Construct (pronunciation)

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Construct can be either a verb or a noun, The two words are closely related, but their pronunciation varies, with different stress patterns.

  • The verb 'to construct' (first recorded in 1663), meaning 'to build', 'to put together' or 'to assemble' (literally or figuratively); in geometry, to 'make a figure, and therefore a shape, using precise measurement of lengths, angles, etc.' The verb has the stress on the second syllable: 'k'n-STRUKT', IPA: /kə(or ɒ)n ˈstrʌkt/.
  • The noun 'a construct' has the stress on the first syllable: 'CON-truct' IPA: /ˈkɒn strʌkt/. This is the newer word, not found before the late nineteenth century. According to OED, a construct is "anything constructed, esp[ecially] by the mind; hence spec[ifically], a concept specially devised to be part of a theory": anything created by the human mind to serve as a tool of thought. Subjects such a Psychology, Linguistics and Mathematics have their specific meanings about which their students will know more than AWE. People can talk of 'constructs or [mental] models'; 'constructs in the mind'; 'symbolic constructs' and so on.
This pattern of shifting stress in words that look identical but belong to two separate word classes is quite common in English. Quirk (1985) (Appendix I.56 B) remarks: "When verbs of two syllables are converted into nouns, the stress is sometimes shifted from the second to the first syllable. The first syllable, typically a Latin prefix, often has a reduced vowel /ə/ in the verb but a full vowel in the noun:
He was con-VICT-ed (IPA: /kən ˈvɪkt ɪd/) of theft, and so became a CON vict (IPA: /ˈkɒn vɪkt/)" (AWE's rendition of IPA).
There follows a list of some 57 "words having end-stress as verbs but initial stress as nouns in Br[itish] E[nglish]." Note that "in Am[erican] E[nglish], many have initial stress as verbs also". Quirk's list is the foundation of AWE's category:shift of stress. Additions have been made from, amongst others, Fowler, 1926-1996.