Adding Emphasis In American English

By | 2020-01-27T09:03:20-06:00 July 13th, 2018|
adding emphasis in English

Arguing is one way of expressing emphasis!

 In daily life, when speaking American English, many instances occur when you want to add ‘oomph,’ emotion, or emphasis to your speech.  How do we express emphasis in American English?

Sometimes this is to express a good feeling (“Happy Holidays!” or “I love you!”), and sometimes this is to express a not-so-good feeling (” What?! The dog did what?!” or “No! That is not what I meant!”).  In American English, adding emphasis to one’s speech is important.  How do we do this? How can foreign speakers of English speak with emotion?  What are the rules in American English pronunciation?

Related Post: How To Speak English Fluently And Confidently

The way that Americans add emphasis to what they say is to change the “suprasegmentals” of speech, that is, the speech characteristics, which can carry over across segments of words.  These include the intonation, pitch, and loudness of a sound or syllable.  An easy way to remember this is to think:



This refers to the length of the vowel in the stressed word or syllable.

Every word in American English has a certain syllable that is stressed.  In single-syllable words, the whole word is stressed.  The vowel holding together that syllable is lengthened.  Instead of maybe holding out the vowel for a second or half a second, one holds it out for 2 seconds or so (depending on how much emphasis one wants to add).


This part is easy.  One says the stressed syllable or word louder than the unstressed syllable or word(s).  I have not met any client yet for whom this part of adding stress was difficult.  It comes naturally.


This refers to the pitch one uses for the stressed syllable or word.

Pitch is the frequency (or the ‘high’ or ‘low’ sound or tone of the voice. It actually has to do with how fast or slow the vocal folds vibrate in your throat, but you don’t need to remember that.  Just think of singing.  You can make a high tone and then swoop it down to a low tone.

In American English, to add emphasis or stress to a syllable or word, we go up in pitch.  We bring our tone up on that one syllable.  We do this as we are also speaking louder and holding out the vowel longer.

Changing our speech in these three ways (LONGER – LOUDER – HIGHER) on the syllables or words we are stressing imparts meaning to our words.  The person listening knows that the stressed words are important, that there is heightened emotion behind the words.  That you mean it!!

Let’s practice a bit with LONGER-LOUDER-HIGHER!

Let’s practice with the following sentence:

“I want to go home now!”

1. LONGER–   First, say the sentence in a comfortable manner, but when you get to the last word, hold out the ‘ow’ sound longer than you normally would.  Exaggerate!  Speak out loud!  If you are by yourself, try really exaggerating and hold out the ‘ow’ really long.  The longer you hold it out, the more you are communicating that you really want to leave at the exact moment!

2.  LOUDER-  Repeat the same sentence, make the ‘ow’ in ‘now’ longer again, and this time speak out the word ‘now’ significantly louder than the rest of the sentence.  For fun, try almost shouting it! (If you are by yourself!)

3.  HIGHER-  Lastly, say the sentence yet again, and this time (while lengthening the vowel and speaking it the word ‘now’ louder) also go up on the ‘ow’ tone as compared to the earlier words.  Because this is the last word in a sentence you can go up and then swoop or fall down on pitch at the end.


Now, change the word that you want to emphasize to another word in the sentence.  Use the above steps. By changing the word you emphasize with LONGER-LOUDER-HIGHER you actually change the meaning of what you are saying!

Try answering the following questions with the same sentence, and while doing so, place emphasis on the word that helps answer the question:

1.  Who wants to go home now?                             (“want to go home now!”)

2.  Where do you want to go?                                 (“I want to go home now!”)

3.  When do you want to go home?                         (“I want to go home now!”)

4.  Is someone forcing you to go home now?          (“I want to go home now!”)

This simple rule (LONGER-LOUDER-HIGHER) is used ALL the time to express American English. So memorize the concept and listen for it when you watch TV or observe the animal we call  The American.

If you would like to have a sample of your own speech analyzed and suggestions and practice materials sent to you, check out the Self-Study Courses Accent-American offers on the Self-Study Page of this website.

Good luck with your practice!

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