Sentence Stress: Content and Function Words

Extra English Practice [mouse squeak] Hi, everybody, and welcome back to EEP.
Today we want to talk about pronunciation. We want to talk about rhythm in English. And this is something that really helps you sound more natural when you’re speaking English. For today’s activities, you might want to download a free worksheet, and you can find out how to do that by looking in the description or by going to Some languages are syllable-timed languages. This means every syllable in a sentence has the same stress. English, though, is the opposite. We’re a stress-timed language, so that means certain syllables have more stress or more emphasis than other syllables. Having more stress means that the syllable is longer, it’s louder and it’s higher pitched. How we determine what is a stressed syllable or not in English is based on whether the word is a content word or a function word. So we’re going to explain what those are for you and give some examples, and then we’ll look at some sentences together. So, in general, content words are the
words that hold meaning, and function words are grammar words. They’re words that make the sentence grammatically accurate, but they don’t really carry a lot of meaning. So content words include nouns, for example: cat, tree, situation.. They also include verbs, so: like, admire, appreciate…(mm hmm) Adjectives are also content words: happy, tall, superfluous… [laughs] That’s a good one! And adverbs, so: quickly, carefully, always.. Also, question words are considered stressed or content words, so:
where, when, who, how much… And negatives, so anytime you add “not” to something — can’t, or doesn’t, won’t…. Or not! Or not itself! [laughs] I missed that one! Let’s talk about some function words now. The first category of function words is verbs. This is a little bit confusing; we said verbs are content words.. and they are — when they are main verbs. But the verb TO BE and the verb TO HAVE are unstressed in English as are all the auxiliary verbs or helper verbs, so, for example, I would say “I’m happy to see you”. Mm-hmm. AM — I don’t say that very strongly. Or “I have three sisters.” Mm-hmm. And also all the auxilary verbs, so for example, “I have been to Thailand.” Mm-hmm . And “I am going to visit my sister next week.” Mm-hmm. Okay, so the next category in function words is pronouns. These are words like I, YOU, HE, SHE… these are usually not stressed in English. Prepositions are also function words: ON, UNDER, NEXT TO… they’re not stressed. That’s right. And conjunctions, so words like AND, OR, BUT, and the longer conjunctions: BECAUSE, THEREFORE.. Also, modal verbs, so CAN, SHOULD, WILL…these are not stressed. And then the last category is also a little complicated, but it’s determiners. Some determiners are not stressed, so those include articles, all the articles; there are only three: A, AN and THE. And possessives like MY, YOUR, HER. And some quantifiers, so words like ANY, A FEW, SOME. These are not stressed; they’re small words. And we should say that these are the rules and guidelines, but in English any word can be stressed if you have a reason to do that. So stay tuned for another video to explain that more. Mm-hmm. I’m gonna give you a sentence now, a big long sentence, and let’s look at it and find content and function words. Here it is, ready? You should call the doctor because my leg is broken. You should call the doctor because my leg is broken. Let’s underline all the content words… And let’s make all those function words
a little bit smaller… And look at the sentence: CALL DOCTOR LEG BROKEN. It’s so short! It’s so short. But you can understand exactly what I want to say from those four words only, from those content words. The sentence does not sound beautiful; you should not write that in an essay; it’s not grammatically correct, but the meaning is in the content words. CALL DOCTOR LEG BROKEN You can take out all the function words, and the meaning still remains. Yeah. Do you have a sentence? I do! Next one: Send me some money because I’ve lost my wallet. Oh! I know, poor me, right? You can hear it again: Send me some money because I’ve lost my
wallet. So what do you think are the content words in this sentence? We’ll underline them.. So without the function words, the
sentence is: SEND MONEY LOST WALLET So short again! Yeah, and I understand. If you sent that to me in a text message, I would know something happened, there was an accident or a robbery or something. She’s in trouble, she needs me, I know what to do. That’s right, the meaning is all still there. Okay, this time, we’re going to start with a sentence that is only content words, and we’re going to add function words, and see what happens.. mm-hmm.. So, the original sentence is CATS CHASE MICE They do. Yeah, right? It’s true. We can make it a little bit longer by adding articles. THE cats chased THE mice. We can make it even longer by adding some helper verbs: The cats ARE chasing the mice. I can change the verb tense and make it
longer: The cats HAVE BEEN chasing the mice. So what happens here is we started with CATS CHASE MICE — three content words. It’s three syllables, all stressed. And no matter how many function words we add, the length of time it takes to say that sentence remains the same. Yep! We’ll prove it with some snaps. Cats* chase* mice* The cats* chased* the mice* The cats* are chasing* the mice* The cats* have been chasing* the mice* Do you see? It doesn’t change. The length of time it takes me to say that sentence doesn’t change because I haven’t added any more content words. So this is what it means to have a stress-timed language that the time depends on the stressed syllables, not how many syllables there are. It’s kind of strange, actually. It is kind of strange. And a little bit fun! Ok, let’s try another one. I’m gonna give us some snaps. Great. BIRDS* FLY* SOUTH* THE birds* fly TO THE south* The birds* ARE flying* to the south* The birds* WILL BE flyING* to the south* Same length. The sentence stayed the same length, even with all those extra words added in because they were function words. That’s right. Function words are unstressed. They’re
short; they’re quiet. Mm-hmm, just fit in the cracks. One other thing we should mention is of course in English there’re words that have more than one syllable, there are words that have many syllables, and within a word there’s often a stressed syllable and an unstressed syllable, or maybe more than one of each of those, which we have talked about in a previous video, but that plays into sentence stress. It
affects which…the rhythm in the sentence, based on how many syllables there are,
and which of those syllables are stressed, whether it’s in multiple syllable words or single syllable words. So let me give you an example of a
sentence: She likes apples. SHE will be unstressed — it’s a pronoun. LIKES is a main verb. It will be stressed. APPLES is a noun. It will be stressed, but not appLES. I don’t want to eat one of those. The first syllable in APPles is strong, and the second one is weak, so the sentence will look like this: She likes apples. She likes apples. Okay, so we’re going to look at some more sentences that are all four syllables, maybe four words or maybe less, and you’re going to help us decide which of these four categories they belong in. So our four categories are: [1] weak strong strong weak [2] strong weak strong weak [3] strong weak weak strong [4] weak strong weak strong And the one we already looked at, SHE LIKES APPLES is [1] weak strong strong weak She likes apples. Got it? So we’ll do a couple more examples together. How about the sentence Everyone’s here. Everyone’s here. What do you think? Larissa, what do you think? I think it’s.. strong, weak, weak, strong. You got it! EVeryone’s HERE. Mm-hmm. Next one: The keys are lost. The keys are lost. Hmm, I think this one is: weak, strong, weak, strong. THE is an article. this is a weak word. KEYS are a noun, it’s big or strong. ARE, like we said, is TO BE,
usually weak. And then LOST is an adjective. It’s weak, strong, weak, strong. Okay, you’re gonna do the same thing. We’re going to say a sentence, and you
decide which of those categories it belongs in. The bus is late. The bus is late.
The bus is late. The bus is late. It’s not a game. It’s not a game. … it IS a game [laughter] We’re going to give you three longer
sentences, and you’re going to decide which syllables are weak and which are strong. You can label them with the small dots and the big dots like we’ve been doing. Now we’re going to play a game with those sentences. So what will happen is I will ask Larissa a question, and she is going to answer using one of those sentences. But she’s not gonna say the words.. just to make it more fun, (yeah!) she’s just gonna say the beat. So da da da da da da. Something like this. Mm-hmm. Okay. Yeah. What did you do this weekend? da da da DA da Hmm, which sentence do you think.. which
answer did she give? I think it was this one: I was at my cottage. Me too! Oh, my goodness! What a coincidence! But mine sounded like…da da da All right, number two: What did you do this weekend, Misha? da DA da da DA I drove to the beach. Mm hmm. I wish I did that this weekend! What did you do this weekend, Larissa? da DA da DA da I saw my family. Yes, I did. Here are three more sentences. Take a minute and write down which syllables are weak and which are strong and they we’ll play again. Okay, we’re gonna play our game again. Hey, Misha, what’s your favorite food? da DA da da DA da I like to have pizza. Mm-hmm, that’s true. That’s true..maybe it’s not my FAvorite. But many people like it. It’s true. What’s your favourite food? da DA DA da da da DA I love hamburgers and fries. Yeah, nice. We’re healthy eaters, pizza and hamburgers. We probably should have said..da DA da DA DA da. Mm-hmm. I always eat salad. That would be better for us. Okay, silliness over. [Larissa giggles, continuing the silliness] To summarize, in English, some words are longer than others. Some syllables are longer than others. Some words have stress, some words are
reduced. These are all parts of the rhythm of English, the rhythm of this stress-timed language. So you can practice by focusing on content words and function words and saying the content words a little bit louder, longer and higher. And with a higher pitch. And the function words kind of short and
quiet. Mm-hmm. And that will make you sound more natural. If you don’t follow the correct rhythm of English, native speakers might still be able to
understand you, but it’s a lot of work for their brain to absorb something in a way that’s different than what they’re used to. So they may get tired of listening more quickly. So this will not only make you sound more native, but it will make communication easier because it’s the pattern we’re used to hearing. DA da DA da! Thanks for watching! Extra English Practice [mouse squeak] Da da…. da DA..da….. [laughs] Da da da DA… It’s hard!

34 thoughts on “Sentence Stress: Content and Function Words

  1. I love you girls's way of teaching and technique, I've strugling with my inglish accent and pronunciaton , I took ESL cleasses for few years ,I speak fluent inglish for the last 18 years but I notice somthing is not quite right in my speaking I'm trying very hard to inprube my inglish and I found your video very interesting ,simple and fun I wish I would've seen your video 18 years ago . I love your video Thank you..

  2. That best video ever about that I saw in youtube!!!
    I really need to go deep in that subject.
    do you recommend me any book about that topic?

  3. I've just subscribed in your channel last night, I really enjoy watching your lessons, Stretch syllable, and the English rhythm it doesn't easier to native Portugues speaker, however, I wanna feel it out, I can get by it.

  4. The method of using different size of dots, and the doing guess game by humming the sentence is fairly effective.

  5. I really love your classes. I am currently teaching English to some friend that need it for their university and I find your explanation really useful since I learned with practice but not theory. If I may ask for something or make a suggestion: I would really appreciate if you linked the other videos you mention, I can look for them but it would make my studying faster if you linked them. Thanks and keep up the good job!

  6. Hello. I am trying to pronounce the word TO but I am trying to find some of the reasons why Americans pronounce TO with a clear vowel sometimes (especially when it must be reduced and it is not at the end of a phrase and you are not pacing stopping for thinking of the next word or using it as a single word or talking about that word) instead of a schwa vowel, for example, I AM GOING "TO" REPEAT IT. Is it clear to emphatize the verb TO REPEAT or just a pronunciation or a colloquial speech shift with friends?????????

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *