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Ten English Accent Rules

Most teachers are unfamiliar with the role that pronunciation plays in orthography (the study of spelling rules). Key to proper pronunciation is the accent. The accent is the stress placed in varying degrees upon the vowel sounds in syllables. The primary accent refers to the vowel sound with the greatest “punch” or “stress.” A good way to teach accents is to have students clap on the accented syllable and snap on the unaccented syllables. Teachers may choose to add on secondary accents; however, these have minimal influences on pronunciation and spelling. Check out How to Teach Syllabication after you skim through this helpful list of accent rules. The Ten English Accent Rules are important to understand and apply to be able to correctly pronounce and spell English words.

Accent Rule #1: Each word with two or more syllables has one syllable whose vowel is accented. For example, for-gét. Accents are very important to spelling rules. Accented means that the sound of that vowel is stressed, or louder, than those in other syllables.

Accent Rule #2: A long word may have more than one accent. The vowel that is stressed more or most is called the primary accent. The primary accent is key to many of the spelling rules. A second accented vowel is called the secondary accent.  For example, cón-ver-sá-tion. Very long words can have even more stressed vowel sounds, but only one primary accent.

Accent Rule #3: The primary accent is usually on the root before a double consonant. For example, for-gét-ting.

Accent Rule #4: Unaccented vowel sounds frequently have the soft /uh/ schwa sound, especially when there is only one letter in the syllable. All vowels can have the schwa sound. For example, the a in a-boút.

Accent Rule #5: The primary accent is usually on the first syllable in two-syllable words. For example, páy-ment.

Accent Rule #6: The primary accent is usually on the second syllable of two-syllable words that have a prefix in the first syllable and a root in the second syllable. For example, dis-tráct.

Accent Rule #7: For two-syllable words that act as both nouns and verbs, the primary accent is usually on the prefix (first syllable) of the noun and on the root (second syllable) of the verb. For example, pró-duce as a noun; pro-dúce as a verb.

Accent Rule #8: The primary accent is usually on the first syllable in three-syllable words, if that syllable is a root. For example, chár-ac-ter.

Accent Rule #9: The primary accent is usually on the second  syllable in three-syllable words that are formed by a prefix-root-suffix. For example, in-vést-ment.

Accent Rule #10: The primary accent is usually on the second  syllable in four-syllable words. For example, in-tél-li-gent.

Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

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  1. Anselmo Hernández
    June 2nd, 2015 at 14:42 | #1

    Great work in summing up these rules !
    I would like to know if there are more rules in regard the Rule #7, I mean, what would happen if we have verbs – nouns with more than two syllables ?
    Thanks a lots before hand.


  2. January 2nd, 2016 at 10:02 | #2

    Excellent. But of course there are exceptions. An annoying one for Rule #7:

    re-port’–pronounced identically in the verb meaning, “to inform or narrate” and in the noun meaning, “a sudden loud sound, as a gunshot or thunderclap.”

  3. January 2nd, 2016 at 19:04 | #3

    Yes, or as Stephen Colbert used to pronounce it as “rah-pour.”

  4. Jenniffer J. Slachtovsky
    January 8th, 2017 at 21:28 | #4

    Hello, I was hoping you could tell me if single syllable words have accents or not and if yes, than when and when do they not? I cannot for the life of me find a simple answer to this question. But I am referring to words such as: I, A, We, It, No, Yes, Hold, Past, Year, To, The… I’m sure you understand what I’m asking but, Does it have to do with long and or short vowel sounds in one syllable words? Say if the word ” The ” is it the TH sound first and then the soft E with the /uh/ sound, or is it the TH and then the E with the E sound? And to accompany that, is there a rule that follows, like, “The” and “This” “That” Than” “Then” at any rate do we rely on the short vowel sounds or the long vowel sounds?

  5. January 10th, 2017 at 16:41 | #5

    Actually an excellent question. All single syllable words are accented. This is important to know to apply spelling rules. For example, stop is accented on the vowel and ends in a vowel then consonant. If the suffix begins with a vowel, the finally consonant “p” is doubled to form stopping.

    The sound of the vowel is irrelevant.

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