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Jac asks: Which word is stressed in the sentence "are you okay?" 

Hi Jac,

There is not a single answer to your question; which word is stressed depends on the context. It could be any of the three words, depending on the situation.

Situation #1

I'm hanging out with two friends - Joe and Moe. Joe looks really sad, so Moe says, "Are you okay?". Joe says, "Oh yes, I'm fine." But then, after Moe leaves, Joe tells me about all the horrible things that's been happening in his life. After listening to him for a few minutes, I say, "ARE you okay?" I emphasize the word 'ARE', because Joe has previously said that he is okay, and my emphasis on that word indicates that I doubt his statement about being okay.

Situation #2

Now Moe and I are in a car, and we get into a fender-bender. Moe bangs his head against the windshield, and then he looks at me and says, "Are you okay?" I reply that I'm fine, and then say, "Are YOU okay?" This time I emphasize 'YOU' because I'm thinking that I'm not the one we should be worrying about, it's Moe. It's a way of saying, "Never mind about me - you're the one we should be worrying about!"

Situation #3

This is probably the most common situation; the word 'okay' will have a natural upward inflection/stress because the sentence is a question. For a situation where the word 'okay' gets extra stress, imagine that Joe is telling me about all the terrible things that he's gone through, and I ask, "Are you OKAY?"  (I'd be more likely to add the word 'but': "But are you OKAY?"). Emphasizing the word 'OKAY' in this situation might be a way of implying that I have doubts whether he's handling the situations in a healthy way.

There are a lot of sentences that can be stressed in different ways depending on the context. In most cases, we do it automatically without stopping to think about how we're stressing the words!

Thanks for the question, Jac.

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