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English words that change their meaning depending on stress placement

word stress puntolingue teachers club

English orthography is often ambiguous. For example, the word “read” can be pronounced either /riːd/ (“reed”) or as /rɛd/ (“red”) depending on whether it refers to the present or the past tense. There is a large class of such words characterized by ambiguity in stress placements. When a word can be stressed on two different syllables, stress placement determines the part of speech of the word (e.g. whether it is a verb or a noun). As a rule of thumb, if the stress is on the second syllable, the word is usually a verb.

Here’s a fairly exhaustive list of such words, with pronunciation given in the international phonetic alphabet (in which stress is indicated by a small vertical line, similar to an apostrophe). Note that the abbreviations “US” and “UK” indicate whether the preceding pronunciation refers to American or British English:

absent; /ˈæbsənt/ (ADJECTIVE) means “not present”; /æbˈsɛnt/ (VERB) is mostly used in the phrase “to absent yourself” meaning “not to go to a place where one is expected to be”.

accent; /ˈæksənt/ (NOUN) is the way people in a particular area speak; /əkˈsɛnt/ (VERB) (MOSTLY UK) means “to emphasize” (it is often pronounced the same as the noun in American English).

addict; /ˈædɪkt/ (NOUN) is a person addicted to something (such as heroin); /əˈdɪkt/ means “to cause someone to become addicted”.

address; /ˈædrɛs/ (NOUN) (US ONLY) is the name of the place where you live; /əˈdrɛs/ (VERB) means “to direct a speech to someone” (in the UK, both meanings are usually pronounced /əˈdrɛs/). Continue reading “English words that change their meaning depending on stress placement”

Classroom Resources, Improve your English

Family vocabulary


Your mother and father are your parents who care for you while you are growing.
Father: a person’s male parent. We usually call our father Dad or Daddy.
Mother: a person’s female parent. We usually call our mother Mum or Mummy.

Grandfather: a father of a person’s parent. We usually call our grandfather grandad (US granddad) or grandpa.
Grandmother: a mother of a person’s parent. We usually call our grandmother gran, grandma or granny.

Your brothers and sisters are your siblings with same parents.
Brother: a male person with the same parents as another person
Sister: a female person with the same parents as another person

Our uncle and aunt are the siblings of our parents.
Uncle: a brother of a person’s parent; a husband of a person’s aunt
Aunt: a sister of a person’s parent; a wife of a person’s uncle

Your son and daughter are your children.

Son: a male child
Daughter: a female child
Cousin (also first cousin): a child of a person’s aunt or uncle
Nephew: a son of a person’s sibling
Niece: a daughter of a person’s sibling

The child of your son or daughter is your grandchild.
Grandson: a son of a person’s child
Granddaughter: a daughter of a person’s child

The partner in marriage is our spouse. Our wife or husband is our spouse.
Husband: a male partner
Wife: a female partner

Parents of the spouse
Father-in-law: a father of a person’s spouse
Mother-in-law: a mother of a person’s spouse
Brother-in-law: a brother of a person’s spouse
Sister-in-law: a sister of a person’s spouse

Your ex-wife or ex-husband is your former partner in marriage.

Half-brother: a male person who has either the same mother or the same father (but not both) as another person
Half-sister: a female person who has either the same mother or the same father (but not both) as another person

Stepmother: new wife of a person’s father in a second marriage
Stepfather: a new husband of a person’s mother in a second marriage

Your stepbrother or stepsister is the child of your stepparent but not your biological parent.

Collocations with family members

lone, single, widowed father

a father of two/three etc.

lone, single, unmarried, widowed mother

a mother of two/three etc.

big, elder, older, little, younger, full, half, twin brother/sister
maternal, paternal uncle/aunt
future, ex-, former, house husband/wife


Teachers only

5 Things You Should Say to Your Class Every Day


The way you talk to your class is extremely important for the success of you as a teacher and your students. As young children they remember more about their surroundings; what was said or done by whom and in what way. Their environment is influential on their behaviour, attitude and development. The Graduate Recruitment Bureau suggest saying these five things to your class every day to make sure you give them the best education possible; not just academically but socially and developmentally too.

1.Good morning/ Goodbye

These are probably standard and probably automatic phrases that you greet and leave your class with but it is important that you use salutations and bid them farewell. Not only does it establish routine for them which is crucial for their development of time keeping and organisation, but it reinforces the positive mood in which the day should start and end. ‘Good morning’ infers that it is a ‘good’ morning and that the day is going to be successful, happy and productive. The positive adjective will enter the sponge like infant brain and nestle in their subconscious throughout the day, creating waves of optimism. Similarly, dismissing your class with ‘goodbye’ or ‘have a lovely evening’ has the same effect, so their sunny attitude can continue outside of the classroom. Equally, it is beneficial to add a summarising sentence of the day when it comes to home time. This doesn’t always have to be a praising, positive sentence as not every day will be a good one and it is important that you are truthful with your class. If they have been particularly rowdy don’t continue to scold them as they walk out the door. After the initial telling-off use the summary sentence to be constructively critical; ‘You’ve been a bit on the loud side today which means tomorrow we can all try to be a little quieter.’ Then, the next morning remind them again that today’s ‘fun’ challenge is being quieter than yesterday to reinforce the message of the importance of the learning environment. Continue reading “5 Things You Should Say to Your Class Every Day”

Improve your English

Cue vs Queue


A mother and daughter may sound alike on the phone, but if you meet them in real life you can usually tell who is who. The homophones cue and queue are also like that. They sound the same, but if you look at the context, you can easily tell them apart.

Let’s define the two terms and see them in action!


In theatre, a cue signals when a certain line or action should begin. The word probably comes from the Latin quando, meaning “when,” which was sometimes used as a stage direction in actors’ scripts. Often, the word was abbreviated to Q. Read the letter aloud, and you will understand how “cue” originated. Outside of acting, a cue is “a hint, suggestion, or something that brings a specific memory or response to mind.” As a verb, to cue is to prompt or to provide with a cue. Cue is featured in a few interesting expressions: Cue up the tape. (Find a specified section of a recording and pause it, readying it to be played at the proper time.) Did you miss a cue? (To miss a cue is to miss the point or to fail to respond to a literal cue.)

Now the curtain had been rung down forever, the footlights dimmed and the audience suddenly vanished, while the stunned old actor remained on his empty stage, waiting for his cues.”
—Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

When we encode an experience, connections between active neurons become stronger, and this specific pattern of brain activity constitutes the engram. Later, as we try to remember the experience, a retrieval cue will induce another pattern of activity in the brain.
—Daniel L. Schacter, Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past

“What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba
That he should weep for her? What would he do
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?”
—Shakespeare, Hamlet

Finally, cue has a few additional meanings in the world of games and sports. In shuffleboard, the long stick that is used to propel the disks is called a cue. It’s also the name of the long stick used to strike billiard balls.


Queue derives from the Latin word for tail. In British English, it refers to a line of waiting people or automobiles or to taking one’s place in such a line. In this sense, you will often see queue followed by up: The customers queued up to buy the latest smartphone. The expression, “jump the queue” means to cut in line. In computing, to queue means to store and retrieve commands or data in a specific order. A queue is a list of such items. Finally, a queue refers to a braid that is worn hanging down a person’s back. The last definition has the most obvious connection to the original Latin word, but you can see the logic behind all of the meanings. Let’s see how queue works in real life.

“There is no queue at the gate of Patience.”
―Moroccan Proverb

“Those stolid law-abiding queues, so pregnant with catastrophe. Insensible before the wave so soon released by callous fate. Affected most, they understand the least, and understanding, when it comes, invariably arrives too late.”
―Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

“The print queue displays information about documents that are waiting to print, such as the printing status, document owner, and number of pages to print. You can use the print queue to view, pause, resume, restart, and cancel print jobs.”
Microsoft support website

Cue and queue can both trace their roots back to Latin. However, the words hold different meanings based on where you live. If you live in Britain, a queue is a line to stand in while you wait for your groceries. If you live in the United States, you might play pool with a cue or listen for cues when you act in a play. The words sound alike, but you can easily tell them apart if you look at the context.

Shundalyn Allen, 

Continue reading “Cue vs Queue”

Improve your English

We’ve Been Pronouncing “IKEA” Wrong This Whole Time


Even though the world has figured out how to hack all of its products, there’s still one thing most of us don’t know about IKEA: how to pronounce its name.

Apparently, Americans have been mispronouncing the Swedish company since it first arrived in the states more than three decades ago, saying “I-kee-ya” instead of the totally different but correct “ee-KAY-uh.” Wait — what?!

It sounds so wrong, but IKEA’s Scandinavian reps confirm that the authentic way to say the brand is with a long “e” (not “i“) sound at the beginning, followed by the emphasized second syllable “KAY.”

 Of course, the clever execs knew all along that the new market would butcher the name, so they actually embraced our American accents from the start. When the company launched in the U.S. in 1985, they specifically decided to use the alternate pronunciation, IKEA U.S. spokeswoman Marty Marston told ABC News. They even ran a billboard campaign with the images of an eyeball, key, and a person saying “ah.” So really, don’t blame yourself for the misunderstanding.

“I think they realized back then that Americans would automatically pronounce it with an ‘i’ sound,” said Marston, who changes her pronunciation when she visits the Swedish headquarters. “I have to make a point out of saying it the way they do or they will look at me in a funny way,” she explained.

If you still don’t believe it, just check out this handy video of two employees demonstrating the pronunciations:

Now the only thing left to learn is how to say all of their products.

By Caroline Picard, ELLE Decor