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Tonic Stress
Trivial arguments
Squabbles - hancockmcdonald.com/node/615/edit

A phrase usually has one word which is stressed more than the rest. Normally it is the last content word of the phrase. For example, the normal stress on You never help me is on help. It’s not on me because me is not a content word but a function word.

However, you can choose to put the stress on any other word in the phrase if you want to create a contrast. For example, you could stress the word me if you want to contrast this person who is the object of the verb with some other person. Similarly, in the phrase I was listening, you may stress the affirmative was to contrast with the negative weren’t.

1 Go through the first question in this exercise with the class. Try to elicit the best word to stress in each of the replies to a, b and c. Then try to elicit explanations from the students for each of the answers.

2 Give the class time to complete the rest of the questions, working with a partner. Check the answers.

3 Ask pairs of volunteers to read out some of the questions and answers from the exercise, putting some drama into it, and making sure they clearly stress the underlined words.

4 Students in pairs can dramatise all of the exchanges in the exercise in a similar way. Then, after a while, add more challenge by asking the person who is responding to do so from memory, without looking at the sheet.

Answer key:

1 a. help  b. you  c. me; 2 a. I  b. listening  c. was; 3 a. were  b. cheating  c. you; 4 a. yesterday  b. I  c. cooked; 5 a. saw  b. you  c. I; 6 a. nobody  b. me  c. told; 7 a. phone  b. you  c. broke; 8 a. lied  b. me  c. you

There is another activity for tonic stress here.

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