Important Tips to Know about Contrastive Stress and Intonation


Contrastive stress occurs when a special emphasis or prominence is given to a particular word or letter as either content (lexical) word or a function (grammatical) word. It is also known as emphatic stress. It should be noted that all the practice questions in this lesson are from WASSCE so that the students who are writing the examinations and the related ones can be familiar with them.  Here are two things to be considered here:

  1. The word is given emphasis or prominence in a sentence. For example:

i. John scrubs the floor every SATURDAY.

(It is Saturday, not Sun, day, Mon, day, or any other day).

ii. The manager SACKED the typist last month.

(Not employed)

iii. Our inter-house FOOTBALL competition starts next week.

(It is not an inter-house sports competition or any other competition)

iv. I am coming with Mary to CHURCH.

(It is not the mosque, Cinema, or any other place).

v. The PASSENGER boat docked at Banjul last month.

(It is not a cargo boat or any other boat).

2. Apart from the word given prominence or special emphasis, it is also important to consider the tense in the sentence.

If, for example, tense is the present tense, the question that will require the answer should be in the present tense. If it is the past tense, the question should be the past tense, etc. For example:

  1. My mother’s FRIEND hates pests.

Does your mother’s friend love pets?

(It is not did but does because hate in the sentence above is a simple present tense).

2. The ROBBER attacked the bus at night.

Did the policemen attack the bus?

(It is not does but did because attacked in the sentence above is a simple past tense).

3. Few Nigerian politicians are ALTRUISTIC.

Are few Nigerian politicians selfish?

(It is are, not is, does, or did because are is an auxiliary that must be replaced by an auxiliary in the question, etc.)

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Minimal Pairs and Rhymes


A minimal pair is a set of words that has the same pronunciation but differ in only one phoneme (spelling). They are realized under consonants, clusters, and vowels.

Practise the words below until you get where the pronunciation of the pairs of words rhyme.


pit                                kit

keep                             keen

bat                                bad

say                                pay

net                                let

play                              pray

free                               flee

cap                               cab

cup                               cub

bull                               full

fun                               sun

care                              dare

hate                              mate

how                              now

gun                               fun

food                             wood

bird                              first

life                                wife

near                              ear


glade                             grade

thrift                             drift

through                        true

scheme                         scream

tax                                task

rains                             range

masks                           marks

mixed                           missed


cot                                caught

hat                                heart

hot                               hut

park                              pack

cheer                            chair

curt                               cut


 The word that receives the emphatic stress is written in capital letters, choose the one to which the given sentence is the appropriate answer.

  1. The new principal deals RUTHLESSLY with lazy teachers.

(a) Does the new principal deal leniently with lazy teachers?

(b) Does the new principal deal ruthlessly with industrious teachers?

(c) Does the former principal deal ruthlessly with lazy teachers?

(d) Does the new principal deal ruthlessly with lazy students

  1. Day students are NEVER appointed prefects in government schools.

(a) Are day students ever appointed prefects in government schools?

(b) Are boarders never appointed prefects in government schools?

(c) Are day students never appointed captains in government schools?

(d) Are day students never appointed prefects in private schools?

  1. The minister went to America on OFFICIAL business

(a) Did the Minister go to Germany on official business?

(b) Did the President go to America on official business?

(c) Did the Minister go to America on private business?

(d) Did the Minister return from America on official business?

  1. Companies USUALLY recruit intelligent graduates.
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(a) Do companies usually recruit intelligent craftsmen?

(b) Do homes usually recruit intelligent graduates?

(c) Do companies usually reject intelligent graduates?

(d) Do companies seldom recruit intelligent graduates?

  1. Daddy plays TENNIS on Saturday afternoons.

(a) Does Daddy play cricket on Saturday afternoons?

(b) Does Mummy play tennis on Saturday afternoons?

(c) Does Daddy play tennis on Saturday afternoons?

(d) Does Daddy play tennis on Saturday morning?

Choose the word that rhymes with the given word below.

  1. account     (a) surmount     (b) mound         (c) ground         (d) won’t
  2. surprise     (a) surplus         (b) concise        (c) arise              (d) entice
  3. appointed  (a) wanted        (b) disjointed    (c) anointment   (d) counted
  4. poster        (a) hostel           (b) dusty           (c) frosted          (d) toaster
  5. come          (a) rum              (b) bomb          (c) sun                (d) tomb

Defining intonation

Intonation is the combination of the rise and fall of the voice level in utterance. It is the way the pitch of the voice goes up and goes down or the way the voice rises and falls when we speak.

In addition, the voice tends to rise, fall or remain flat depending on the meaning or feeling we want to convey (surprise, anger, interest, boredom, gratitude, etc.). There are two basic patterns of intonation in English. They are falling intonation and rising intonation.

A. Falling Intonation/Tune

A falling tune occurs when the pitch of the voice falls at the end of the sentence. It is the most common intonation pattern in English and is commonly found in statements, commands, wh-questions (information questions), confirmatory questions t,ags, and exclamations.

Uses of Intonation

(1) Statement  

  1. The man is here. 
  2. Wishing you well.
  3. She doesn’t live here.
  4. Dad will have it.
  5. See you soon.
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(2) Commands

  1. Sit down there.
  2. Show me the way.
  3. Come to me.
  4. Bring the picture.
  5. Throw it away.
  6. Don’t go there.
  7. You must not attend the meeting.

    (3) Wh- questions (Questions beginning with ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘which’, and ‘how’

  1. What have I done?
  2. Where do you work?
  3. Which of these is the best?
  4. When will you go?
  5. How many people are here?
  6. Whose book is that?

4. Exclamations

  1. Shame!
  2. What an insult!
  3. How beautifully he has sung!
  4. The man has died at last!
  5. What mess is that?

(B) Rising Intonation

(➚) When the pitch of the voice rises at the end of a sentence. we have a rising tune. Rising intonation invites the speaker to continue talking and it is normally used with yes/no questions, and question tags that are real.

(1)  Yes/no Questions: Questions that can be answered by ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

  1. Will you do it for me?➚
  2. Have you finished it?➚
  3. May I come in?➚
  4. Do you know him?➚
  5. Can she play it?➚

 (2)  Questions tags (real questions)

  1. He has already met us, hasn’t he?➚
  2. You liked beef, didn’t you?➚
  3. They say it, don’t they?➚
  4. It is not me, Is it?➚
  5. We should not do it, should we?➚


Read and say whether the sentences below are raising tunes and falling tunes. Indicate answers with correct arrows.

  1. Will you come?
  2. Are you going there?
  3. They are six, aren’t they?
  4. We played football, don’t we?
  5. Who is that?
  6. I am going to Lagos.
  7. He is around.
  8. May we come in?
  9. I won’t do it, will I?
  10. We shouldn’t go there, should we?


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