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How can I decipher the pronunciations in a dictionary? How can I figure out which syllable to stress?

This is hard to answer because there are a number of pronunciation systems used in dictionaries. Basically, the systems fall into one of these types: International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcription, phonemic respelling, or non-phonemic respelling. No system of indicating pronunciation is self-explanatory. It is very important to read the Guide to Pronunciation in dictionaries you use. That is the only way to decipher the pronunciations and understand the stress markings and diacritical marks in pronunciations. The Pronunciation Guide sets out the signification and use of the pronunciation symbols in the dictionary. Further, most dictionaries offer respellings which record the entire range of accepted variants along with appropriate notes about dialectal distribution or usage. The order of variants does not necessarily mean that the first is in any way preferable to or more acceptable than the others. The stress is often indicated this way: a single stress mark precedes a syllable with primary (strongest) stress; a double mark precedes a syllable with secondary (medium) stress; and a third level of weak stress requires no mark at all. However, other dictionaries place the stress marks after the syllable that is stressed. Usually, hyphens are used to separate syllables in pronunciation transcriptions. (The centered dots in boldface entry words indicate potential end-of-line division points and not syllabication.) Parentheses are used in pronunciations to indicate that whatever is symbolized between them is present in some utterances but not in others.

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