According to Wiktionary, in Chinese, the word 是 means "truly; indeed" when it is stressed. However, according to Wikipedia, it appears that the concept of word stress is not applicable to a monosyllabic word.

Wiktionary's entry on the word 是 offers an IPA transcription /ʂʐ̩⁵¹/ as the standard pronunciation, which fails to distinguish between the stressed form and the non-stressed form.

  • Just the same as a polysyllabic word - use ˈ before the stressed syllable.
    – Graham H.
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 11:52
  • Maybe you should search for phrase stress. In a word, usually a syllable stressed, in a phrase, usually a word stressed.
    – Anixx
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 18:29

2 Answers 2


"word stress" is not the relevant kind of stress here. When wiktionary says:

a particle showing agreement. In this meaning, 是 is stressed. truly; indeed.

... it almost surely means "phrasal stress" or "prosodic stress", not word stress.

  • Stressed 是 is frequently cited in works on the phonology of Mandarin Chinese. E.g. Y Zhu (1997), W Li (2016).
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 13:54
  • indeed, and both of those references seem to be describing it in terms other than "word stress" (Zhu's thesis is about focus-marking which is a phrase-level phenomenon, and Li describes this usage as "prosodically stressed" --- again, a phrase-level phenomenon).
    – drammock
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 19:09

A more general question is, how can we represent stress? One approach is to treat sounds as atomic units (e.g. [a, ɪ, m, ʃ] not being made up of anything else. In that theory, "stress" can be a treated as a suprasegmental phoneme, notated as <ˈ>. Basically, reify the IPA transcription.

Another approach is to treat stress as a feature, where segments are bundles of features, therefore just as [ã] is a [+nasal] /a/, [ˈa] is a [+stress] /a/. The is the SPE theory of stress.

Post-SPE. metrical phonology introduced a more complex theory of representation for stress, which is implicitly assumed in the Wikipedia article. In metrical phonology, stress is a relationship between syllables whereby some syllable is marked as being "prominent" or "strong" relative to others. This has been implemented either via a tree structure organizing syllables into a syntax-like tree and labeling the nodes "s" vs "w". An alternative notation is some number of layers of asterisks, at the bottom one for each syllable, then at higher levels a second asterisk over certain syllables (the stressed syllables), and perhaps a third layer of asterisks especially if a language has both primary and secondary stress. The asterisk notation is what is generally used in phonological theory these days, to the extent that anyone cares about representation.

Metrical theory invested a lot of energy into erecting UG rules which would forbid patterns that haven't been clearly shown to exist. One such pattern is languages with lexically-specified stress that includes the possibility of a completely unstressed polysyllabic major class word. English is good for illustrating lexical stress, given the verb [pɹ̩ˈvɹ̩t], the noun [ˈpɹ̩ˌvɹ̩t] and the noun [pɹ̩rsn̩]. There are no totally stressless polysyllabic words. However allowances have been made for certain monosyllables, the classic example being monosyllabic clitics in Romance. The important feature of such unstressed "words" is that they can never stand on their own, or at least if they do, they always get main stress like any other word.

There are a number of ways to express this in metrical theory, all of which reduce to the idea that certain items are never full words on their own so they never gain word prominence, therefore they "attach to" some neighboring word. There is still a representational question about what identifies clitics and "particles" as distinct from ordinary monosyllabic nouns, verbs and adjectives, but that is a problem of morphosyntax.

The short version is that there is no actual problem with having a stressless monosyllabic morpheme, indeed, not all languages have stress at all.

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