CONtract + conTRACT, Shifting Stress

There are English words that can be nouns or verbs, depending on their stress. As nouns, they have 1st syllable stress; as verbs they are stressed on the 2nd syllable.

Remember, stressed syllables have stronger, clearer vowels, and unstressed syllables have reduced vowels.  The trick is to change the quality of the vowels, depending on the part of speech.  In “contract” (n.), the stressed syllable vowel must be a clear strong /ah/ but in “contract” (v.), the first syllable is reduced in stress; the vowel becomes a schwa. 

Inside English words, we give adjacent syllables different levels of stress and clarity, so the listener can hear the change in dynamics.

  1. contract They signed the contract for the purchase.  When metal cools, it contracts.
  2. permit You need a permit to fish here. The rules don’t permit cell phones in class.
  3. record His running time was a new world record. I asked if I could record her lecture.
  4. conduct I’ve always wanted to conduct an orchestra. The children’s conduct during the concert was excellent.
  5. discount We can’t discount the possibility that John has been in an accident. Will you give me a discount if I buy three of them?
  6. object Would anyone object if we finish the meeting early? What’s that strange object on top of the dresser?
  7. present She gave me a watch as a present. It’s my pleasure to present Dr. Kingly.
  8. produce I have to produce the report by the end of the week. The vegetable shop only sells local organic produce.
  9. suspect Thomas was the main suspect in the crime. When she asked for money I began to suspect her honesty.
  10. combine We’d like to combine these two meetings into one. This merger will result in a powerful, industrial combine.
  11. conflict He felt a great deal of conflict about taking the new job. That meeting date will conflict with one we’ve already arranged.
  12. contest The committee contested the results of the poll. There was a neighborhood contest to see who could create the scariest Halloween scene.
  13. contrast Our company is doing well, in contrast to what you might see in the news. His friend’s success contrasted with his own failure.
  14. convict The prosecutor was determined to convict her for the crime. We heard on the news that a convict has escaped from the jail.
  15. decrease I think we’ll have to decrease the number of widgets we import. The financial crisis has caused a huge decrease in the value of our investments.
  16. defect They returned the TV to the store because of a defect. Five of the Olympic athletes defected to the host country.
  17. extract I use vanilla extract in my cakes to give them that flavor. This table is extracted from a larger report I found online.
  18. insult The insults flew as they argued vehemently. Please don’t insult me by telling me everything will be OK.
  19. misprint There’s a misprint in this document.       Let’s hope they didn’t misprint our names in the report!
  20. perfect The day was perfect—great weather, great food, great friends. I’ve been trying to perfect my golf swing.
  21. protest Two senior scientists resigned in protest. He has always protested his innocence.
  22. rebel James Dean was quite a rebel in his youth. As I hiked up the last hill, my legs protested strongly.
  23. reject Our proposal was rejected by the oversight committee. Those guys are such losers—they’re total rejects!
  24. survey 95% of patients surveyed were satisfied with their treatment. He surveyed the coast of New Zealand by plane. The survey resulted in some surprising new information.
  25. upset Mary “upset the applecart” when she asked for a raise. Little Leroy was so upset that he couldn’t go to the movies with us.
  26. export We exported $16 million worth of mussels to Japan. Wool and mohair were the island’s major exports.
  27. import New beliefs were often imported by sailors from other lands. This surplus pushes up the yen, which should give imports a boost.

Here are two strategies that will help you learn how these words are used most by English speakers.

Put your word, e.g. “contract”, in a search engine, and study the examples of the word in context. How often is it used as a noun? How often is it a verb?

At the bottom of same search page, study & use the headings shown for possible related searches which the search engine often provides:

contract killers, contract definition, how to write a contract, sales contract, breach of contract, employment contract, construction contract, employee contract

Some English words can be nouns or verbs. Nouns stress 1st syllable; verbs stress 2nd Click To Tweet

Peggy Tharpe teaches, coaches, and publishes about English pronunciation and intonation. She believes that if you understand why something is happening, you're better able to address it and change it. She teaches the "why" of pronunciation as well as the "what" and "how".