Word emphasis

One of the hardest things to grasp when learning the English language is emphasis. Emphasising different words in the same sentence can completely change the meaning of it. Some people make the emphasis on a certain word very clear. This can give you the general feeling of the sentence.

Other times it can be harder to pick up the meaning of a sentence and this can lead to you misinterpreting what the speaker means. Emphasis is normally used when someone wants to convey how he or she feels about something; this could be something they feel emotional about.

For example my mum could say to me ‘you’re not doing that tomorrow’.

This could be her checking with me ‘you’re not doing that tomorrow?’ implying that I am, or might be doing it on a different day. However, it is more likely that she is saying to me ‘you are not doing that tomorrow!’ – using this emphasis would make it clear to me that there is no chance I will be doing whatever I wanted to do tomorrow.

Emphasis is used by:

  • Stretching out the vowel sound.
  • Pausing after the word that is being emphasised is spoken.
  • Speaking slower when saying the word they want to emphasise.
  • Pronouncing the first syllable louder than the other syllables
  • Using voice inflection (up or down sounds) for a word

Try emphasising a different word in this sentence each time you say it.

‘She isn’t driving to Sydney tomorrow’

  • By emphasising the ‘she’ (sheee) it implies that it is someone else that is driving to Sydney tomorrow.
  • The ‘isn’t’ shows that she’s not doing this anymore.
  • Emphasising the ‘driving’ means that she’s not driving, she may be getting there another way instead.
  • Emphasising ‘to’ could mean she is driving FROM Sydney or near Sydney but not not TO Sydney.
  • Emphasis on ‘Sydney’ shows that it could be a different location, not Sydney.
  • Finally, ‘tomorrow’ could mean that she’s actually driving on a different day, not tomorrow.

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