Ääntämisen tärkeitä perusjuttuja

The essence of English pronunciation (in a nutshell) 1


English is a stress-timed language. This means that the length of time you take to say something depends on the number of stressed items. English pronunciation focuses on specific stressed words, while quickly gliding over the other, non-stressed words.

There are some general rules as to which words, or parts of speech, are usually stressed. They are called content words and they carry a lot of new information. Therefore they are given more weight in pronunciation. Content words include:

NOUNS                                                   kitchen, Peter, honesty

MAIN VERBS                                        open, build, laugh, shout

ADJECTIVES                                         beautiful, interesting, general

ADVERBS                                              often, carefully, beautifully

NEGATIVE AUXILIARIES                  don’t, can’t, aren’t

Non-stressed words are called function words or structure words. They have little meaning on their own, but they show grammatical relationships in and between sentences. Therefore we give them less emphasis in pronunciation. They include:

DETERMINERS                                    a, the, my, that

AUXILIARY VERBS                             am, were, have, had

PREPOSITIONS                                    before, of, under, among

CONJUNCTIONS                                  but, and, instead, while

PRONOUNS                                           they, she, him, it

“TO BE” AS THE MAIN VERB          am, is, are


Read this sentence out loud:

A diligent student can learn convincing pronunciation.

And then this one:

He can come on Sunday as long as he doesn’t have to do any homework in the evening.

A diligent student can learn convincing pronunciation.

He can come on Sunday as long as he doesn’t have to do any homework in the evening.

Both sentences take about the same time to say since there are five stressed words in each sentence.

Now practise with any text by, say, underlining all the content words first. Then read aloud, focusing on stressing the underlined words and gliding over the non-stressed words. Awareness of and sensitivity to this difference between content words and structure words will quickly improve your pronunciation. Listen to native speakers and focus on how they stress certain words. By shaking off Finnish stress patterns and adopting English ones instead, you will be well on your way to convincing English pronunciation. No mean feat, eh?

The essence of English pronunciation (in a nutshell) 2

This time we’re dealing with word stress. There are two very important rules about word stress:

One word has one stress. If you hear two stresses, you have heard two words, not one word.

The other important rule about word stress is:

The stress is always on a vowel.


There can be a secondary stress in long words, but it is much smaller than the main stress. As to where to place the stress in a word, there are some rules, but you shouldn’t rely on them too much. Instead, it is better to try to feel the music of the language and add the stress naturally. The rules:

1 Stress on first syllable                             Most 2-syllable nouns CHIna, TAble, EXport

Most 2-syllable adjectives SLENder, CLEVer, HAPpy

2 Stress on last syllable                             Most 2-syllable verbs to exPORT, to deCIDE, to beGIN

3 Stress on penultimate syllable                Words ending in -ic GRAPHic, geoGRAPHic, aCIDic

Words ending in -sion and -tion teleVIsion, reveLAtion

4 Stress on ante-penultimate syllable       Words ending in -cy, -ty, -phy and -gy                         deMOcracy,                       dependaBIlity, phoTOgraphy, geOLogy

Words ending in -al CRItical, geoLOGical

5 Compound words                                  For compound nouns, the stress is on the first part                                                                              BLACKbird, GREENhouse

For compound adjectives, the stress is on the second part                                                                  bad-TEMpered, old-FASHioned

For compound verbs, the stress is on the second part             to underSTAND, to overFLOW

Take heart from the fact that native speakers don’t always agree on where to put the stress. For example, some people say “teleVIsion” and others say “TELevision”. Another example is: “CONtroversy” and “conTROversy”.


Breaking language down into syllables is essential. Humans seem to need syllables as a way of segmenting the stream of speech and giving it a rhythm of strong and weak beats, as we hear in music. They don’t serve any meaning-signalling function as such but exist only to make speech easier for the brain to process. A word contains at least one syllable. How do you recognise a syllable? Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that it consists of at least one vowel, which can be preceded or followed by one or more consonants.

Try to become more aware of syllables. A good English dictionary such as The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English lists every word according to where the syllables occur. Listen  to native speakers of English (in person or in the media) as much as possible and you will pick up the internal rhythm of the English language. As always, forget everything you know about Finnish pronunciation before you begin!

Jargon buster:                       penultimate = second from the last                                                               ante-penultimate = third from the last

a compound word = a word with two parts


Here’s Marko Laakkonen with his approach to pronouncing consonants and vowels in English as well as his take on sentence stress, rhythm and intonation.



The essence of English pronunciation (in a nutshell) 3


How can you master English pronunciation? It’s no mean feat, but it can be done. We’ve already dealt with word stress, and stressing words in a sentence. What is left is the prosody of the language, the phonetics. Again, volumes have been written about the subject, but basically it boils down to one thing:

Be animated.


The pitch of your voice should go much higher in places than it does in Finnish. Sometimes it goes all the way up to a falsetto. This goes for both sexes. Believe it or not, it is not effeminate for the male voice to go way up in pitch. In fact, the further up you go, the more convincing your pronunciation becomes. The following example illustrates this point. Penelope (a native speaker of English) has given Pentti (a typical English-language learner) a present.

Penelope: (handing over the present)                                                                            This is for you, Pentti!

Pentti: (typically Finnish intonation with no movement in pitch)                                   Thank you.

Result: Penelope thinks Pentti is not interested in the present at all. In fact, he is being rude. Merely knowing the right words (a Finnish forte) is not enough. Compare that with the following:

Penelope: (handing over the present)                                                                            This is for you, Pentti!

Pentti: (typically English intonation with lots of movement in pitch)       Thank you!

Result: Penelope knows Pentti appreciates the present. She now regards him as a considerate, sincere guy. Keep this point in mind, and your interactions with English-speakers will improve no end.

The pitch goes up at the end of a question …

This is news for Finns. We don’t even bother to use an inverted word order in interrogative sentences in Finnish, let alone do what 99% of humans on Earth do, which is to indicate a question with rising intonation.

…unless the question starts with a question word.

There was bound to be an exception, wasn’t there? If your question starts with an interrogative pronoun (who, which, what etc), your voice goes down at the end. There are exceptions to this rule as well so we could, in fact, just remember the first rule of being animated, from which premise all other rules can actually be derived. If you can pronounce English convincingly, your listeners are much more likely to buy what you are saying – and believe that you mean what you say.

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