Native English speakers often learn at school the mnemonic rhyme:
I before E except after C
So long as it has the sound of EE
By this <ee> is meant / iː / or, where an r follows, / ɪə /.
Examples are receipt, receive,
The commonest exception to this rule is the word seize. Less common words which break this rule are weir, plebeian, and counterfeit. This last word, like forfeit and surfeit, more often ends with /-fɪt /.
Certain other words, which mainly reflect their being borrowed from Scottish English, are weird and such names as Keith, Leith, Neil, Reid, Reith and Sheila.
Borrowings from Latin may spell / iː / with ae as with aegis, Caesar, formulae. Such words may fluctuate between spellings with ae and simple e. When this is so the American preference is usually for the simple letter and sometimes the "shorter" vowel /e/.
The spellings key and quay, both / kiː /, are unique. So is people / `piːpl /.
This vowel also occurs in various words borrowed relatively recently (the seventeenth century and onwards) from Continental and some other languages, eg élite, caprice, clique, casino, expertise, machine, police, pastiche, prestige, technique.
This is the vowel heard in General British pronunciation where letter <i> precedes a double consonant or word-final single consonant.
It is also commonly heard in the
endings -age as in average, cabbage, village, in the
suffixes forming verb past tenses ending -ded and -ted and forming plurals with -es
when the noun's singular ends with any of the sibilant consonants/ s,
z, ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, & ʤ /. It also corresponds to the letter a in spinach.
It is usually suitable for the unstressed endings -ess, est, and -et though many such words may equally or more often take schwa / ə / and in the case of some words indicating females / -es / which may also then take stress. Examples are hostess, lioness, largest, honest, bullet. Most words ending with a syllable beginning with any of /k, g, ʧ, & ʤ / eg pocket, target, hatchet, budget regularly have this vowel.
This vowel /
ɪ / corresponds to the
letter e in a stressed
syllable only in the single ordinary word pretty. Compare
the proper noun England
and proper adjective English. Probably the most usual variants of Cecil and Cecily have / ɪ / corresponding to their e spellings. /
ɪ / is
represented by the digraph ie
in one monosyllable, the word sieve,
and also in mischief, mischievous and in the most usual
pronunciation of handkerchief.
It should be noted that, though the letter e is "silent" (has no sound value) in past participles like marked and designed etc, when such words are extended by the addition of the suffix -ly to the forms advisedly, allegedly, avowedly, fixedly, markedly, deservedly, designedly, preparedly, professedly, supposedly etc the e is heard as / ɪ / unless the verb ends with an unstressed syllable eg embarrassedly, determinedly.
Adjectives with the suffix -ed, unlike verbs' past tenses, regularly end with / -ɪd /. These include aged, blessed, crooked, cursed, dogged, jagged, learned, naked, ragged, rugged, sacred, wicked and wretched. Because these usually precede substantives they owe this no doubt to the working of the English ALTERNATE STRESS PREFERENCE.
Only in the word breeches
is / ɪ / used for the
spelling ee. This is now
tending to be replaced by the regular value of ee and the spelling is tending to
be replaced by britches. In
the early twentieth century Greenwich
was often / `grɪnɪʤ/. The first edition of the Jones EPD in 1917 gave
only that pronunciation for the word but it's is now usually /`grenɪʧ /.
Only in busy, business, lettuce, minute and missus does / ɪ / correspond to the spelling u and only in build and formerly in a now obsolete forms of conduit viz /`kʌndɪt & `kɒndɪt/ does it equate with the spelling ui. (Words beginning gui- like guild, guitar and guinea do not contain their u as contributing to vowel representation but as identifying the "hard" (ie plosive) value of the preceding g).
This corresponds to the spelling a only in any and many and the proper noun Thames.
The word ate is pronounced / eɪt / the north of England and by educated Americans. In the early twentieth century it was by GB speakers almost universally / et / but there is in an increasingly large minority a tendency to conform this word to the value suggested by its spelling.
The verb forms said and says have as normal GB values only / sed / and / sez /. The form /seɪz/ has been relatively recently recognised, perhaps controversially, by MWO (Merriam Webster Online). The word again is either /ə `gen/ or /ə `geɪn/.
This vowel is represented by the spelling ee in the most usual version of Greenwich / `grenɪʧ /. When the word threepence was common currency (before the British adoption of a decimal coinage system in 1971) a very frequent form of it was / `θrepəns /. It was most widely heard as / `θrəpəns / but also as / `θrʌpəns /, chiefly in London as / `θrʊpəns / and occasionally by conservative elderly speakers as / `θrɪpəns /. Irish people it seems widely used to say / `θriːpəns/. These have all now been replaced except in archaistic or metaphorical usage by three `pence or three `p /piː/.
The spelling ei for this vowel only occurs in leisure, heifer and, among common placenames, Leicester / `lestə /. In America leisure is usually / `liːʒər /.
Only in the word friend / e / is represented by ie. A few common words have eo for / e / eg leopard and jeopardy. Cf Geoffrey.
Only in the words bury and burial / e / is u. The placename Bury (St Edmunds) also has / e /.
Although the suffix -ment is usually / -mənt /, in verbs especially when it becomes a penultimate syllable it is often /-ment /, eg in complemented, experimented and supplemented.
In a notable number words a final unstressed syllable spelt with e may not undergo the usual weakening to schwa but exhibit / e / eg comment, congress, contents, contest, digest, progress, protest. In American usage congress generally weakens to / -rəs / or / -rɪs /.
This vowel corresponds to ai in plaid and plait. The French loanword timbre may be /`tӕmbrə, `tӕmbə/ or /`tӕ̃(m)brə/. It also may be heard in the first syllable of daiquiri as pronounced by a minority. The military term reveille is /rə`vӕli/. The names `Caithlin and `Plaistow have /ӕ/ in their stressed syllables. See also the second paragraph on / ɑː/ immediately following this.
This vowel is used in a fair number of common words in which most Americans and people in northern England and many in Australia employ / æ /. This is popularly known as using "broad A" instead of "flat A". This choice of / ɑː/ occurs chiefly when the following sounds are /nd, nt, ns, nʃ, f, θ, ð / or / s /. Not counting proper nouns or adjectives, there are about three hundred common words with the letter a preceding such sounds but only one third of these have / ɑː/ more than two thirds taking / æ / in General British.
The seventy or so most common words which usually have / ɑː/ in General British are:
/ ɑːnd / command, countermand, demand, remand, reprimand, slander ; Flanders.
/ ɑːnt / advantage, can't, chant, grant, plant, shan't, slant.
/ ɑːnʃ / avalanche, branch, ranch.
/ ɑːn / aunt, banana, sultana, soprano.
/ ɑːns / advance, answer, chance, chancellor, dance, France, glance, lance, trance.
/ ɑː m / drama, example, panorama, sample.
/ ɑːf / after, behalf, calf, craft, draft, graph, half, laugh, shaft, staff, telegraph.
/ ɑːθ / bath, path.
/ ɑːð / lather, rather.
/ ɑːs/ ask, bask, basket, flask, mask, rascal, task.
brass, class, glass, grass, pass.
clasp, gasp, raspberry / `rɑːzbri /.
aghast, blast, broadcast, cast, castle, contrast, disaster, fast, fasten, forecast, ghastly, last, mast, master, nasty, past, vast.
The vowel / ɑː/ corresponds to the spelling au only in aunt, draught and laugh.
The vowel / ɑː/ corresponds to the spelling ear only in heart and hearth.
The vowel / ɑː/ corresponds to the spelling er only in clerk and sergeant and the names Berkshire, Berkeley, Hertfordsire and Derby. In General American clerk and Derby have /-ɜr-/.
These matters are dealt with more fully at §3.1.27 on this site.
This is usually spelt o but corresponds to the spelling au in because, cauliflower, sausage, laurel (cf the names Laurie, Maurice and Vauxhall) and to aw in Lawrence and Lawrie.
It corresponds to the spelling o ... e only in gone and shone (which last is regularised to rhyme with bone in GA).
It corresponds to the spelling ou in cough, lough, trough. Cf Gloucester.
It corresponds to the spelling ow only in acknowledge and knowledge.
There is no direct regular equivalent to this GB vowel in GA. Such words as borrow, dog, fog, long, orange, wash and water may be heard with either GA / ɔː / or / ɑː /.
Anomalously it corresponds to the spelling eau in bureaucracy and to a in genealogy tho the latter is simply regarded as an error by LPD and ignored by EPD and ODP.
This is usually spelt au, aw, oar or or but corresponds to the spelling oa only in broad and abroad.
It corresponds to the spelling oor exclusively only in door and floor and it is the usual vowel in poor, sure and moor.
This is usually spelt u or oo but corresponds to the spelling o only in bosom, wolf, woman and worsted. Cf courier / `kʊriə/ and the placename Worcester. The suffix -ful has this vowel in nouns eg boxful, mouthful, spoonful but not in adjectives eg useful, beautiful, hopeful which instead have either /ə/ or more usually no vowel.
Of the twenty GB vowel phonemes /ʊ/ rates only 13th in frequency of
occurrence. It appears mostly after labial consonants. Examples are bull, full, pull, bush, put, bushel,
butcher, pudding, pulpit, push, sugar.
This vowel is usually represented by the spelling oo but it corresponds to o only in cantonment, tomb, womb, who, whom and do.
It corresponds to the spelling oe only in canoe, manoeuvre and shoe. Cf The Domesday Book.
It corresponds to the spelling o ... e only in lose, move, prove and whose.
It corresponds to the spelling ui in bruise, bruit, cruise, fruit, juice, nuisance, pursuit, recruit, sluice, suit etc.
It corresponds to the spelling uu
in vacuum (and the rare exotic words muumuu and puukko).
This is usually represented by u but corresponds to the spelling oe only in does.
It corresponds to the spelling oo only in blood and flood.
In many words spelt with non-final ur-, urr-, or- GB has this vowel rather than GA / ɜː /. These include borough, current, curry, flurry, furrow, hurry, nourish, occurrence, thorough and worry. However, when the final element of the word is not a derivative but an inflectional suffix, then GA and GB agree on / ɜː/ as in furry and occurring. This vowel is used in the names Durham, Murray etc.
Beside and between
the letters m, n, v, w and h as well as the
digraphs sh, th etc the letter o more often than not has this
sound as in among, brother, colour, come, comfort, cover, done, dove front, govern, honey, love,
monger, mongrel, monk, monkey, mother,
none, nothing, other, plover,
pommel, shove, shovel, smother, son, stomach, ton, tongue, won, wonder and worry.
GA is more conservative in its preservation of /ʌ/ in hover which GB has converted to a
better spelling match with /ɒ/.
It corresponds to the spelling ou in courage, flourish, nourish; chough, rough, slough, sough, southern, tough, young; Brough, Clough, Hough, Loughborough, Southwell.
(This pattern is traceable to deficiencies in medieval handwriting.)
This is usually spelt er, ir or ur but it corresponds to the spelling or only in attorney, whorl, word, work, world, worm, worse, worship, worst, worth and worthy.
It corresponds to the spelling our only in courteous, courtesy, journal, journey and scourge.
It corresponds to the spelling ear in dearth, earl, early, earn, earnest, Earp, earth, heard, hearse, learn, pearl, rehearse, search, yearn and in subvariant versions of hear, here, year and less commonly in words of the types Europe, curious etc.
1. This is the vowel of unstressed syllables par excellence and by far the most often heard of all the English vowels in unhurried conversation. Among those knowledgeable about pronunciation matters it has its own special name schwa /ʃwɑː/. All the textbooks tend to say that it never occurs in stressed sylables. This is quite untrue because most people have some words in which they stress it at least at times. The Queen has plainly been heard saying / `dəznt / for doesn't in recordings. She shares this with many of us, but occasionally she pronounces doing as / `dəɪŋ/ and then she tends to sound 'posh' to many of us.
As we havent got an accepted spelling for /ə/, when it develops from changes to words whose original spellings can't be used, people invent new spellings which aren't really satisfactory but can't be improved upon. Some examples of this are the very common conversational word-forms /kəz/ and /`gənə/ which have come to have their present pronunciations thru shortening of because and going-to.
In the middle of the twentieth century /ə/ was the predominant stressed vowel in threepence / `θrəpəns / but that word became relatively unusual after the UK adopted decimal currency in 1971. The important fact for the EFL user to know is that stressed schwa is never essential for use in any word. More sophisticated speakers over the north of England use schwa wherever GB speakers use their / ʌ / eg saying funny as / `fəni/. (Less sophisticated northerners tend to say / `fʊni/.) Many American speakers have a quality of their / ʌ / which is closer to schwa than the usual GB values for / ʌ /.
2. The very common unstressed suffix -ate in adjectives and nouns regularly has schwa but is usually / eɪ / in verbs (and chemical terms). Compare alternate and separate, as adjectives or nouns / ɔːl`tɜːnət/ and / `seprət / but as verbs / `ɔːltəneɪt / and / `sepəreɪt /. There are a few exceptions. Candidate has all three possibilities / `kændɪdət, `kændɪdeɪt / and / `kændədɪt/. Climate is often / `klaɪmɪt / and private is / `praɪvɪt / for a large majority of GB speakers (pace LPD).
3. The words from twopence /`tʌpəns/ to elevenpence have since the 1971 British coinage decimalisation been superseded by compound expressions with pence as /pens/ except in historical and figurative contexts.
4. All words ending -berry and most ending -man or -land may take schwa.
This schwa or its elision is the predominant form in at least the commonest -berry words. However, they usually end with unreduced /-beri/ in GA.
Examples: blackberry, Burberry, cranberry, elderberry, gooseberry /`gʊzbri/, mulberry, raspberry GB /`rɑːzbri/, strawberry /`strɔːb(ə)ri/. Items regularly spelt as two words or hyphenations such as logan berry don't belong in this group.
5. Most words ending -man take schwa barman, chairman,
churchman, clergyman, dairyman, dustman, fireman, foreman, Frenchman,
freshman, frogman, gentleman, horseman, henchman, infantryman, madman,
milkman, penman, ploughman, policeman,
salesman, seaman, spokesman, statesman, tradesman, Walkman, woodman.
Exceptions with /ӕ/ include anchorman, badman, bogeyman, caveman, chessman, conman, gasman, handyman, jazzman, Kingsman, middleman, snowman, superman, whiteman.
6. Most words ending -land take schwa eg: Finland, foreland, highland(s), Holland, island, lakeland, lowland, Netherlands, Sutherland. Newfoundland is /`njuːfəndlənd /˃/-lӕnd/˃/njuː`faʊndlənd/. Exceptions with usually or always predominant /ӕ/: badlands, borderland, clubland, Disneyland, dreamland, fairyland, farmland, fatherland, gangland, grassland˂, headland˃, heartland, hinterland, homeland˂, mainland˃, moorland˃, motherland, overland, parkland, ploughland, (US plowland), swampland, tableland, tideland, wonderland. Names of specific countries or regions include: Baffinland, Dixieland, Lapland, Thailand and notably various African names including Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Matabeleland, Somaliland, Swaziland etc.
7. The suffix -ful in adjectives may have schwa but more often it's / -fl /. With all nouns it's /-fʊl/. Examples are: awful / `ɔːfl /, beautiful / `bjuːtəfl /; boxful / `bɒksfʊl /, mouthful / `maʊθfʊl /, spoonful / `spuːnfʊl /.
8. The suffixes -less and -ness both regularly contain schwa. A few (especially Conspicuous GB speakers) can still be heard to use the Victorian and early twentieth century preference / ɪ / but its value is probably nearer to schwa than the one that they use in stressed syllables with / ɪ /. The main exceptions are business, which is to be heard with either schwa or / ɪ / about equally often, and the name Guinness which practically universally has / ɪ /. The tendency to vowel harmony seems to be at work in these two.
9. Unlike GA, GB usually avoids sequences like /ndn, ntn, nzdn, nstn ŋtn, ŋdn, ŋdm, mdn, mzdn, ndm, bdn, m(p)tn, ptn /. Thus schwa is regularly heard in words like abandon, abundant, accountant, acquaintance, attendant, badminton, correspondent, defendant, dependant, descendant, eastern, independent, informant, instance, kingdom, lantern, lieutenant, penance, piston, random, redundant, remnant, sultan, superintendent, tendon, wanton and western; and in names like Antony, Ashton, Boston, Brompton, Camden, Clarendon, Compton, Constance, Hampton, Hebden, Huntingdon, Kempton, Lipton, London, Rampton, Ramsden, Repton, Rushton, Stilton, Swindon, Taunton, Upton, Vernon, Wellington, Weston, Whittington, Winston and Washington.
This usually corresponds to the spellings oa, oe, o...e as in road, toe and bone but is oo only in brooch, eo only in yeoman. Other very irregular spellings occur in oh, don't and won't. Extraneous ones are gauche, chauffeur, eau (de Cologne), beau, bureau, plateau, sauté and mauve.
It corresponds to the spelling ew only in the word sew and the placename Shrewsbury. An old spelling shew has now given way to show.
This usually corresponds to the spellings i..e as in ice and y..e as in dye but is ei only in eider(down), either, height, neither, seismic and sleight (of hand). In England less often and in America regularly either and neither have / iː/.
It corresponds to the spelling uy
in buy and guy, and to i in island, iota, night, sigh, sign (before silent s, gh and g), and magi, foci, fungi and other Latin plurals and also in the
names Isaiah /aɪ`zaɪə/where
in the second it is spelt 'ai'), Eli,
Levi, Rabbi. It stands for ae
This corresponds to the spelling ou in out, house, loud, south etc and to ow in cow, brown, crowd, owl etc.
It is au in some
extraneous words such as gaucho,
hausfrau, luau, sauerkraut, umlaut etc, and ao in Mao, Maoist, Maori, tao.
It corresponds to the spelling ere
only in there and where (except in the items not used
in ordinary speech, e'er and ne'er). Very exceptional is weir and the also certain forms
with Celtic connections weird,
Deirdre and Keir.
This phoneme, which has long had most of its tokens in the
allophonic form [ɛː], is now heard in the speech of increasing numbers
as the exclusively monophthongal long simple vowel /ɛː/.
This corresponds to the spelling <b> with total regularity.
However, orthographic <b> is silent in a small group of words ending -mb including bomb, climb, comb, dumb, lamb, numb, thumb, tomb and their derivatives.
It is so also in debt, doubt & subtle and in the rare word bdellium.
It corresponds to the spelling <f>
in of. And it rarely occurs doubled except in pretty informal words like bevvy, divvy, lavvy, luvvy, navvy, savvy and skivvy.
This interpretation of the letter s of English spelling is very often extremely difficult. There are many words that show variation between / s / and / z / within one variety and many more that show differences of usage between varieties. Within GB there is more or less equal favouring of the alternative values of the s of numbers of words including abrasive, absorb, delouse, derisory, evasive, explosive, grandiose, resource, supposed-to, treatise, valise etc. Yet the greatest number of words have settled usages.
One pattern that should be noted is the alternation between pronunciation / z / as verb and / s / as noun etc in the words abuse, close, diffuse, excuse, house, use and misuse. Cf disuse which is only a noun but shows the same pattern by having /s/. The noun usage is heard with both values but /s/ seems the more usual.
This pattern is made explicit by the occurrence of spelling with c of the nouns in the pairs advise/advice and devise/device. The verbs grease and mouse no longer commonly have / z /. Cf peace and appease / ə`piːz/. In the pairs practise/practice and prophesy/prophecy the differentiation is purely visual only / s / being used for both s and c. Whether verb or noun crease, increase and release have only / -s /. Compare also grass/graze and brass/brazen.
Common EFL problems include failing to differentiate cease from seize and loose / luːs / from lose / luːz/ and failing to notice the very anomalous way in which house / haʊs / has the plural / `haʊzɪz /.
The way the past tense of the verb use differentiates its two senses of was accustomed to with / s / and employed with / z / is exemplified in the sentence It was what they used to use to heat houses / ɪt wz wɒt ðeɪ juːs tə juːz tə hiːt haʊzɪz /. The sequence supposed to is very commonly heard with / s / though / z / is common enough not to sound unusual.
The spellings c, sc
and st often represent / s /
but virtually never
/ z / (See Consonant 14 for electricity).
The suffix <-ous>
only has / s /.
Orthographic <s> is "silent" in aisle,
corps, desmene, island, isle and also in French loanwords like
the rare pas and as the
commoner element of compounds like pas
The letter z represents / s / in chintz, chutzpah, eczema, howitzer, quartz and waltz.
This corresponds to the spelling ss only in brassiere, dessert, dissolve, possess, scissors, hussar and common variant pronunciations of hussy, business and pessimist. A few informal names have /z/ for ss including Aussie, Issy and Ossie. So have Rossetti and Missouri.
The word electricity has a common subvariant form with its c represented by /z/.
Different preferences between / z / and / s / are notable contrasts between varieties of (educated) English. GA prefers or at least uses / s / in names such as Chrysler, Denise and Leslie in which GB usually employs / z /. A similar contrast occurs with the words blouse, erase and valise. In GA the suffix -ese may be heard with / s / which is hardly known in GB except in Peloponnese. Scottish English often has / z / for the c in December, but / s / for the first s in houses which is normally /`haʊzɪz/ in GA and GB.
Orthographic z is /s/ in blitz,
intermezzo, quartz, scherzo & schizophrenia.
Word-initial <s-> is /
ʃ / in sugar and sure, and at least a variant from s in loanwords chiefly from German
eg schnauzer, schnapps, spritzer
/ ʃ / is the regular value of word-final -tion, -lsion, -nsion and -ssion as in eg nation, compulsion, tension and session. Vowel plus -sion gives / -ʒn / eg in explosion.
The words issue and tissue have also / ʃ / for their <ss> more often than /s/ in GB and exclusively in GA.
/ʃ/ is represented by <ch> in a few words eg chivalry. Cf Chandos, Chicago, Michigan.
This is the value of the s when a vowel which is not immediately preceded by a consonant precedes the ending -sion.
Compare abrasion, collision, explosion, fusion, lesion etc with expansion, tension, compulsion etc.
Anomalously the t of equation much more often has / ʒ / than / ʃ /.
Any word ending with the spelling -r or -re when followed in close rhythmical connection with a vowel sound usually has such an r pronounced. Such an / r / is known as a linking / r /.
It is also normal in GB to insert a linking / r / between any word-final schwa and a rhythmically closely following vowel sound as in the idea of it / ði aɪ `dɪər əv ɪt /.
Linking / r / is also used probably by most GB speakers when / ɜː/ ends a word in such situations and also similarly with / ɑː/ or / ɔː/ even when no <r> is involved in their spelling. At one time purists criticised such usages as not being "justified" by the spelling but they are now so commonplace that they almost invariably pass unnoticed.
This is chiefly notable for the considerable number of words from which it is usually omitted rather than kept. These include most words of which a minority pronunciation exists with one of the sequences / θjuː, sjuː, zjuː/ or / ljuː/ such as enthusiast, suit, supermarket, lewd, ludo, lure and absolute. However, assume, consume, presume, resume and subsume predominantly have yod in GB. Almost never heard with yod are lunatic and the names Lewis, Lucy, Luke, Luther, Luton, Sue and Susan. GA avoids all such yods and, unlike GB, has no yod in such words as tune, due and new. After / ʧ, ʤ, r / and / l / plus a consonant no yods are used eg chew, clue, June, rule and blue.
In the expression hallelujah alone /j/ is represented by the letter j thus usually differing solely from Alleluia /ӕlə`luːjə/ by the presence of its initial /h/. There are also the proprietary German loanword terms Jaeger /jeɪgə/ and Jagermeister (Jägermeister) /`jeɪgəmaɪstə/.
This occurs unrepresented in the spelling of one / wʌn / and once / wʌns /.
It corresponds to o in choir / `kwaɪə /and to u after g and s in a few words, after c in very few indeed and after q (which then has the value / k /) in very many. Examples are anguish, language, languid, penguin; assuage, persuade, suede; cuirass, cuisine; quality, quarter, queen, quick, square, and squeak.
The orthographic w of who, whole, whom, whooping-cough, whore
and whose has no sound value
eg / huː ,
This consonant is not heard in the words spelt heir, honest, honour, hour and their derivatives nor after the prefix ex- in words like exhaust, exhilarate and exhort. However, it is used in exhale and exhume.
It is not heard in shepherd or posthumous and often not in abhorrent and adhesive.
It is not ordinarily heard in words beginning wh- in GB but is a common minority
usage in them in GA.
It is often omitted from words in which it begins an unstressed initial
syllable like historical.
Unlike GA, GB doesn't omit / h / from herb,
huge, human or humour.
In the Spanish loanword junta it is the usual sound for the <j>in American usage as /`hʊntə/ but the predominant form of the word in Britain is /`ʤʌntə/.
It corresponds to the spelling ch
in chutzpah and Chaim to j in La Jolla.
See also blog 335.