All stressed out

black and brown long coated dog birthday

One of the most important lessons for English speakers is understanding how a shift of emphasis from one word to another can alter the meaning of a single sentence. In the following short story, words emphasized like this carry additional stress when spoken.


The twins were arguing again.

I never said Freddie ate your cake.’ ‘Well someone said it,’ snapped Anne, and that someone sounded very much like you, Ted.’

Ted was indignant. ‘I never said Freddie ate your cake! Or at least, I never said Freddie ate your cake.’ ‘Aha!’ exclaimed his sister. ‘So you didn’t say so but you might have murmured it under your breath?’

‘No, that’s not what I meant either,’ replied Ted. ‘Look. I never said Freddie ate your cake. OK? It might have been someone else.’

Anne turned over this new possibility in her mind. ‘So you’re basically saying — sorry, mumbling — that someone else ate my cake. But Freddie was involved, right?’

Ted squirmed. Anne had this uncanny knack of squeezing the truth out of people with her superior grammatical skills.

‘OK. Freddie was involved. But I never said Freddie ate your cake.’

‘Oh right,’ replied Anne, sarcastically. ‘So he might have — oh, I dunno — sat on it? But at least we’re sure he didn’t eat it.’

Embarrassed at being wrong-footed again, there was only one thing left to do. Ted squared up to his sister. ‘Alright,’ he said, ‘I’ll come clean. Freddie ate the cake. But it wasn’t yours. I never said Freddie ate your cake. He ate mine.’

Anne paused. ‘I’m sorry?’

‘He never ate your cake. Actually, if Freddie ate anything of yours it was that rather tasty-looking bar of chocolate I left for you next to your bed.’

The door nudged open. The six-month-old puppy, Freddie, padded into the bedroom, his nose smeared in the last remains of Anne’s chocolate.

‘See? I never said Freddie ate your cake,’ smiled Ted, triumphantly.