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In linguistics, stress is the relative emphasis that may be given to certain syllables in a word, or to certain words in a phrase or sentence. Stress is typically signaled by such properties as increased loudness and vowel length, full articulation of the vowel, and changes in pitch. The terms stress and accent are often used synonymously, but they are sometimes distinguished, with certain specific kinds of prominence (such as pitch accent, variously defined) being considered to fall under accent but not under stress. In this case, stress specifically may be called stress accent or dynamic accent.

The stress placed on syllables within words is called word stress or lexical stress. Some languages have fixed stress, meaning that the stress on virtually any multisyllable word falls on a particular syllable, such as the first or the penultimate. Other languages, like English, have variable stress, where the position of stress in a word is not predictable in that way. Sometimes more than one level of stress, such as primary stress and secondary stress, may be identified. However, some languages are considered to lack lexical stress entirely.

The stress placed on words within sentences is called sentence stress or prosodic stress. This is one of the three components of prosody, along with rhythm and intonation. It includes phrasal stress (the default emphasis of certain words within phrases or clauses), and contrastive stress (used to highlight an item − a word, or occasionally just part of a word − that is given particular focus).


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