Contest (pronunciation)

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Contest - with a basic meaning of 'competition' or 'struggle' - can be either a noun or a (related) verb. These have different stress patterns.

  • The noun 'a contest' has the stress on the first syllable, 'CON-test' (IPA: /ˈkɒn tɛst/.
  • The verb 'to contest' has the stress on the second syllable, 'kern-TEST', IPA: /kə (or ɒ)n ˈtɛst/.
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.