I've noticed that when a phrase (particularly, a multi-word name) is used often, the way it's said changes slightly. For example, when talking about the television show "The Good Place", the way the title is said in conversation is different than if you were just saying 'the good place over there', or some other, non-proper-noun usage of the phrase. In particular, I notice the difference in the placement of the emphasis on the syllables.

Is there a term for this?

  • 1
    John McWhorter uses "backshift" in his books and podcast, but I'm not sure if anybody else uses it.
    – Nardog
    Feb 28, 2019 at 1:42
  • @Nardog Oh THAT's where I've heard it before!
    – janizer
    Feb 28, 2019 at 16:35

1 Answer 1


It's fairly difficult to formalize rules for the position of stress in English phrases. There can be variability between speakers or depending on the context.

Stronger stress on the initial element of a noun phrase is often interpreted as a sign that the phrase has become a compound, but that interpretation isn't always unproblematic (we have to define what exactly we mean by "a compound"). A previous question on this site that you might find of interest is Stress rules in English adjective-noun combinations

  • What do scholars call it though? I don't think this answers the question.
    – Nardog
    Feb 28, 2019 at 17:11

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