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English Intonation: The Noun And Verb

By Frank Gerace

Listen and Learn: The Different Intonation of the Noun and the Verb

Intonation, the "music" of a language, is perhaps the most important element of a correct accent. Many people think that pronunciation is what makes up an accent. It may be that pronunciation is very important for an understandable accent. But it is intonation that gives the final touch that makes an accent correct or native. Often we hear someone speaking with perfect grammar, and perfect formation of the sounds of English but with a little something that gives her away as not being a native speaker.

Therefore, it is necessary to realize that there are three components to an accent, pronunciation, intonation, and linking. In other places we will examine pronunciation, the proper formation of vowels and consonants, and linking, the way that syllables within a word, and the beginning and ending of words come together.

But what interests us now is the issue of intonation, and in particular the difference in intonation in saying the same word (same spelling) when it is used as a noun and when it is used as a verb. It is a perfect example of how meaning affects intonation.

We will try to hear clearly the difference that intonation makes in the daily use of a proper North American English accent. The practice with the following examples will help you to notice, practice, and master the different intonation patterns that you will discover as you concentrate more on your use of North American English.

Intonation: Noun or Verb

Knowing when and where to stress the words you use is very important for understanding, and is part of a good accent. A clear example is that of the different stress in nouns and verbs.

It will be useful for you to be aware of the stress in both cases. Here is a list of a few that will get you thinking and give you some practice in identifying them and using them correctly. Underline the syllable that is stressed, and write a brief explanation to indicate that you understand the difference. I start the exercise with two examples, the words "suspect" and "present". You do the rest. And make sure you pronounce the words OUT LOUD.

Usually (although there are some exceptions), the stress of a verb is on the last syllable, and that of a noun is on the first syllable.

It will be useful for you to be aware of the stress in both cases. Here is a list of a few that will get you thinking and give you some practice in identifying them and using them correctly. I start the exercise with two examples. I have indicated the stress with CAPITAL LETTERS. You underline the syllable that is stressed, and write a brief explanation to indicate that you understand the difference. You do the rest of the table. And make sure you pronounce the words OUT LOUD.

to susPECT: meaning, to have an opinion

a SUSpect: meaning, a person under suspicion

to preSENT: meaning, to give, to introduce

a PREsent: meaning, a gift, now

Now, you do the rest of the table, underlining the accented syllable and defining the word to emphasize your understanding that the accent goes with the meaning.

to conflict, a conflict

to contest, a contest

to contract, a contract

to convert, a convert

to convict, a convict

to incline, an incline

to insult, an insult

to object, an object

to permit, a permit

to present, a present

to produce, a produce

to project, a project

to protest, a protest

to rebel, a rebel

to recall, a recall

to reject, a reject

to research, a research

Practice on the following sentences that contain some of the words of the list used buth as noun and as verb. Underline the accent and read the sentences out loud

You need to insert a paragraph here on this newspaper insert.

How can you object to this object?

I'd like to present you with this present.

The manufacturer couldn't recall if there'd been a recall.

The religious convert wanted to convert the world.

The political rebels wanted to rebel against the world.

The mogul wanted to record a new record for his latest artist.

If you perfect your intonation, your accent will be perfect.

Due to the drought, the fields didn't produce much produce this year.

Unfortunately, City Hall wouldn't permit them to get a permit.

About The Author

Frank Gerace Ph.D has worked in Latin America on UN and national Educational and Communication Projects, and has taught in Bolivian and Peruvian Universities. He currently teaches English in New York City at La Guardia College/CUNY. He provides resources on accent reduction and the proper American English accent at


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