Reconsidering 13 vs. 30

Did anyone ever tell you that the way to distinguish between the numbers “13” and “30” was with word stress? There are plenty of ESL books and teachers that will tell you that the difference between them is this:
— for 30, you should stress the first syllable [ THIR-ty ]
— for 13 you should stress the 2nd syllable [ thir-TEEN ]

That advice works great when you are comparing the two numbers, or emphasizing them to make them extra clear, but what about when you are just saying the number 13 in a normal conversation…?

Listen closely the next time you go shopping. If someone’s total comes to $13.95, you will not hear the cashier say “thir-TEEN ninety-five”. And if you listen to a native speaker count out loud, they don’t say “…ten, eleven, twelve, thir-TEEN, four-TEEN, fif-TEEN…” (It would sound strange if they did.)

Actually, putting strong stress on the 2nd syllable of 13 is usually for when you need to be careful to distinguish it from 30. Most of the time, 13 (or 14 or 15 or 16…) is pronounced with two equally strong syllables. However, the stress can vary depending on the context. For example, if you need to clarify between 14 and 15, then the stress will be stong on the first part, as in, “I said FOUR-teen, not FIF-teen!”

By the way “$13.95” actually has 4 equally strong beats: “THIR-TEEN-NINEty-FIVE”, which is similar to the stress pattern used for acronyms (abbreviations such as ASAP or VIP).

Now you know!

By the way, I am always noticing the pronunciation of people when I hear them speak… One person that I have noticed who really took the rule “thir-TEEN vs. THIR-ty” to heart is Benny Hinn. He follows the rule perfectly, which indicates that he was very conscientious about his pronunciation while he was learning English. He has only a small trace of foreign accent when he speaks English — hats off to him!

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