Friday English Tips with Tim 5 - Sentence Stress and Intonation - Part 2





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Published on May 7, 2010

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Friday Talk April 30, 2010 - English Stress and Intonation


Hello, its Tim here. Last week, we watched David teach about sentence stress and intonation, and he explained the difference between content words and structure words (or function words). The content words which are usually the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in a sentence, and the structure words which are words that have a grammatical roll in a phrase or a sentence, such as articles, pronouns , prepositions, modals, and auxiliaries, but that dont have a great lexical meaning or content. Usually, like David, explained we stress the content words in the sentence. The content words become the focus words of a sentence; but not always. So lets watch David and continue on with our lesson.

"Did you buy a computer at the mall?" You won't pronounce it "Did - you - buy a - computer - at - the - mall?" You won't pronounce it all the same. You'll give a bigger stress on certain words in the sentence. In what words do you give the bigger stress? For example, "Did you buy a computer at the mall?" What are these words here that I underlined? What do you think they are? Theyre content words. Why? They give a bigger meaning; for example, the verb "buy", the word "computer", "mall". And these other words here - "did", "you", "a", "at", "the" - they would be what? Structure words! Consequently, when we read it, we don't say "Did - you - buy - a - computer - at - the mall? We say, "Did_you_BUY? "Did_you_BUY a_COMPUTER? See? Did_you_BUY_a_COMPUTER_at_the_MALL?

@---- stress = ênfase
@---- underline = sublinhar

What do you pronounce more? You pronounce the content words; and these content words in this sentence are called focus words. Focus words are the most important words in a sentence, in a thought group.

@---- focus = de foco
@---- thought group = Veremos o que é um thought group na próxima semana!

Let me just explain one thing to clarify; somebody just asked me a question. For example, this phrase: Did you buy a computer at the mall? I mentioned about content words. Content words are not a synonym for focus words. Focus words are the most important words in the sentence, and usually they are content words. So in this phrase, Did you buy a computer at the mall?, usually you will pronounce the content words; but, structure words, which are many times called function words, can also be focus words, depending on what you want to say. My Dad actually just gave me an example. Lets say you wanted to emphasize who bought it, you could say Did YOU buy a computer at the mall - Did YOU buy; so in this case, if I would emphasize you what would you be in the sentence? What would you be in the sentence? A focus word; okay? Did YOU buy a computer at the mall? So depends on what you are saying - Im just talking in general - In general, you mostly pronounce the content words. Also, for example, Did you buydid you buy a computer at the mall? Yes [I guess you guys can see it. Let me change the marker.] Yes, but the computer was very [Im running out of space here = Está acabando o espaço aqui.] Yes, but the computer was very EXPENSIVE. Why didnt I pronounce COMPUTER? Why didnt I give a stronger stress on computer this time? Because I already mentioned computer. So in the second phrase, its old information. So when its old information, it wont be the focus word of the sentence. YES (because Im answering a question, so that would be a focus word), but the computer (see but the computer, but the computer, this is all together), because these words, they are not focus words, and there also function or structure words; so you dont pronounce but the - computer, you say but the computer was very EXPENSIVE. So expensive is the focus word of this group.

And when you have a focus word (it would be the strongest word that you would emphasize in the phrase), the highest syllable - the stress syllable of that word - is called the peak. This is the strongest stress youll give in the whole phrase. Listen. YES, but the computer was very EXPENsive.

In general, Brazilians dont really use this kind of rule; consequently, it sounds like your yes but the computer was very expensive - you just dont give it life, you dont give the phrase life, it doesnt sound like a native, it just doesnt sound right. So its very important that you look at a phrase, try to locate what would be the focus words in that sentence - what am I trying to say? And then, the other words, you are going to crush; for example Let me give you one more example before I finish. Let me give you an easy sentence that a beginner student would use.

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