So today’s tip focuses on syllable stress and the easiest way to do that, I think, is to look at words known as heteronyms.
A heteronym is…, according to the definition found on The Heteronym Page
…a word that has the same spelling as another word but with a different pronunciation and meaning.
The words that I’d like to concentrate on are the ones whose definition changes according the position of the stress placed upon it.
Here are some examples.
If you stress the first syllable DEZ-urt – you are describing a dry, baron place.
If you stress the second syllable di-ZURT – this is a verb meaning to abandon.
Following is a couplet that looks like it should rhyme but it does not. Why doesn’t it?
I feel that I must now assert
That Simpson’s a sandy desert
If we bold the syllables, that in natural speech, are stressed, we’ll find that a pattern emerges.
i FEEL that i MUST now aSSERT
That SIMPson’s a SANdy DESert
Can you see the problem?
The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables has been disrupted.
The previously established pattern (stressed, unstressed, unstressed, stressed, unstressed unstressed, stressed) requires the reader to mispronounce the word “desert” so that the stress falls on the second syllable.
While this scenario is unlikely I think it highlights a common problem when writing in rhyme.
Another example that I use in my book “Rhyme Like the Experts” may help to clarify the issue.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
Filled her mouth with one strawberry
So in order for this to rhyme, the writer needs the reader to mispronounce the word “strawberry” so that it sounds like this… strawBEHrry to rhyme with conTRAHry.
What I urge all writers of rhyme to do is to get their work read aloud by someone else. A fresh eye will immediately pick up where the writer has manipulated a word to fit the meter. The new reader will read the words as they would in natural speech and will trip up if the pattern is disrupted due to the stress position of certain words.
Clear as mud?
If you have any questions, please post them below in the comments section.