Quick quiz: How do you say the names of these popular states?
- Is it CAlifornia, or CaliFORnia?
- Do you say FloRIda, or FLORida?
- Should you pronounce it NEW York, or New YORK?
If you’re not 100% sure how to say these states, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Many of the non-native speakers I work with have trouble identifying which syllable to stress, or emphasize, when they’re saying the 50 United States.
Remember, these are people who live here in the United States, so they definitely want to get it right!
Let’s Review Word Stress
In American English, one syllable of every word will be stressed or emphasized more than the others.
When a syllable is stressed, the vowel sound will be longer, louder, and higher in pitch.
The vowel sound will be extra clear, with your mouth really exaggerating the sound and the shape.
The rest of the syllables in the word are unstressed, de-emphasized, or even reduced.
They’re less obvious: they’re shorter, quieter in lower in pitch.
When a syllable is reduced, the vowel sound will even change. It’ll turn into the schwa sound, which is the /ə/ sound, or into the /i/ sound.
Word stress is absolutely essential for clear pronunciation in American English.
If you’ve ever said the name of a state and someone didn’t understand you, chances are you emphasized the wrong syllable, or none at all.
That’s why we’re going to practice word stress with all 50 states in this video. Let’s get started!
Practice Word Stress with a Rubber Band
To get the most out of this word stress practice, be sure to grab a rubber band.
If you can’t find a rubber band, you can use your hands.
You can mimic the shape of a rubber band, conduct like a musician, or even clap.
The reason we use the rubber band when practicing stress is that we want to emphasize the contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables.
When we stress a syllable, we rise to that higher pitch and hold that syllable a little longer than usual.
Then we close back down afterwards.
The rubber band reminds you of the contrast and helps you remember both visually and physically.
A Note About Regional/Local Pronunciations of States
Another thing I want to mention is that I’m from the New England area and you may hear some regional influences on the way I say these words.
However, I’m going to do my best to pronounce the 50 states the way the locals do.
That said, people with other regional accents, including locals, may say them slightly differently than the way I would.
Here we go!
How to Say All 50 US States with Clear Word Stress
Let’s start in alphabetical order.
The first state is Alabama, or /ˌæləˈbæmə/.
The stress is on the third syllable: AlaBAma, AlaBAma.
Be sure to hold that stressed syllable as you rise to your highest pitch. AlaBAma, AlaBAma.
Next, Alaska, or /əˈlæskə/.
This state is stressed on the second syllable: ALAska, ALAska, ALAska.
Next up, we have Arizona, which is pronounced /ˌɛrəˈzoʊnə/ or /ˌærəˈzoʊnə/.
The stress is on the third syllable: AriZOna, AriZOna, AriZOna.
Let’s move on to Arkansas, or /ˈɑrkənˌsɔ/.
For this state, we stress the first syllable: ARkansas, ARkansas.
It can be challenging to stress the first syllable if you want to rush through the word.
Be sure to hold that first syllable and make it longer, louder, and higher in pitch: ARkansas, ARkansas.
Next, California, which is pronounced /ˌkæləˈfɔrnjə/.
As you can hear, we’re stressing the third syllable: CaliFORnia, CaliFORnia.
Be sure not to add an extra syllable to the end of California.
The “ia” is pronounced /j/, like the first sound of “yes”: CaliFORnia, CaliFORnia.
Moving on: Colorado, which is pronounced /ˌkɑləˈrɑdoʊ/, or /kɑləˈrædoʊ/ by some locals.
Once again, the stress is on the third syllable: ColoRAdo, ColoRAdo, ColoRAdo.
(The correct pronunciation of Colorado is regularly debated by residents of the state. This video helps you understand why.)
Here’s a state that a lot of people find tricky: Connecticut, or /kəˈnɛtəkət/.
As you can hear, Connecticut is stressed on the second syllable: ConNEcticut, ConNEcticut, ConNEcticut.
You can also hear the reductions in this word (look for all the /ə/ sounds!).
Next up, Delaware, which is pronounced /ˈdeləˌwɛər/.
This state is stressed on the first syllable: DElaware, DElaware, DElaware.
Remember, you need to hold that stressed syllable, and then close back down afterwards: DElaware, DElaware.
Let’s move on to Florida, which is pronounced /ˈflɔrədə/ or /ˈflɑrədə/.
As you can hear, Florida is also stressed on the first syllable: FLORida, FLORida, FLORida.
Now we have Georgia, or /ˈdʒɔrdʒə/.
As you can hear, this is just two syllables, and it’s stressed on the first syllable: GEORgia, GEORgia, GEORgia.
Let’s move on to Hawaiʻi, or /həˈwɑʻi/.
You may hear people say Hawaii like /həˈwaɪi/ (with the /aɪ/ sound you hear in the word “why.”
You may also hear native Hawaiians say Hawaiʻi with a /v/ sound, /həˈvɑ’i/
You’ll hear a glottal stop before the last syllable of this word, but it is stressed on the second syllable: HaWAIʻi, HaWAIʻi, HaWAIʻi.
As I mentioned, you’ll hear mainland Americans say Hawaii as /həˈwaɪi/ without the glottal stop. The stress will still be on the second syllable: HaWAIi, HaWAIi.
Check out this video for a more detailed explanation of how to say Hawaiʻi like native Hawaiians.
Next up is Idaho, or /ˈaɪdəˌhoʊ/.
This state is stressed on the first syllable: Idaho, Idaho, Idaho.
Let’s move on to Illinois, or /ˌiləˈnɔi/.
This state is stressed on the last syllable and it’s pronounced a little different than it looks: IlliNOIS, IlliNOIS, IlliNOIS.
Moving on, we have Indiana, or /ˌɪndiˈænə/.
As you can hear, this is stressed on the third syllable: IndiAna, IndiAna, IndiAna.
Let’s keep going with Iowa, or /ˈaiəwə/.
We stress Iowa on the first syllable: Iowa, Iowa, Iowa.
Moving on: Kansas, or /ˈkænzəs/.
As you can hear, this is stressed on the first syllable: KANsas, KANsas, KANsas.
The next state is Kentucky, or /kənˈtʌki/.
This state is stressed on the second syllable: KenTUcky, KenTUcky, KenTUcky.
Now we have Louisiana, which is pronounced /luˌiziˈænə/ or /ˌluəziˈænə/ depending on where you’re from.
Like Indiana, it’s stressed on the second to last syllable: LouisiAna, LouisiAna, LouisiAna.
Let’s move on to Maine, or /meɪn/.
As you can hear, Maine is one syllable. However, remember that one syllable content words are still stressed.
You need to make the vowel sound in Maine longer, louder, and higher in pitch: MAINE, MAINE, MAINE.
Next up is Maryland, or /ˈmɛrələnd/.
As you can hear, the first syllable is stressed: MARyland, MARyland, MARyland.
Now let’s talk about Massachusetts, which is pronounced /ˌmæssəˈtʃusɪts/.
Massachusetts is home to Boston, one of my favorite cities.
We’re going to stress the third syllable: MassaCHUsetts, MassaCHUsetts, MassaCHUsetts.
Moving on, we have Michigan, or /ˈmɪʃɪgən/.
As you can hear, we’re stressing the first syllable: MIchigan, MIchigan, MIchigan.
Next up, Minnesota, pronounced /ˌmɪnəˈsoʊtə/.
This state is stressed on the third syllable: MinneSOta, MinneSOta, MinneSOta.
Now let’s talk about Mississippi, or /ˌmɪsəˈsɪpi/.
This is also stressed on the third syllable: MissisSIppi, MissisSIppi, MissisSIppi.
Next, let’s look at Missouri, which is pronounced /mɪˈzuri/, or /mɪˈzurə/ by some locals.
Missouri is stressed on the second syllable: MisSOURi, MisSOURi, MisSOURi.
Notice the Contrast Between Stressed and Unstressed Syllables
We’re halfway through the 50 states! How are you feeling about the stress?
Are you remembering to make the stressed syllable longer, louder, and higher in pitch?
You’re probably noticing the reduced syllables as well.
Listen for the ones that don’t sound the way you expect; they’re reduced to the schwa sound or the /i/ sound.
Remember, it’s this contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables that gives English its natural rhythm and melody.
Let’s keep going!
Let’s go on to Montana, or /mɑnˈtænə/.
Montana is stressed on the second syllable: MonTAna, MonTAna, MonTAna.
Moving on: Nebraska, or /nəˈbræskə/.
Nebraska is stressed on the second syllable: NeBRAska, NeBRAska, NeBRAska.
Now we have a state that you may hear people pronounce incorrectly: Nevada, or /nəˈvædə/.
You may hear Americans from other parts of the country say Nevada as /nəˈvɑdə/.
But locals pronounce it Nevada with the /æ/ sound and stress on the second syllable: NeVAda, NeVAda, NeVAda.
Like Colorado and Missouri, there is a lot of debate about how to say Nevada, especially when it comes to politicians using the wrong vowel!
Now let’s move on to the state where I was born: New Hampshire, or /ˌnu ˈhæmpʃər/.
This is the first two-word state.
When states have two words, the stress will be on the stressed syllable of the second word.
The first word will receive secondary stress.
It will still be easy to understand, but it won’t be emphasized.
Let’s say that again: New Hampshire.
The stress is on the first syllable of the second word: New HAMPshire, New HAMPshire, New HAMPshire.
Here’s another state that begins with “new”: New Jersey, or /ˌnu ˈdʒərzi/.
Once again, the stress will be on the second word. It’s on the first syllable of the second word: New JERsey, New JERsey, New JERsey.
Moving on, New Mexico, pronounced /ˌnu ˈmeksɪkoʊ/.
Once again, we’re stressing the first syllable of the second word: New MEXico, New MEXico, New MEXico.
Here’s another one of my favorite states: New York, or /ˌnu ˈyɔrk/.
As you can hear, we’re stressing the second word, “York”: New YORK, New YORK, New YORK.
Here are a few more two-word states. Next up we have North Carolina, pronounced /ˌnɔrθ kærəˈlaɪnə/.
This state is stressed on the third syllable of the second word: North CaroLIina, North CaroLIna, North CaroLIna.
Here’s another “north” state: North Dakota, or /ˌnɔrθ dəˈkoʊtə/.
Once again, we’re stressing the second word, and in this case it’s on the second syllable: North DaKOta, North DaKOta, North DaKOta.
Let’s talk about Ohio, which is pronounced /oʊˈhaɪoʊ/.
Ohio is stressed on the second syllable: OHIo, OHIo, OHIo.
Next, Oklahoma, or /ˌoʊkləˈhoʊmə/.
This state is stressed on the third syllable: OklaHOma, OklaHOma, OklaHOma.
Moving on, Oregon, which is pronounced /ˈɔrɪgən/ or /ˈɑrɪgən/.
Oregon is stressed on the first syllable: ORegon, ORegon, ORegon.
I just wanted to mention that you may hear Americans who are not from the West Coast mispronounce this state as Oregon, or /ˈɔrɪˌgɑn/, with the /ɑ/ sound on the last syllable.
That’s how I pronounced the word until somebody finally corrected me when I was in college!
Moving on, Pennsylvania, or /ˌpɛnsəlˈveɪnjə/.
The stress will be on the third syllable: PennsylVAnia, PennsylVAnia, PennsylVAnia.
If you ever feel a little stressed when you see a long word like Pennsylvania, try to identify the stressed syllable.
That will help you be able to understand how to construct the rest of the word.
When you break a word into syllables, it’s easier to pronounce.
Moving on, Rhode Island, or /ˌroʊd ˈaɪlənd/.
Once again, the stress will be on the second word. In this case, it’s on the first syllable: Rhode ISland, Rhode ISland, Rhode ISland.
Next up, South Carolina, pronounced /ˌsaʊθ kærəˈlaɪnə/.
As you can hear, we’re stressing the third syllable of the second word: South CaroLIna, South CaroLIna, South CaroLIna.
The only time you’ll stress “north” or “south” is when you need to clarify because someone didn’t understand you.
Did you say South Carolina? No, NORTH Carolina.
Otherwise, the stress will be on the second word.
Now let’s talk about South Dakota, or /ˌsaʊθ dəˈkoʊtə/.
Once again, we’re going to stress the second syllable of the second word: South DaKOta, South DaKOta, South DaKOta.
Let’s move on to Tennessee, or /ˌtɛnəˈsi/.
As you can hear, the stress is on the final syllable of this word: TennesSEE, TennesSEE, TennesSEE.
Now, let’s talk about Texas, or /ˈtɛksəs/.
This state is stressed on the first syllable: TEXas, TEXas, TEXas.
Here’s another state: Utah, or /ˈjutɔ/.
Once again, this state is stressed on the first syllable: Utah, Utah, Utah.
Now we have Vermont, pronounced /vərˈmɑnt/.
Vermont is stressed on the second syllable: VerMONT, VerMONT, VerMONT.
Moving on, let’s talk about Virginia, or /vərˈdʒɪnjə/.
Virginia is stressed on the second syllable: VirGInia, VirGInia, VirGInia.
Now we have the state of Washington, which is pronounced /ˈwɑʃɪŋtən/.
Washington is stressed on the first syllable: WAshington, WAshington, WAshington.
You can really hear the reduced syllable at the end of the word.
Just a few more: West Virginia, or /ˌwest vərˈdʒɪnjə/.
Remember, we’re going to stress the second word, and in this case it’s the second syllable of this word: West VirGInia, West VirGInia, West VirGInia.
Moving on, Wisconsin, or /wɪsˈkɑnsən/.
We’re going to stress the second syllable: WisCONsin, WisCONsin, WisCONsin.
Last but not least, Wyoming,or /waɪˈoʊmɪŋ/.
Wyoming is stressed on the second syllable: WyOming, WyOming, WyOming.
Practice Stress by Category
As you can hear, getting the stress right makes a big difference in how clearly you pronounce these states.
Just like we did with all of the 50 states, it can be helpful to practice stress by category.
While there are definitely stress patterns that you can practice and learn, sometimes the stress seems a little random.
In this case, it’s helpful to make a list of words you use all the time, such as states, cities, or countries, and practice the stress for all of them.
That way you’ll get more comfortable identifying and saying the stressed syllable.
How to Stress the US Territories and District of Columbia
As a little bonus, let’s talk about the territories of the United States, as well as the District of Columbia.
As you probably know, Washington DC is the capitol of the United States.
However, it is not a state itself.
When we talk about our nation’s capitol, we say Washington DC, or /ˌwɑʃɪŋtən ˌdiˈsi/, with stress on the “C” at the end of that word: Washington DC, Washington DC, Washington DC.
Locals are much more likely to refer to the nation’s capitol as DC or /ˌdiˈsi/ with stress on the letter “C”: DC, DC, DC.
Similarly, when we talk about the US, pronounced /ˌjuˈɛs/, we stress the letter “S”: US, US, US.
Another territory of the United States is Puerto Rico, or /ˌpwɛrtə ˈrikoʊ/ (or sometimes /ˌpɔrtə ˈrikoʊ/).
As you probably know, people in Puerto Rico speak Spanish, so they will pronounce their territory differently than the average American.
However, because we’re talking about the pronunciation in English, I’m going to pronounce it as it is in English: Puerto Rico.
As you can hear, the stress is still on the second word. It’s on the first syllable of the second word: Puerto RIco, Puerto RIco, Puerto RIco.
Now let’s talk about Guam, or /gwɑm/.
Guam is one syllable, but it will still be stressed.
You need to make the vowel sound longer, louder, and higher in pitch: GUAM, GUAM, GUAM.
Next, let’s talk about American Samoa, or /əˌmerɪkən səˈmoʊə/.
As we’ve practiced with the states and other territories, the second word will be stressed.
In this case, it will be the second syllable: American SaMOa, American SaMOa, American SaMOa.
US Virgin Islands
Now let’s talk about the US Virgin Islands, pronounced /ˌjuˈɛs ˌvɜrdʒɪn ˈaɪləndz/.
As you can hear, we’re going to stress the “S” in US as well as the first syllable of the last word, “islands”: US Virgin ISlands, US Virgin ISlands, US Virgin ISlands.
Northern Mariana Islands
Last, we have the Northern Mariana Islands, which is pronounced /ˌnɔrðərn mæriˌɑnə ˈaɪləndz/.
Once again, we’re going to stress that last word. We’re going to stress the first syllable of “islands”: Northern Mariana ISlands, Northern Mariana ISlands, Northern Mariana ISlands.
Now that you’ve learned how to stress all of the 50 states as well as the US territories, be sure to practice.
If you’re not used to emphasizing the stressed syllables of words or word pairs, it can take some time.
Remember to make the stressed syllable longer, louder, and higher in pitch, with an extra clear vowel sound.
Be sure to watch this video on contrast if you need more practice distinguishing between stressed and unstressed syllables.
Leave a comment letting me know which states you’ve visited or which states you’d like to visit. Remember to stress them correctly!