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Note that there are two words refuse in English. They look the same, and are related: but they sound different, and have different meanings, as well as their grammatical uses.

  • The (non-count) noun refuse, meaning 'rubbish', is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, with a vowel as in 'get' and a second vowel like that in 'put' ('REF-yous', IPA: /ˈrɛf juːs/).
  • The verb 'to refuse' has the stress on the second syllable, which has a longer vowel than that in the noun; 'ref-YOUZ', IPA: /rɛf ˈjuːːz/. 'To refuse' something is to say 'no' to it: if you refuse an invitation, you mean that you will not go to the event. (The opposite is to accept, or to say 'yes'.)
There is an illustration of the confusion of the two words, along with a misuse of the apostrophe in the notice reportedly placed on the waste chutes of a London block of flats: 'Residents refuse to be placed in chutes'. This appears to be mean that the people who lived there do not want to be put into the chutes; if it had been properly punctuated, with an apostrophe after residents, it would have been harder to mis-read like this. A reader would assume that the word after residents must be a noun, and that therefore the notice should be read as an instruction: 'Rubbish belonging to the residents should be placed in the chutes.' This has the merit of being clearer. It may have the demerit of being less amusing.
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) describes the most common: "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.