Word Stress in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)

Apr 10, 2019 | English Word Stress, Uncategorized

Georgie Harding

Founder & Head Speech Pathologist

English word stress is a challenging area for many non-native speakers of English. 

A question I’m often asked is ‘How do I know what syllable is stressed in English words?’. The most helpful tool for checking the correct stress in an English word is to check it in the IPA in the dictionary. 

How is English word stress written in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)? English word stress is marked with this dash /ˈ/ before the stressed syllable in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). You will see this dash /ˈ/ in English multi-syllable words and it means that the next syllable is stressed. 

English word stress can be on any syllable in a multi-syllable word – the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th syllable!

You cannot tell by looking at the word where the stress will be. Word stress is not indicated by the spelling of a word.

In order to check where the word stress is in a word it is very helpful to use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is a system used to show the EXACT way to pronounce words.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) is an extremely helpful tool for improving and developing your English pronunciation skills. If you are not sure where the word stress / syllable stress is in a word, check using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

See all the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols for English sounds, with examples of each sound in English words and record your own speech and compare it with a native speaker here – All the Sounds in English in the IPA.

Word stress is marked with a dash, like this /ˈ/ before the stressed syllable.

Look at the word banana /bəˈnɑː.nə/. Can you see the dash is before the 2nd syllable which is stressed? This dash/ˈ/ tells us that the next syllable is stressed.

Here are a few more words for you to check how the word stress is marked in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

carpet /ˈkɑː.pət/
paper /ˈpeɪ.pə/

computer /kəmˈpjuː.tə/
amazing /əˈmeɪ.zɪŋ/

In my opinion, one of the best most reliable online dictionary to use for checking word stress in the IPA is the Cambridge Online Dictionary.

Click here to check the word stress using the IPA symbols with the Cambridge Online Dictionary. As shown in the diagram below, you can see the IPA and listen to words pronounced in British English and American English.

See an example here of the phonetic symbol for word stress as it’s shown in the dictionary. 

Would you like to start improving your Word Stress and see more examples of how emphasis in English is shown with phonetic symbols? 

Click the link below for helpful word stress examples with voice recorder and videos. 



Google Chrome Pronunciation Tool is another fantastic way to see and hear which syllable is stressed in English.

At the moment this feature is only available on your mobile (not on your computer browser yet). 

To see this feature in Google on your phone, simply type “How to pronounce (word)” and enter the word you want to hear pronounced. 

It doesn’t show the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA symbols) but it is still helpful as it shows where the stress should be in English multi-syllable words in bold. And you can listen to the pronunciation of the word too. 

See an example of how word stress and emphasis is shown using the Google Chrome Pronounce Tool below. 


Would you like more free resources?

Make sure you join our free English Pronunciation Course.  It’s the perfect place to start improving!

Listen to all the sounds in English and record your own speech and compare it to a native English speaker.

Open your ears and listen carefully to the way people around you speak English. Listen as much as you can to the sounds they make.

Select your first language on our course list page to see how a tailored Speech Active English Pronunciation Course will help you level up your spoken English.

Good luck!

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