Not all words receive equal stress within a sentence in English.
Content words are stressed. Content words include:
Nouns (e.g. school, station, train)
Normal verbs (e.g. run, work, speak)
Adjectives (e.g. beautiful, tall, friendly)
Adverbs (e.g. quickly, noisily, badly)
Function words are unstressed. Function words include:
Determiners (e.g. a, an, the)
Auxiliary verbs (e.g. can, have, may, will, etc.)
Conjunctions (e.g. and, but, as, etc.)
Pronouns (e.g. you, he, she, us, it, them, etc.)
Even if the listener does not hear some quickly pronounced function words, the meaning
of the whole sentence should be clear. This is how native speakers of English communicate.
Emphasis is put on the most important words.
For example: "Would you like a cup of tea?"
It is a general rule of English that when there is a sequence of equal stresses, the last stressed
word should be the strongest, or the loudest - which in the above case would be tea.
Try to imagine receiving a text message like "train delayed home late".
You understand that this means: 'The train has been delayed. I will be home late"
Only content words are used in the message but the meaning is quite clear.
In English, words are stressed according to the meaning the speaker wants to convey.
For example, depending in which word in the following sentence is stressed, the meaning changes:
• Are you going to the cinema tonight? (or is it someone else?)
• Are you going to the cinema tonight? (or not?)
• Are you going to the cinema tonight? (or somewhere else?)
• Are you going to the cinema tonight? (or another night?)
During a conversation, learners should listen for stressed content words in order to understand
the meaning of the whole sentence.
Likewise, they should practice stressing content words in their speech so that other people
will understand them.