Practice Stress Patterns to Predict How to Say New Words

Let’s talk about strategies you can use to predict how to say new words.

After all, you don’t always have a chance to check their pronunciation before using them.

What happens when you come across a new or unfamiliar word?

You look for something you recognize:

  • Maybe the word looks like another word you’re comfortable saying.
  • Maybe the word looks similar to a word in your native language, so you have a general idea of how the word should be pronounced.
  • Maybe you recognize a consonant cluster at the beginning or the end of the word, or you recognize a word ending you’ve studied before.

Looking for patterns can definitely help you predict how a word should be pronounced.

Stress Pattern for Words That End in -tion

For example, consider words that end in -tion, such as registration, pronunciation, or communication.

These words share a common ending, and they’re consistently stressed on the same syllable: the second to last one.

Let’s review how we figure out how to say words:

  • First, start with the stressed syllable.
  • Working from the stressed syllable, fill in the end of the word one syllable at a time.
  • Then fill in the beginning of the word one syllable at a time.

Let’s practice these words, starting from the stressed syllable.


  • STRA /streɪ/
  • STRAtion /ˈstreɪʃən/
  • giSTRAtion /dʒɪˈstreɪʃən/
  • regiSTRAtion /ˌrɛdʒɪˈstreɪʃən/


  • A /eɪ/
  • Ation /ˈeɪʃən/
  • ciAtion /siˈeɪʃən/
  • nunciAtion /ˌnʌnsiˈeɪʃən/
  • pronunciation /prəˌnʌnsiˈeɪʃən/


  • CA /keɪ/
  • CAtion /ˈkeɪʃən/
  • niCAtion /nɪˈkeɪʃən/
  • muniCAtion /mjunɪˈkeɪʃən/
  • communiCAtion /kəˌmjunɪˈkeɪʃən/

Stress Patterns Help You Predict How to Say Unfamiliar Words

When you’re comfortable stressing a number of words that end in -tion, you’ll be able to predict how to pronounce an unfamiliar word that ends in -tion, like diversification or commodification.

In this case, we’re stressing the second to last syllable of -tion words.

Let’s practice these two new words.


  • CA /kei/
  • CAtion /ˈkeiʃən/
  • fiCAtion /fɪˈkeiʃən/
  • sifiCAtion /səfɪˈkeiʃən/
  • versifiCAtion /ˌvɜrsəfɪˈkeiʃən/
  • diversifiCAtion /dɪˌvɜrsəfɪˈkeiʃən/


  • CA /keɪ/
  • CAtion /ˈkeɪʃən/
  • fiCAtion /fɪˈkeɪʃən/
  • difiCAtion /dəfɪˈkeɪʃən/
  • modifiCAtion /ˌmɑdəfɪˈkeɪʃən/
  • commodifiCAtion /kəˌmɑdəfɪˈkeɪʃən/

Stress Pattern for Words That End in -ate

Similarly, we’ve practiced these two words: appreciate and negotiate.

Let’s review how to say these words.


  • PRE /pri/
  • PREci /ˈpriʃi/
  • PREciate /ˈpriʃiˌeɪt/
  • apPREciate /əˈpriʃiˌeɪt/


  • GO /goʊ/
  • GOti /ˈgoʊʃi/
  • GOtiate /ˈgoʊʃiˌeɪt/
  • neGOtiate /nɪˈgoʊʃiˌeɪt/

What happens if you come across a word like discombobulate?

That -ate ending looks familiar, so there’s a good chance that the stress pattern will be the same.

In this case, we stress the third syllable from the end.

You can figure out how to pronounce the word by starting from the stressed syllable and adding one syllable at a time.


  • BO /ˈbɑ/
  • BObu /ˈbɑbjə/
  • BObulate /ˈbɑbjəˌleɪt/
  • comBObulate /kɛmˈbɑbjəˌleɪt/
  • discomBObulate /ˌdɪskɛmˈbɑbjəˌleɪt/

Focus on Contrast When Practicing Stress Patterns

A longer word like discombobulate can seem a little tricky at first.

But remember: your goal is to clearly pronounce the stressed vowel sound.

You’re going to back off from the rest of the syllables, which means you don’t need to put in as much effort.

Once again, focus on the contrast between the stressed syllable and the rest of the syllables.

While English doesn’t have strict rules for stress, there are patterns you can practice.

That way, you’ll be more prepared to predict which syllable should be stressed until you have the chance to check it in a dictionary.

You can look for these patterns on your own, but if you want to practice with me, the Stress Simplified program can help.

You’ll find over 50 practice exercises to help you get more comfortable stressing vowels and identifying stress patterns.

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