American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

In the following sections we will have a look at two types of derived words that are frequently pronounced by Dutch learners with the stress on the wrong syllable. A derived word, for instance unbelievable, consists of a base, in this case believe, and one or more affixes, in this case un– and –able.

Derived Words

As a rule, in adjectives ending in /əbl/ (-able or –ible) the stress falls on the same syllable as in the base. (When the stress is more than two syllables removed from /əbl/, stress retraction may occur as in recognizable, from to recognize, which is either ˈrecognizable or recogˈnizable.):

desire desirable /dɪˈzaɪə(rəbl)/
exhaust inexhaustible /(ɪn)ɪgˈzɑːst(əbl)/
process processable /ˈprɑːsɛs(əbl)


Verbs ending in –ate frequently lose that ending before the affix is added, but the rule applies in the same way:

ˈnavigate ˈnavigable /ˈnævɪgəbl/ (bevaarbaar)
eˈradicate ineˈradicable /ɪnɪˈrædɪkəbl/ (onuitroeibaar)
ˈpenetrate imˈpenetrable /ɪmˈpɛnətrəbl/


However, in the following cases the stress goes to the syllable before the one that is stressed in the base:

adˈmire ˈadmirable /ˈædmrəbl/
comˈpare ˈcomparable /ˈkɑːmprəbl/
reˈpair (ir)ˈreparable /(ɪ)ˈrɛprəbl/ as in irreparable damage
/(ɪ)rɪˈpɛrəbl/) as in Is the bike (ir)repairable?
reˈvoke irˈrevocable /(ɪ)ˈrɛvəkəbl/
preˈfer ˈpreferable /ˈprɛfrəbl/
reˈpute ˈreputable /ˈrɛpjutəbl/


Also note the following:

ˈdemonstrate deˈmonstrable /dəˈmɑːnstrəbl/
ˈexplicate inexˈplicable /ɪnəksplɪkəbl/ (onverklaarbaar)

In a number of other words there is variation between speakers: some put the stress on the syllable before /əbl/, while others put it on the syllable before that one, irrespective of where the stress is in the base. An example is inextricable (onontwarbaar). Some people say /ɪnɛkˈstrɪkəbl/, others say /ɪnˈɛkstrɪkəbl/. Such variation also occurs in applicable (van toepassing), irrefutable (onweerlegbaar); also formidable and hospitable (gastvrij) belong here, although they cannot be said to have a base.