Examples are conceive,
deceive, receipt, receive etc
The commonest exceptions to this rule are seize and either & neither (both otherwise / i /). 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. Also the Islamic festival Eid.
Borrowings from Latin may spell / i / with ae or oe as with aegis, Caesar, formulae; amoeba, foetus, phoenix. Some 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 also the shorter vowel /e/.
The spellings key and quay, both / ki /, are unique. So is people / `pipl /.
This vowel also occurs in various words borrowed relatively recently (ie from the seventeenth century 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
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 by a final / -ess / which syllable may also then take stress. Examples are hostess, lio`ness, forest, largest, honest, bullet. Most words ending with a syllable beginning with any of /k, ɡ, ʧ, & ʤ / eg pocket, target, hatchet, budget regularly have this vowel in GB.
This vowel / ɪ / corresponds to the letter e in a stressed syllable only in the single 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’ (ie 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 eg advisedly, allegedly, assuredly /ə`ʃɔrɪdli/
avowedly, fixedly, markedly, deservedly, designedly, preparedly / prɪ`pɛrɪdli /, professedly, supposedly etc the e is heard as / ɪ /. But note admiredly /əd`maɪədli/. If the verb ends with an unstressed syllable eg embarrassedly, the e of the -ed, regularly ends with / -ɪd /. Adjectives ending <-ed> have it as / -ɪd / eg 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 / `ɡrɪnɪʤ/. The first edition of the Jones EPD in 1917 gave only that pronunciation for the word but it’s is now usually / `ɡrenɪʧ /.
Only in busy, business, lettuce, minute and missus does / ɪ / correspond to the spelling u. Only in build and biscuit and formerly in 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 now in an
minority a tendency to conform this word to the value suggested by its
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 `ɡen/ or /ə `ɡeɪn/.
This vowel is represented by the spelling ee in the most usual version of Greenwich / `ɡrenɪʧ /. When the word threepence was common currency (before the British adoption of a decimal coinage system in 1971) a very widely spread form of it was / `θrepəns /. It was very widely heard as / `θrəpəns / but also as / `θrʌpəns /, in London as / `θrʊpəns / and occasionally by conservative elderly speakers as / `θrɪpəns /. Irish people it seems widely used to say / `θripəns/. These have all now been replaced except in archaistic or metaphorical usage by three `pence or three `p /pi/.
The spelling ei for this vowel only occurs in leisure, heifer and, among common placenames, Leicester / `lestə /. In America leisure is usually / `liʒər /.
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 when it becomes a penultimate syllable it is often /-ment /, eg in complemented, experimented and supplemented.
In a notable number of 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. Of loanwords lingerie may be /`lanʒəri/, meringue /mə`raŋ/ and timbre /`tambrə, `tambə/ or /`tãbrə/. It also may be heard in the first syllable of daiquiri as a subvariant form ie pronounced by a minority. The military term reveille is /rə`vali/. The names `Caithlin and `Plaistow have /a/ in their stressed syllables. See also the second paragraph on /ɑ/ immediately following this.
The seventy or so most common words which
usually have /ɑ/ in
General British are
/ ɑnd / command, countermand, demand, remand, reprimand, slander ; Flanders.
/ ɑnt / advantage, can’t, chant, grant, plant, shan’t, slant.
/ ɑnʃ / avalanche, branch, ranch.
/ ɑːn / aunt, banana, sultana, soprano.
/ ɑns / advance, answer, chance, chancellor, dance, France, glance, lance, trance.
/ ɑm / drama, example, panorama, sample.
/ ɑf / after, behalf, calf, craft, draft, graph, half, laugh, shaft, staff, telegraph.
/ ɑθ / bath, path.
/ ɑð / lather, rather. These have /a/ in GA.
/ ɑs/ ask, bask, basket, flask, mask, rascal, task;brass, class, glass, grass, pass; clasp, gasp, raspberry / `rɑzbri /.
aghast, blast, broadcast, cast, castle, contrast, disaster, fast, fasten, forecast, ghastly, last, mast, master, nasty, past, vast.
It corresponds to the
spelling au only in aunt, draught and laugh.
It corresponds to the spelling ear only in heart and hearth.
The vowel /ɑ/ corresponds to the spelling er only in clerk and sergeant and the names Berkshire, Berkeley, Hertfordsire and Derby. In General American Berkeley, 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 a in yacht /jɒt/, au in because, cauliflower, sausage, laurel & the names
Laurie, Maurice, Vauxhall and to aw in Lawrence and Lawrie.
It corresponds to the spelling o .. e only in gone and shone (Tho this last rhymes with bone in GA).
It corresponds to the spelling ou in cough, lough /lɒx/ trough /trɒf/. 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 in GA with either / ɔ / or / ɑ /.
Anomalously it corresponds to the spelling eau in bureaucracy and tho in the last 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. It also occurs in the name The Domesday Book.
And to the spellng o..e only in lose, move, prove and whose.
And the spelling ui in bruise, bruit, cruise, fruit, juice, nuisance, pursuit, recruit, sluice, suit etc.
And 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 GB 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, one, once, 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
spelling or only in attorney,
worm, worse, worship, worst, worth and worthy.
It corresponds to the spelling our only in courteous, courtesy, journal, journey and scourge; and to yr(r) in myrrh and myrtle. Also to eu in adieu, milieu
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 /ʃwɑ/. Most textbooks tend to claim 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 / `də.ɪŋ/
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 the majority of GB speakers (pacë 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.
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 /`ɡʊzbri/, mulberry, raspberry GB /`rɑzbri/, 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 /a/ 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 /`njufəndlənd /˃/-land/˃/nju`faʊndlənd/. Exceptions with usually or always predominant /a/: 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/. Eg awful / `ɔfl /, beautiful / `bjutəfl /; boxful / `bɒksfʊl /, mouthful / `maʊθfʊl /, spoonful / `spunfʊl /.
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.More than GA, GB 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
(of hand). In England less often and in America regularly either and neither have / i /.
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/, Eli, Levi, Rabbi. It stands for ae in maestro.
This corresponds to the spelling ou
in out, house, loud, south etc and to ow in cow, brown, crowd, how, now, owl etc.
It is au in some extraneous words such as gaucho, hausfrau, sauerkraut, umlaut etc, and ao in Mao, Maoist, Maori, tao.
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 ‘silent’ also in debt, doubt & subtle and in the rare word bdellium.
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. Notice that disuse, which is mainly a noun, 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 / lus / from lose / luz/ and failing to notice the very anomalous way in which house / haʊs / has the plural / `haʊzɪz /.
The way the past 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 `jus tə `juz | tə hit `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 / eg in amorous, famous, porous, raucous.
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 de deux.
The letter z represents / s / in chintz, chutzpah, eczema, howitzer, quartz and waltz.
to the spelling ss
only in brassiere, dessert, dissolve, possess,
scissors, hussar and common variant pronunciations of
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 and by <chs(i)> in fuchsia.
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 / ʃ / in expansion, tension, compulsion etc.
Anomalously the t of equation much more often has / ʒ / than / ʃ /.
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 / θju, sju,
zju/ or / lju/
such as enthusiast,
suit, supermarket, lewd, ludo, lure and absolute.
However, assume, consume, presume, resume and subsume predominantly have yod in
GB. Never now 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 (in GA or GB) 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 /alə`lujə/ by the presence of its initial /h/. There are also the proprietary German loanword terms Jaeger /`jeɪɡə/ and Jagermeister (Jägermeister) /`jeɪɡəmaɪstə/.
This occurs silently, ie unrepresented by any sound, 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 / hu , həʊl / etc.
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 by some GB speakers in 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.