Prefixes and Word Stress (2)

In some words with prefixes, the prefix itself is stressed. Most of these words are shown in dictionaries as having main stress ( ‘ ) on the prefix and, in some cases, secondary stress ( ˌ ) later in the word:

subway-> /ˈs ʌ b   w eɪ /
superpower->/ˈs uː   ˌp ə   p aʊə /

Most words like this are nouns and include:

‘co-driver ‘co-writer ‘co-star
 ‘counteratˌtack ‘counterˌclaim ‘counterpart
 ‘hyperspace ‘hypertext ‘hyperlink
‘interface ‘interchange ‘interplay
 ‘subˌsection ‘subtext ‘subsoil
‘superˌmarket ‘superˌstructure ‘superˌmodel
‘underˌcurrent ‘undergrowth ‘underwear

Exercise 1

Here are the titles of some research papers given at a conference on education. Look at the words in bold (some are given above) and underline the syllable that you think will be prominent.
EXAMPLE: Why do children become hyperactive?


Now listen and check your answers. Then read the titles aloud.

(United States)
1 co-education
2 subconscious
3 interface
4 underachievers; subtitles
5 Superstars; counteroffensive (counteroffensive is also possible)
6 supernatural; undercurrents
7 co-writers; hypertext
8 international; counterparts

In these words the syllable with main stress usually has prominence in discourse:
We took the SUBway.
I’m just off to the SUpermarket.

However, other words with these prefixes have main stress on a syllable after the prefix. Most words like this are adjectives and include:

,co-edu’cation co’operate ,co-e’xist
.counterin’telligence .counterproductive .counter’mand
ˌhyper’active ˌhyper’sensitive ˌhyper’critical
ˌinter’changeable ˌinterconti’nental ˌinter’active
ˌsub’conscious sub’standard ˌsub’tropical
ˌsupernatural ˌsupera’bundant ˌsuperim’pose
ˌunder’cover ˌunder’line ˌunder’age

Exercise 2

Match each word 1-7 with a word from the list a-g. Matched words must have the same number of syllables and follow the same stress pattern. Words 1-7 are from above.

EXAMPLE 1-C (1 co-exist and C interlinked both have three syllables with main stress on the last syllable – (o o 0)

1 co exist
2 counterproductive
3 interchangeable
4 hyperspace
5 substandard
6 superstructure
7 undercover
a cohabit
b counterclockwise
c interlinked
d hypersensitive
e subcommittee
f superstore
g underdeveloped

Now listen and check your answers. Then listen again and repeat the words.

2  g (ooo0o)  counterpro’ductive -underde’veloped
3  d (oo0oo)  inter’changeable – hyper’sensitive
4  f (0oo) ‘hyperspace – ‘superstore
5  a (o0o) sub’standard – co’habit
6  e (0ooo) superstructure – ‘subcommittee
7  b (oo0o) under’cover – counter’clockwise

In these words the syllable with main stress usually has prominence in conversation:

They have to learn to co-eXIST.
The climate here is subTROPical.

… but prominence may go on the syllable with secondary stress in some cases.

In many words with a prefix, there is secondary stress on the prefix, with main stress later in the word:


When these words are used in conversation they can have stress shift, with the prefix made prominent rather than the main stressed syllable. Compare:

Her answer was impreCISE.
She gave an IMprecise ANswer.
He’s hyperACtive.
I work with HYperactive CHILdren.

He disaGREED. but: He DISagreed STRONGly.

Here are some more words with prefixes which commonly have stress shift:
ˌdecom’pose, ˌde’code; ˌdiso’bedient, ˌdisre’spectful; ˌimma’ture, ˌimpo’lite;
ˌmis’place, ˌmis’spelt; ˌrecon’sider, ˌrepro’duce; ˌunacceptable, ˌunsuccessful.

Exercise 3

Focus on the words in bold (some are given above), and underline the syllable you think is likely to have prominence. Which words have stress shift (that is, prominence on the prefix), and which do not?

EXAMPLE:  He was sacked for unacceptable conduct. (has stress shift)
1 She was wearing impractical shoes.
2 The government has promised to review hospital funding.
3 He tends to use rather impolite language.
4 There were too many misplaced passes in the football matc

5 The police have prosecuted a number of dishonest landlords.
6 The cream is very good for dehydrated skin.
7 He undressed quickly.

Now listen and check your answers. Then listen again and repeat the sentences.

impolite *
misplaced *
dehydrated *

* indicates stress shift

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