Stress and Emphasize

By Maeve Maddox

A reader says,

Your thoughts re “stress” and “emphasize” would be appreciated.

As transitive verbs, stress and emphasize are used interchangeably with the meaning “to accentuate or draw attention to.” For example:

Employers stress the need for communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Speakers Stress Need to Consult More Closely with Contributors of Peacekeeping Personnel

Avian Influenza Findings Emphasize the Need for Good Biosecurity.

Council members emphasize the need to take action to develop the Former Bennett Freeze Area.

The substitution of emphasize for stress in the context of language study would not be incorrect, but stress is the more common choice:

The word present is a two-syllable word. If we stress the first syllable, it is a noun or an adjective. But if we stress the second syllable, it becomes a verb.

[In poetry scansion] a foot is an iamb if it consists of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, so the word remark is an iamb.

The verb stress has a third meaning unrelated to emphasize: “to subject [sub-JEKT] to hardship, affliction, or oppression.” Here are examples of this use:

Teachers stressed by escalating demands

Everyday Problems Stress Teachers the Most

If you’re a mom of a child with autism, what most stresses you?

Although the verb stress is sufficient, many speakers add the particle out:

What Stresses Americans Out the Most?

Tell us what’s stressing you out, and you could win a $100 Taichi Wellness gift certificate.

Stress and emphasize are interchangeable when the meaning is “to draw attention to” or “to accentuate,” but not when the meaning is “to make tense and anxious.”

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