The English compound stress myth

H. Giegerich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigates the distribution of end-stress and fore-stress among English NN and NNN compounds. It finds that end-stress in NNs is not ‘exceptional’, as many researchers have claimed, but confined to a reasonably well defined class of attribute-head NNs within which it is (at least optionally) grammatical and often predictable. In NNNs – NNs with embedded NNs – both fore-stress and end-stress can occur in both the embedding and the embedded NN, giving rise to eight possible stress patterns, all of which are attested. Moreover, the distribution of fore-stress and end-stress in embedding and embedded NNs follows the regularities identified in free-standing NNs. There is therefore no reason to accept the generalization whereby in NNNs, the second element is always stressed under right-branching and the first element under left-branching. While such patterns are perhaps particularly frequent, all others are also grammatical: the Compound Stress Rule known in the literature for some fifty years, deriving stress patterns from structural geometry, is wrong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalWord Structure
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


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