English words that change their meaning depending on stress position

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my guide to the Most Common Pronunciation Errors in English. It will teach you about commonly mispronounced words, pro­nunci­ation patterns, and the basics of English phonology.

English orthography contains lots of ambiguities; for example the word “read” can be pronounced either as /riːd/ or as /rɛd/ depending on whether it means the present or the past tense. There is one very large class of ambiguities of this type characterized by a change in the position of stress in a word which changes its part of speech (e.g. when a verb becomes a noun) and this is what this article will be about.

absent – /ˈæbsənt/ (adj.) 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) (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/ (US) is the name of the place where you live; /əˈdrɛs/ (US) (verb) means “to direct a speech to someone” (in the UK, both meanings are usually pronounced /əˈdrɛs/).
attribute – /əˈtrɪbjuːt/ (verb) means “to express that something was created be someone”; /ˈætrɪbjuːt/ (noun) is a characteristic of something.
combine – /kəmˈbaɪn/ (verb) means “to bring together”; /ˈkɒmbaɪn/ (UK) or /ˈkɑmbaɪn/ (US) (noun) is a shorter name for a “combine harvester”.
compact – in the (UK), there is a distinction between /ˈkɒmpækt/ (adj.) meaning “including many things in a small space” and /kəmˈpækt/ (verb) meaning “to compress”.
complex – /ˈkɒmplɛks/ (UK) or /ˈkɑmplɛks/ (US) is a noun meaning “a (psychological) problem” or “a collection of buildings”; in some dialects (both in British and American English) the adjective meaning “not simple” is pronounced as /kəmˈplɛks/; in others, it is pronounced the same as the noun.
conflict – /ˈkɒnflɪkt/ (UK) or /ˈkɑːnflɪkt/ (US) (noun) means “a disagreement”; /kənˈflɪkt/ (verb) means “to be incompatible with”.
console – /kənˈsəʊl/ (UK) or /kənˈsoʊl/ (US) (verb) means “to make someone feel better”; /ˈkɒnsəʊl/ (UK) or /ˈkɑːnsoʊl/ (US) (noun) is “a cabinet designed to stand of the floor” or “a device for playing video games”.
construct – /kənˈstrʌkt/ (verb) means “to build”; /ˈkɒnstrʌkt/ (UK) or /ˈkɑnstrʌkt/ (US) (noun) is “something constructed; a concept”.
content – /ˈkɒntɛnt/ (UK) or /ˈkɑntɛnt/ (US) (noun) is “the contained material”; /kənˈtɛnt/ (adj.) means “satisfied”.
contrast – /ˈkɒntrɑːst/ (UK) or /ˈkɑntræst/ (US) (noun) is “a difference in brightness”; /kənˈtrɑːst/ (UK) or /kənˈtræst/ (US) (verb) means “to show the difference” (in some US dialects, both meanings are pronounced as the noun given here).
decrease – /dɪˈkriːs/ (verb) means “to become smaller”; /ˈdiːkriːs/ (noun) is “a reduction”.
detail – /ˈdiːteɪl/ (noun) is “something small or negligible enough”; in the (US), /dɪˈteɪl/ is a verb meaning “to explain in detail” (in the (UK) the verb sounds the same as the noun).
export – /ˈɛkspɔːt/ (UK) or /ˈɛkspɔrt/ (US) (noun) is “something that is exported”; /ɪksˈpɔːt/ (UK) or /ɪksˈpɔrt/ (US) (verb) means “to sell goods to a foreign country”.
extract – /ˈɛkstrækt/ (noun) is “something extracted”; /ɪksˈtrækt/ (verb) means “to get something out of something else”.
impact – /ˈɪmpækt/ (noun) is “a forceful collision”; /ɪmˈpækt/ (verb) means “to affect”.
implant – /ɪmˈplɑːnt/ (UK) or /ɪmˈplænt/ (US) (verb) means “to fix firmly” or “to insert into the body”; /ˈɪmplɑːnt/ (UK) or /ˈɪmplænt/ (US) (noun) is “something surgically implanted in the body”.
increase – /ɪnˈkriːs/ (verb) means “to become larger”; /ˈɪnkriːs/ (noun) is “an amount by which something increased”.
insult – /ɪnˈsʌlt/ (verb) means “to offend someone”; /ˈɪnsʌlt/ (noun) is “an action intended to be rude”.
object – /ˈɒbdʒɪkt/ (UK) or /ˈɑbdʒɪkt/ (US) (noun) is “an existing thing” or “the goal of something”; /əbˈdʒɛkt/ (verb) means “to disagree with something”.
perfect – /ˈpɜːfɪkt/ (UK) or /ˈpɜrfɪkt/ (US) (adj.) means “excellent; precise”; /pəˈfɛkt/ (UK) or /pərˈfɛkt/ (US) means “to make perfect”.
present – /ˈprɛzənt/ is either an adjective meaning “relating to now” or “located in the vicinity” or a noun meaning either “the current period of time” or “a gift”; /prɪˈzɛnt/ is a verb meaning “to show”.
progress – /ˈprəʊɡrɛs/ (UK) or /ˈprɒgres/ (US) (noun) means “a development of something”; /prəˈɡrɛs/ (verb) means “to advance”.
project – /ˈprɒdʒɛkt/ (noun) is “something planned”; /prəˈdʒɛkt/ (verb) means “to plan something”.
record – /ˈrɛkɔːd/ (UK) or /ˈrɛkərd/ (US) (noun) is “an information put into a physical medium” or “the extreme value of an achievement (in sport)”; /rɪˈkɔːd/ (UK) or /rəˈkɔrd/ (US) (verb) means “to make a recording of something”.

This article was based on my guide to English pronunciation mistakes, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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