Zwicky (1986, p. 54) claims that compounds ending in college have initial stress in British English but final stress in American varieties. Thus, Brits would say KING'S college but Americans university COLLEGE.

I wonder if this holds in general. Do BrE speakers prefer the stress patterns in (1) and AmE the ones in (2)?

(1a) CROYDON college

(1b) NEWHAM college

(1c) EDINBURGH college

(1d) COVENTRY college

(2a) Trinity COLLEGE

(2b) Dartmouth COLLEGE

(2c) Boston COLLEGE

(2d) Brooklyn COLLEGE

For the Brits, please let me know if you have initial-stress in compounds ending with University, Academy, Conservatory, etc.

  • 2
    It may be relevant that "college" means something different in the UK than it does in the US. I (speaking AmE) would put roughly equal stress on both words (I think).
    – alphabet
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 1:38
  • 1
    It's King's College (because college is part of the name). Yes, I (UK) would stress the name or place of any academic institution, because that is what identifies it (KEELE University, University of CAMBRIDGE, DERBY Grammar School). Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 9:35
  • It's a crap shoot. I don't think it's one over the other in AmE. HARVARD College. PRINCETON University. That said, depending on context, the stress might change....both in BrE and AmE.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 15:32
  • 1
    Zwicky describes the fore-stressing as something that often happens, not an invariable law. This question seems to misrepresent what the text actually says.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


I think Zwicky, whoever he is, is talking rubbish. As a Brit I usually put equal stress on the name and the suffix; and whenever I talk to Americans and Canadians they do the same.

But what I do hear is the stress going on whichever word is the differentiator:

Which college in Cambridge did you go to?

KING'S College


Did you enjoy Wichita?

I went to Kansas CITY

The stress is decided by context, not by the dialect.

Some of the things Zwicky says make sense based on that: you usually say "FIFTH Street" because you are distinguishing it from other streets.

  • I'm also a Brit, and likewise usually put equal stress on each word in the binomial. University Challenge often provides pronunciations for the Oxbridge colleges. Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 23:05
  • 2
    You're taking marked stress, affected by ideas having already been mentioned or being already salient in the discourse, and conflating that with regular, predictable unmarked stress. It is common for people who have not yet studied how stress works in English to do this. The word misinformation normally takes primary stress in connected speech on the penultimate syllable. However, if one is clarifying that one didn't say disinformation, it will have primary stress on the first. This doesn't mean that, generally, misinformation doesn't have primary stress on the penultimate syllable! Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 0:19
  • Oh yeah. Arnold Zwicky, btw. World-renowned linguist: "Arnold M. Zwicky is a perennial Visiting Professor of linguistics at Stanford University, and Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Ohio State University. A student of Morris Halle at MIT, he has made notable contributions to fields of phonology, morphology, syntax, interfaces, sociolinguistics and American dialectology. He coined the term recency illusion, the belief that a word, meaning, grammatical construction or phrase is of recent origin when it is in fact of long-established usage. ... Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 11:54
  • ... At the Linguistic Society of America's 1999 Summer Institute he was the Edward Sapir professor, the most prestigious chair of this organization, of which he is a past president. He is one of the editors of Handbook of Morphology, among other published works. He is also well known as a frequent contributor to the linguistics blog Language Log, as well as his own personal blog that largely focuses on linguistics issues." Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 11:54
  • @EdwinAshworth Sorry to bother you but I've read a comment of yours elsewhere that piqued my interest where you mark as odd an empty truck of fuel / a bare field of wheat as opposed to the natural-sounding an empty fuel truck / a bare wheat field. Do you get the same contrasts with inalienable possessors that cannot be detached from a thing, e.g. when comparing the embalmed head of the duck / the cut branches of the tree with the expressions the embalmed duck head / the cut tree branches?
    – Zoltan
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 0:01

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