How Americans Speak – Three Rules for Word Stress

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Over the past few weeks, we have talked about shortened words, sentence stress, and sentence rhythm. This week, we’re going to look at some pronunciation rules for putting stress on the correct syllable in a word. This is important for 2 reasons:

  1. Using incorrect stress causes confusion.
  2. It is important to put the stressed syllable of a content word on the beat when you are speaking in English rhythm.

Let me explain #2 a little more. You know that we stress content words in speaking – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, negatives, question words, and interjections. In the sentences below, every word is a content word, so each word gets a beat.

Ana works hard.
Ana works VEry hard.
Ana works exTREMEly hard.

Read the first sentence out loud and clap your hands when you say each word. Clap in a steady rhythm. The first sentence is easy because each word has only one syllable, so they all get equal stress. In the second and third sentences, there are words with two or three syllables. The stressed syllable is on the beat (when you clap). The extra syllables must go between the beats. Practice the second and third sentences. Clap in a steady rhythm, and try to put the extra syllables between claps.

Now let’s talk about stress in lots of different words. English pronunciation is a little crazy compared to other languages, but we have a few rules that can really help!

Stress on the Syllable Before Certain Endings

In words with the following endings, the stress usually goes on the syllable before the ending:

  • -ible/-able – flexible (FLEX-ible), dependable (de-PEN-dable)
  • -ious/-eous – suspicious (sus-PI-cious), courageous (cou-RA-geous)
  • -ity – ethnicity (eth-NI-city), audacity (au-DA-city)
  • -ive – expensive (ex-PEN-sive), active (AC-tive)
  • -graphy – geography (ge-OG-ra-phy), photography (pho-TOG-ra-phy)
  • -logy – psychology (psy-CHO-lo-gy),
  • -meter – speedometer (spee-DO-me-ter), thermometer (ther-MO-me-ter)
  • -ic/-ical – geographical (ge-o-GRA-phi-cal), hysterical (hys-TE-ri-cal), ironic (i-RO-nic), photographic (pho-to-GRA-phic)
  • -tion/-sion/-cian – vacation (va-CA-tion), revision (re-VI-sion), musician (mu-SI-cian)

Stress on the Last Syllable

When words have these endings, the endings are usually stressed:

  • -ee – refugee (re-fu-GEE), trainee (trai-NEE)
  • -eer – volunteer (vo-lun-TEER), mountaineer (moun-tai-NEER)
  • -ese – Japanese (Ja-pa-NESE), legalese (le-ga-LESE)
  • -ette – bachelorette (ba-che-lo-RETTE), casette (ca-SETTE)
  • -esque – picturesque (pic-tu-RESQUE), statuesque (sta-tu-ESQUE)
  • -oo – shampoo (sham-POO), tattoo (tat-TOO)

Stress Shift (Verb – Noun)

Some verbs and their related nouns look exactly alike, but their pronunciations are different. Usually, in two-syllable VERBS, the second syllable is stressed.

  • permit (per-MIT)
  • record (re-CORD)
  • present (pre-SENT)
  • increase (in-CREASE)
  • conflict (con-FLICT)
  • escort (es-CORT)
  • address (ad-DRESS)
  • object (ob-JECT)
  • upset (up-SET)

Two-syllable NOUNS, on the other hand, are usually stressed on the first syllable.

  • permit (PER-mit)
  • record (RE-cord)
  • present (PRE-sent)
  • increase (IN-crease)
  • conflict (CON-flict)
  • escort (ES-cort)
  • address (AD-dress)
  • object (OB-ject)
  • upset (UP-set)

There are many more rules for pronunciation and word stress, but these three will help you get started. For further explanation and more examples, here is a video that talks about these rules a bit more.


Summer Homework!

The blogs are going on vacation for the summer. **** I’ve  refreshed an earlier post with great ideas for  your summer homework. Click on the blue links to learn and practice until we return with new lessons in the fall!

Confusing Word Choices

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

In these blogs, we teach you the differences between two (or more) confusing words or phrases. Click each one to learn more.


In these posts, we teach you how to pronounce or say something.


Here are the answers to some of the most common questions I hear from students.

Practical English

These articles will help you with the English you need every day.

Online Listening Practice for All Levels

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

Sometimes, students say to me, “Teacher, I learned grammar and writing in my country, but I never practiced listening and speaking. I don’t understand Americans. How can I practice more listening?” Of course, you can watch TV or listen to the radio. You can also sign up for Crossroads Cafe at your site. It is an excellent program for improving your English.

However, if you want more listening practice at home, I have several ideas for you!

For ALL Levels

These websites have lessons for all levels. You can choose the level that is right for you!

Talk English – This site has free listening courses for all levels. On the main page, they also have vocabulary and grammar lessons!

Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab – Scroll down for listening activities and quizzes. You can choose easy, medium, difficult, or very difficult listening activities.

Breaking News English – On this site, you can choose your level at the top of the page. Then you choose the story you want to read and hear. You can also choose the speed of the listening. You can listen to it very slowly or at normal speed.

VOA English News – Voice of America English News has short news stories that you can read and listen to. The site has three levels. On the site, “Level One” might be good for you if you are in a level 3 or 4 class at Wake Tech.

For Advanced Students

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Do you know what a podcast is? Imagine people on TV talking about a topic. Now turn off the picture so you are only listening to them. That is a podcast. It is an audio (listening only) recording of people talking about a topic. You can find podcasts about all kinds of topics. These podcasts are about English.

English Class 101 – Some episodes are for intermediate students, and some are for advanced students, but they are not organized so that you can choose your level. You can sign up for a free account on the website or listen on iTunes.

ESL Pod – This site offers some free lessons, and you can listen to episodes on iTunes, or you can pay for an account for more practice.

All Ears English – Two women talk about American English. You can find this free podcast on the website or on iTunes. You can also download a transcript (written version) of each episode if you want. Click here for the the transcripts.

American English Pronunciation – Listen for free on the website or on iTunes to learn about American English pronunciation rules.

The next two resources I want to show you are NOT made for ESL students. Many Americans enjoy listening to them because they talk about a wide variety of interesting topics. You might enjoy some of them as well!

How Stuff Works – This website is FULL of information on so many things! You can read articles and listen to podcasts about almost anything. You can find information about all of the podcasts here, and I will tell you about some of them as well. You can find all of them on iTunes.

  • Car Stuff – Two men talk about cars
  • Stuff of Genius – A podcast about some of the greatest inventions in the world
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class – History lessons you probably didn’t learn in school
  • Brain Stuff – Science in the world around us
  • Stuff You Should Know – A general information podcast with each episode focused on a different topic
  • Tech Stuff – A podcast about technology
  • Stuff Your Mom Never Told You – Two women talk about women’s issues

TED Talks – TED is a conference where people come to share ideas about technology (T), entertainment (E), and design (D), but people talk about almost everything. You can watch videos of the speeches from the conference online. Go to the website, and search for a topic you find interesting. You can even choose the duration (length) of the video. If you want to watch a short video, search for 0-6 minutes. If you want to watch a longer one, you can choose a different duration.

Prepositions of Time

Used with permission from Toni Verdú Carbó via a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Prepositions are difficult. Many students have problems with prepositions. Here are some rules for using prepositions of time.

Preposition Use Examples
in with months a in April; in December
a year in 1785; in 2011
seasons in winter; in the fall of 1972
the morning, the afternoon, the evening in the morning; in the afternoon; in the evening
a length of time into the future in an hour (= 1 hour in the future from now); in two weeks (= 2 weeks in the future from now)
at night, midnight, dawn at night; at dawn; at midnight
a specific time of day at 6 o’clock; at 8:30
a time of year near a holiday at Christmas; at Easter
time phrases that show a specific time or moment at the same time; at the moment
on days of the week on Monday; on Saturday
dates on the 13th of November; on November 13
holidays and special days on Halloween; on the Fourth of July; on my birthday
a part of the day when the date is given on the morning of September the 11th*
for a length or duration of time for three weeks; for an hour
since from a time in the past until now since 2005; since this morning; since I woke up yesterday
from … to
from… till/until
beginning and end times from Monday to Wednesday
from Monday till Wednesday
from Monday until Wednesday
during in the middle of something continuing during the week; during class


Now you can practice using these prepositions. Work alone or with your classmates to complete the sentences. More than one answer may be possible. Ask your teacher to check your answers.

  1. They are getting married __________ Sunday __________ 3 o’clock.
  2. __________ midnight, we were awakened by the sound of a dog barking.
  3. The party will be __________ Sunday __________ 4:00 __________ the afternoon.
  4. Spring begins __________ March 21, and summer begins __________ June 21.
  5. The last time I saw Pedro was __________ the summer of 2006.
  6. The festival took place __________ August.
  7. They came to this country __________ August 5, 2008.
  8. They came to this country __________ 2008.
  9. The ESL classes went  __________ May __________ August.
  10. He has not felt well __________ a long time, ever __________ his crash.
  11. They never go out __________ night __________ the week.
  12. We’ll be ready to leave __________ an hour.
  13. I will see you ___________ the afternoon.
  14. __________ the storm, all the lights were out __________ several hours.
  15. He has been away from home __________ January 12.
  16. The temperature is below zero. __________ a few hours, the pond should be frozen over.
  17. He had been away from home __________ two weeks.
  18. She will be here __________ a few hours.
  19. Hannah’s party is __________ the Saturday before her birthday.
  20. I’m sorry that my phone rang __________ class.

Talk with your classmates about these sentences. How does the meaning change with a different preposition?

  1. I will see you in the afternoon.
    I will see you before the afternoon.
  2. They came to this country before 2008.
    They came to this country after 2008.
    They came to this country in 2008.
  3. We have ESL classes from January to March.
    We have ESL classes in January and March.
  4. She will be here for a few hours.
    She will be here in a few hours.

Telling the Date

For all ESL levels

Americans write and say dates differently from people in other countries. Do you know how to write and say dates correctly?

How to Write the Date

Americans always give the month first, the day second, and the year last. There are several different ways we can write it.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

  • March 27, 2016
  • March 27th, 2016
  • 03/27/2016 or 03-27-2016
  • 3/27/16 or 3-27-16

You can use a slash (/) or a hyphen (-) between the numbers. There is no difference. When you write the name of the month, you must use a comma (,) after the date.

Sometimes, you will see instructions for writing the date that look like this:


The M means month, the D means day, and the Y means year. If a website or form asks for a date like this, you should use two numbers for the month (01, 09, 11, etc.), two numbers for the date (07, 10, 29, etc.), and four numbers for the year (1982, 2016, etc.).

Sometimes the instructions look like this:


Do you see the difference? In this case, you only use the LAST two numbers of the year – 82 (not 1982) or 16 (not 2016).

When you write the date in _ _ / _ _ / _ _ _ _ format, it is VERY important that you write the MONTH first and the DAY second.

How to Say the Date

Americans usually do not write “st,” “nd,” “rd,” or “th” (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) on the date, but we ALWAYS say it. If you write, “3/27/2016,” you say, “March twenty-seventh, twenty-sixteen” (you can also say, “two thousand-sixteen”). Here is how we write and pronounce all the dates.

**We only add -st, -nd, -rd, and -th to the pronunciation of numbers in dates.**

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

photo by WTCC instructor ecparent

  1. first
  2. second
  3. third
  4. fourth
  5. fifth
  6. sixth
  7. seventh
  8. eighth
  9. ninth
  10. tenth
  11. eleventh
  12. twelfth
  13. thirteenth
  14. fourteenth
  15. fifteenth
  16. sixteenth
  17. seventeenth
  18. eighteenth
  19. nineteenth
  20. twentieth
  21. twenty-first
  22. twenty-second
  23. twenty-third
  24. twenty-fourth
  25. twenty-fifth
  26. twenty-sixth
  27. twenty-seventh
  28. twenty-eighth
  29. twenty-ninth
  30. thirtieth
  31. thirty-first

When we say years, we usually say the first two numbers together and the last two numbers together. If the year is 1982, we say the first two numbers – nineteen – and the last two numbers – eighty-two.

  • 1980 – nineteen eighty
  • 1776 – seventeen seventy-six
  • 1430 – fourteen thirty
  • 2016 – twenty sixteen

If there are zeros in the middle of the year (2002), the rules change a little. Here is how we say 2000 years:

  • 2000 – two thousand
  • 2001 – two thousand one
  • 2002 – two thousand two

Here is how we say other years:

  • 1903 – nineteen oh three
  • 1409 – fourteen oh nine
  • 1207 – twelve oh seven
  • 1804 – eighteen oh four

Your Turn

Write and say the answers to these questions (search the internet or ask your teacher if you don’t know):

  1. When were you born?
  2. When did the United States become an independent country?
  3. When did Princess Diana die?
  4. When was Barack Obama born?
  5. When is Thanksgiving this year?
  6. When will Americans elect the next president?
  7. When is the last day of your class?
  8. What is today’s date?
  9. What is an important date in your life (wedding, birth of a child, when you moved to the U.S., etc.)?
  10. When was the last time you took a vacation?

Parts of Speech: CONJUNCTIONS

Symphony (photo by WT instructor JLN)

Symphony (photo by WT instructor JLN)


Read these 3 sentences. Which is good?

I like the symphony but I don’t go.

I like the symphony and I go.

I like the symphony or I go.


Coffee (photo by WT instructor JLN)

Coffee (photo by WT instructor JLN)


1. I like coffee but I don’t drink it.

2. I like coffee and I drink it.

3. I like coffee or I drink it.


Each sentence is a little different. It depends on the conjunction between the two ideas.

“I like coffee BUT I don’t drink it” = I have a reason that I don’t drink it. Maybe my doctor said, “No coffee!” Maybe the caffeine is bad for me. I like it, BUT, I don’t drink it.

“I like coffee AND I drink it” makes sense. “And” connects two positive ideas.

“I like coffee OR I drink it” doesn’t make sense. “Or” connects two different ideas, two options.

AND, BUT, and OR are the three most common conjunctions. They connect ideas or sentences. In the 1970s, there was a popular educational children’s TV show called “School House Rock.” Here is their conjunction video. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand it . . . just get an idea!)

There are more conjunctions than and, but, and or, though. Here is a list of some of them.

You don’t need to know all of them right now. But, you should study some of them. Let’s look at 6 conjunctions today:

1) AND

“And” connects sentences or lists. You don’t use a comma with two things. You DO use a comma with 3 or more (more on punctuation rules later).

I like chocolate and strawberries. I like chocolate, strawberries, and milk.

We are going to go to school and learn English.

Sam and Patty are going to Toronto and Mike and Darlene are going to New York.

2) BUT

“But” connects a different idea. You use a comma with two sentences.

I like that shirt, but it’s too expensive.

Mary can’t go, but John can.

3) OR

“Or” connects opposing ideas. You don’t use a comma with two things. You DO use a comma with 3 or more.

Do you want to go to Paris or Rome?

My brother can’t eat fish, wheat, soy, or nuts.

4) SO

“So” usually connects a sentence after a reason.

We are hungry, so we eat. (We eat because we are hungry.)

Sherika studied a lot for the test, so she made 100. (She made 100 because she studied.)

Jason didn’t want to go to the park, so he stayed home.

5) EITHER . . . OR

Similar to “or.” This structure gives you two options.

We can either eat at home or go to a restaurant.

You can call either your brother or your sister, but not both.

You can either go to Level 6 or to ERV.


Similar to “in spite of” or “but.” Use a comma between the clauses.

Even though I’m not hungry, I want to eat!

Although we usually start class at 9:00, today we’re going to start at 9:30.

Kyle is sleepy today, even though he slept for 8 hours last night.

I tried to make a banana cake, although I didn’t have a lot of sugar.



You can practice more conjunctions here and here.

Learn English Online

Here are good sites to start learning English online. These sites have lessons: some have topics, and some have grammar. Usually there are related activities to help you practice.

Please post a comment about your experiences with them and tell us about any we missed!

This site, Learn American English Online, has 7 different levels of English instruction, divided by color. Blue is easy. Violet is difficult. It teaches American English through videos, lessons, exercises, quizzes, and activities.

Screenshot capture by JLN, 10/10/2014

Screenshot capture by JLN, 10/10/2014

USA Learns is another very helpful website. You sign up for free and start an individual course. You practice reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and listening. There are three different levels to choose from.

Screenshot capture by JLN, 10/10/2014

Screenshot capture by JLN, 10/10/2014

5 Minute English  has short but helpful  grammar, reading, vocabulary, listening and pronunciation lesson

Daily Classroom from Fun, Easy English has a set of lessons that span a year and will guide you step by step.

El Civics –  Great site for civics lessons, ESL, life skills and holiday lessons. Most are at the beginner level but higher students can use some of the activities, too.

ESOL Courses – Has lessons on various topics at five levels of difficulty, plus interactive vocabulary games and activities. It is a British site, but it also has lessons on American culture and holidays.

ESL Partyland – Has some lessons on different topics but has many quizzes / games on grammar, idioms, slang and vocabulary at different levels of difficulty.

Let’s Have Fun with English ( Mrs Haquet’s site) – Amazing set of lessons in interactive books, games and PowerPoint presentations. Many of the interactive books combine a grammar point with another theme ( i.e Be and Have verbs with Physical Description). It does use some British English grammar and spelling but it usually points out the American equivalent too.   This table is a quick way to get to the interactive books

Basics Verb Tense + Topic Holidays
Numbers Present Be and Personality  
Pronouns and Possessive Adjectives Present Simple Have /Have got  
Adverbs of Frequency and Chores Present Simple (Be and Have) and Physical Descriptions St. Valentine’s Day
Comparatives Present Simple and Time and Daily Routines St. Patrick’s Day
 Prepositions of location and Places in Town Present Simple (like, love, hate) and Hobbies Halloween
Rooms in a House Present Simple vs Present Continuous Thanksgiving
Can (Talents) Present Simple /Present Continuous and Jobs Christmas
Must and Mustn’t Present Simple /Present Continuous and Clothes  
  Simple Past and Dates  
  Present Perfect  and  Countries  
  4 Verb tenses and Asking Questions  


LEO – Learn English Online – Has Beginner and Intermediate lessons.

OM Basic English Course  –  Provides twenty (20) lessons for beginner and low intermediate students. It has audio support for some parts. It is made for Spanish speakers and uses both Spanish and English in the lessons and directions.

REEP World – Has terrific family, health and work lessons. Also has citizenship resources and wide range of ESL links.

Stickyball Adult ESL Lessons – Has reading passages with comprehension questions and related grammar points.

Web-ESL – Adult and Family Education – Has many multi-skill activities /mini lessons under broad topics of Family, Shopping, Jobs, Community, Health, Community, Transportation & Recreation, Computers, and Grammar

Pronouncing the Regular Past Ending “ed”

Forming the past tense of regular verbs is simple, right?  We just add the letters “ed” to the end of the base form of the verb.  However, how we say the “ed ” ending on the verb changes.  There are actually three different sounds that we use to say the same “ed” ending!  Here are three simple rules to help:

#1  When the base form (infinitive) of the verb ends in the letter “t” or “d”, we say the “ed” ending like “id” and this adds another syllable to the verb.

Want Wanted [want-id]
Start Started [start-id]
Need Needed [need-id]
Sound Sounded [sound-id]

#2 When the base form (infinitive) of the verb ends in a consonant that is not voiced (p, k, f, x, ss, sh, ch), we say the “ed” ending like “t”.

help helped [helpt]
ask asked [askt]
talk talked [talkt]
look looked [lookt]

#3 When the base form (infinitive) of the verb ends in a consonant that is voiced (all other ending sounds), we say the “ed” ending like “d”.

call called [calld]
play played [playd]
learn learned [learnd]
open opened [opend]

Use this link to hear a lesson on the pronunciation of the regular past tense “ed” endings:

Use this link to complete an online exercise using the three different way to pronounce “ed’:


Count vs. Non-Count Nouns

Count Nouns

Count (or countable) nouns are nouns that we can count. If you can count something, you can have one (singular) or more (plural). You can have just one eye, but you probably have two eyes. One eye, two eyes – you can count them.

one-eyed monster

This monster has one eye.
photo credit: Nomadic Lass via photopin cc

two-eyed monster

This monster has two eyes.
photo credit: SpreadTheMagic via photopin cc

three-eyed monster

This monster has three eyes.
photo credit: tuneful87 via photopin cc

Here are some things you can count. Ask your teacher about the rules for spelling plural nouns.

singular and plural noun forms

Non-Count Nouns

Non-count (or non-countable/uncountable) nouns are those do not have a plural form because we don’t count them. Most liquids, powders and grains are uncountable. We say you eat cereal for breakfast, not cereals. And you put sugar on it, not sugars. And you drink coffee with it, not coffees.

Here are some examples of non-countable nouns:

uncountable nouns

Abstract nouns – things you can’t see or touch – are also usually uncountable. Abstract nouns include: justice, love, strength, safety, danger, knowledge, anger, culture, life, death, courage, and peace.


Making Uncountable Nouns Countable

We sometimes make non-count nouns countable when we refer to the container or form in which they come. You order two coffees (one for you, one for your friend), but what you really mean is two cups of coffee. You’re counting the cups, not the liquid. We also use a countable noun + of + a non-count noun to make uncountable nouns countable. Some examples of this include:

  • a loaf of bread
  • a slice/piece of bread
  • a carton of milk
  • a gallon of milk
  • a cup of juice
  • a drop of juice
  • a bowl of cereal
  • a box of cereal
  • a grain of rice
  • a kernel of corn
  • a grain of sand
  • a cup of flour
  • a teaspoon of sugar
  • a demonstration of strength
  • a feeling of love
  • a story of justice