A common issue I help my clients with regardless of their native language, is how to pronounce words that are spelled the same but have multiple meanings. The English language is full of these tricky words, called heteronyms, that have different stress patterns for different language usage, especially between nouns and verbs.

Here are three examples of heteronyms:

  • Digest:
    • Noun: a compilation or summary of information.
    • Verb: break down of nutrients that can be absorbed and used by the body.
  • Produce:
    • Noun: agricultural fruits and vegetables.
    • Verb: to compose, to create.
  • Present:
    • Noun: a gift.
    • Verb: to offer for observation.
Generally, nouns and verbs that have the same spelling will also have two syllables, therefore knowing how to emphasize the correct syllable is paramount. A simple and effective rule to improve your pronunciation and increase the comprehension of your message is to place the the stress on the first syllable when the word is used as a noun and stress the second syllable when the word is used as a verb.
Rule for two syllable heteronyms: Stress the first syllable for nouns and the second syllable for verbs.
Let’s review how to pronounce the examples from above:
  • Digest:
    • Noun: DIgest – Here is a DIgest of last year’s meeting.
    • Verb: diGEST – It is going to take some time to diGEST that delicious dinner.
  • Produce:
    • Noun: PROduce – The farmer’s market has a variety of local PROduce today.
    • Verb: proDUCE – This company is going to proDUCE mobile phones for export.
  • Present:
    • Noun: PREsent – I have a PREsent for the birthday party.
    • Verb: preSENT – I will preSENT the new business strategy at the next board meeting.
This Quick Tip may seem like a minor issue to practice and improve, but once you identify if the heteronym is used as a noun or a verb, you can correctly stress the appropriate syllable and achieve your next step towards fluency in your spoken English. Developing this language skill to articulate differences in meaning between words that have the same spelling will instantly help you sound more like a native speaker.  I can help you continue your on your fast track to better pronunciation. Learn more and get started reducing your accent and improving your pronunciation today at www.atlasspeech.com. Click on the free language assessment to begin.
Atlas Speech Coaching is Your Path to Better Pronunciation!
Thank you,
Eric Maki
Director of Atlas Speech Coaching