1. prominence of a syllable in terms of differential loudness, or of pitch, or length, or of a combination of these.
  2. degree of prominence of a syllable within a word and sometimes of a word within a phrase: primary accent; secondary accent.
  3. a mark indicating stress (as (·, ·), or (ˈ, ˌ), or (′, ″)), vowel quality (as French grave `, acute ´, circumflex ^), form (as French la “the” versus là “there”), or pitch.
  4. any similar mark.
  5. Prosody.
    1. regularly recurring stress.
    2. a mark indicating stress or some other distinction in pronunciation or value.
  6. a musical tone or pattern of pitch inherent in a particular language either as a feature essential to the identification of a vowel or a syllable or to the general acoustic character of the language.Compare tone(def 7).
  7. Often accents.
    1. the unique speech patterns, inflections, choice of words, etc., that identify a particular individual: We recognized his accents immediately. She corrected me in her usual mild accents.
    2. the distinctive style or tone characteristic of an author, composer, etc.: the unmistakably Brahmsian accents of the sonata; She recognized the familiar accents of Robert Frost in the poem.
  8. a mode of pronunciation, as pitch or tone, emphasis pattern, or intonation, characteristic of or peculiar to the speech of a particular person, group, or locality: French accent; Southern accent.Compare tone(def 5).
  9. such a mode of pronunciation recognized as being of foreign origin: He still speaks with an accent.
  10. Music.
    1. a stress or emphasis given to certain notes.
    2. a mark noting this.
    3. stress or emphasis regularly recurring as a feature of rhythm.
  11. Mathematics.
    1. a symbol used to distinguish similar quantities that differ in value, as in b′, b″, b‴ (called b prime, b second or b double prime, b third or b triple prime, respectively).
    2. a symbol used to indicate a particular unit of measure, as feet (′) or inches (″), minutes (′) or seconds (″).
    3. a symbol used to indicate the order of a derivative of a function in calculus, as f′ (called f prime) is the first derivative of a function f.
  12. words or tones expressive of some emotion.
  13. accents, words; language; speech: He spoke in accents bold.
  14. distinctive character or tone: an accent of whining complaint.
  15. special attention, stress, or emphasis: an accent on accuracy.
  16. a detail that is emphasized by contrasting with its surroundings: a room decorated in navy blue with two red vases as accents.
  17. a distinctive but subordinate pattern, motif, color, flavor, or the like: The salad dressing had an accent of garlic.

verb (used with object)

  1. to pronounce with prominence (a syllable within a word or a word within a phrase): to accent the first syllable of “into”; to accent the first word of “White House.”Compare stress(def 12).
  2. to mark with a written accent or accents.
  3. to give emphasis or prominence to; accentuate.

noun (ˈæksənt)

  1. the characteristic mode of pronunciation of a person or group, esp one that betrays social or geographical origin
  2. the relative prominence of a spoken or sung syllable, esp with regard to stress or pitchCompare pitch 1 (def. 28), stress (def. 3)
  3. a mark (such as ˈ, ˌ, ´ or `) used in writing to indicate the stress or prominence of a syllable. Such a mark may also be used to indicate that a written syllable is to be pronounced, esp when such pronunciation is not usual, as in turnèd
  4. any of various marks or symbols conventionally used in writing certain languages to indicate the quality of a vowel, or for some other purpose, such as differentiation of homographsSee acute (def. 10), grave 2 (def. 5), circumflex
  5. (in some languages, such as Chinese) any of the tones that have phonemic value in distinguishing one word from anotherCompare tone (def. 7)
  6. rhythmic stress in verse or prose
  7. music
    1. stress placed on certain notes in a piece of music, indicated by a symbol printed over the note concerned
    2. the rhythmic pulse of a piece or passage, usually represented as the stress on the first beat of each barSee also syncopation
  8. maths either of two superscript symbols indicating a specific unit, such as feet (′), inches (″), minutes of arc (′), or seconds of arc (″)
  9. a distinctive characteristic of anything, such as taste, pattern, style, etc
  10. particular attention or emphasisan accent on learning
  11. a strongly contrasting detaila blue rug with red accents

verb (ækˈsɛnt) (tr)

  1. to mark with an accent in writing, speech, music, etc
  2. to lay particular emphasis or stress on

late 14c., “particular mode of pronunciation,” from Middle French accent, from Old French acent (13c.), from Latin accentus “song added to speech,” from ad- “to” (see ad-) + cantus “a singing,” past participle of canere “to sing” (see chant (v.)). Loan-translation of Greek prosoidia, from pros- “to” + oide “song,” which apparently described the pitch scheme in Greek verse. The decorating sense of “something that emphasizes or highlights” is from 1972.


“to pronounce with accent or stress,” 1520s, from Middle French accenter, from Old French acenter, from accent (see accent (n.)). Related: Accented; accenting.

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