Difference Between Stress and Intonation

It is important to pay attention to stress and intonation if we want to learn a language properly. In this article, we are going to look at these two concepts differently and then move onto the discussion about difference between Stress and Intonation.

What is Stress?

Stress is the emphasis given to a specific syllable or word in speech, usually through a combination of relatively greater loudness, higher pitch, and longer duration. Syllable is a part of a word that is pronounced with one uninterrupted sound. It is also important to remember that we stress the vowel sound of the word, not the consonant sound.

The stress placed on syllables in a word is called lexical stress or word stress. Stress placed on some words within a sentence is called sentence stress or prosodic stress.

Word Stress

Take the word Garden for example. It has two syllables: ‘Gar’ and ‘den’. The stress is placed on ‘Gar’. Similarly, given below are some examples. The stressed syllables are written in capital letters.

  • Water: WAter
  • Station : STAtion
  • People: PEOple

Sentence Stress

Sentence  stress is  the way of highlighting the important words in a sentence. Unlike in word stress, you can choose where you can place the stress. Selecting which words to stress depends on the meaning and context. However, if the stress is not used correctly, the sentence might be misinterpreted.


  • CLOSE the DOOR.
  • WHAT did HE SAY to you in the GARDEN?
  • Have you SEEN the NEW FILM of TOM CRUISE?
    difference between stress and intonation

    WHERE are you GOING?

What is Intonation?

Intonation is the variation  of  our pitch, in the spoken language. Intonation indicates our emotions and attitudes, determine  the difference between statements and questions and sometimes highlight the importance of the verbal message we’re giving out. In English, there are 3 basic intonation patterns: Falling Intonation, Rising Intonation, and Partial/Fall-rise Intonation.

Falling intonation

Falling intonation describes how the voice falls on the final stressed syllable of a phrase or a group of words. It is used in  expressing a complete,definite  thought, and asking wh-questions.

  • “Where is the nearest Police Station?”
  • “She got a new dog”

Rising intonation

Rising intonation describes how the voice rises at the end of a sentence. This is common in yes-no questions or in expressing surprise.

  • “Your dog can speak?”
  • “Are you hungry?”

Partial Intonation

Partial Intonation describes how voice rises then falls. People use this intonation when they are not sure, or they have more to add to a sentence. We also use this intonation pattern to ask questions, as it sounds more polite.

  • “Would you like some coffee?”
  • “I want to go to France, but…”
    Stress and Intonation

    You trust her.

Difference between Stress and Intonation


Intonation is the variation  of  our pitch, in the spoken language.

Stress is the emphasis given to a specific syllable or word in speech


Stress pays particular attention to syllables and words.

Intonation pays attention to pitch.


Intonation helps you to detect the emotions and attitudes of the speaker.

Stress does not enable us to understand the attitudes of the speaker.

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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