing phonological "virtual geminates") on stress can arguably be seen in words like abyssal, where there is penult stress even though the penultimate syllable has a "short" vowel followed by a phonetic single consonant.
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 14:56

It is the 2nd part of these compound words that defines how the 1st part is stressed.

A search on rhymezone will give you an extensive list of 4 syllable words rhyming with geography.

I'm picking out a few of the most common ones:
biography, cartography, demography, lithography, photography etc.
All of these words are stressed on 3rd last syllable, just like geography.

If you now do the same search on geomancy,
you get a similarly extensive list of 4 syllable words rhyming with that:
necromancy, chiromancy, lithomancy seem to be some of the most common ones.
These words are by contrast stressed on the 2nd last and 4th last syllable, just like geomancy.

Note that the same exact difference between how geography and geomancy are stressed is also observable when comparing lithography to lithomancy.


Geography is stressed on the 3rd last syllable

I am not sure that this is so.

Brit./ˈdʒiːə(ʊ)mansi/, U.S. /ˈdʒioʊˌmænsi/, /ˈdʒiəˌmænsi/ Brit. /dʒɪˈɒɡrəfi/, /ˈdʒɒɡrəfi/, U.S. /dʒiˈɑɡrəfi/

One example of -mancy v. -graphy does not make for good guidance. As you will see from the OED below, the stress is laid more generally on the usual stressed syllable of the preceding element (Useful in words with more than two syllables.)

-mancy, comb. form

Pronunciation: Primary stress is retained by the usual stressed syllable of the preceding element and vowels may be reduced accordingly; see e.g. anthracomancy n. -> Brit. /ˈanθrəkəˌmansi/, U.S. /ˈænθrəkəˌmænsi/

Origin: A borrowing from French. Etymon: French -mancie.

Etymology: < Old French -mancie < post-classical Latin -mantīa < Hellenistic Greek -μαντεία , use as suffix of ancient Greek μαντεία divination, prophetic power < μαντεύεσθαι to prophesy < μάντις prophet, diviner (see mantic adj.).

(Out of curiosity, I looked at OED for words with the suffix "-mancy" (= divination by use of the first element). There are 124 of them - I particularly like "tyromancy" - divination by cheese.)

-graphy, comb. form

Pronunciation: Primary stress is attracted to the syllable immediately preceding this combining form and vowels may be reduced accordingly.

Etymology: = French, German -graphie, Spanish -grafía, Italian -grafia, Latin -graphia, representing Greek -γραϕία in nouns adapted < Greek or formed on Greek types.

Some of the words with this ending denote processes or styles of writing, drawing, or graphic representation, as brachygraphy, calligraphy, stenography, …. More commonly they are names of descriptive sciences, as geography, bibliography.

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