In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Word Stress

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Handbooks
  • Description and Typology
  • Journals
  • Electronic Archives and Databases
  • Foundational Works
  • Ternary Stress
  • Unbounded Stress
  • Poetic Meter
  • Computation

Linguistics Word Stress
Brett Hyde
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0123


In most, if not all, languages, each word has a syllable that is more prominent in some way than the others. The most prominent syllable is the accented syllable. The accent is typically a stress or tone or some combination of the two. In addition to the accent, each word may have additional prominent syllables that are distributed rhythmically throughout the word. Metrical stress theory is the subfield of phonology that focuses on word stress, both accent and rhythmically distributed prominence.


There are no textbooks on word stress that are current with early-21st-century theory. Hogg and McCully 1987 concentrates on the theories of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because metrical stress theory is one of the major subfields of phonology, however, most late-20th- and early-21st-century phonology textbooks offer one or more substantial chapters on the subject. Bracketed grid approaches are the focus in Ewen and van der Hulst 2001, Kenstowicz 1994, and Roca and Johnson 1999. Of these, Kenstowicz 1994 discusses the widest range of bracketed grid approaches. Spencer 1996 covers both arboreal and bracketed grid approaches. Kager 1999 looks at optimality theoretic approaches.

  • Ewen, Colin J., and Harry van der Hulst. 2001. The phonological structure of words: An introduction. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Has a chapter, “Feet and Words” (pp. 196–245), that examines the typology of stress systems and that presents basic analyses in a bracketed grid approach.

  • Hogg, Richard, and C. B. McCully. 1987. Metrical phonology: A coursebook. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A textbook concentrating on the classical arboreal and autonomous grid theories.

  • Kager, René. 1999. Optimality Theory. Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511812408

    A chapter on metrical structure (pp. 142–193) offers an introduction to word stress and a basic optimality theoretic analysis.

  • Kenstowicz, Michael. 1994. Phonology in generative grammar. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Contains a substantial chapter on stress (pp. 548–621). The chapter focuses on bracketed grid approaches, including basic, templatic, and open bracket approaches.

  • Roca, Iggy, and Wyn Johnson. 1999. A course in phonology. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Provides three chapters on stress: “The Phenomenon of Stress” (pp. 294–320), “Metrical Principles and Parameters” (pp. 321–348), and “Syllable Weight” (pp. 349–381). The emphasis is on a templatic approach.

  • Spencer, Andrew. 1996. Phonology: Theory and description. Introducing Linguistics. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Has two chapters on stress: “Stress and Rhythm” (pp. 240–264) and “Stress and Rhythm in English” (pp. 265–302). Covers both arboreal and bracketed grid approaches.

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