Linguistic and Pronunciation

It is difficult to lay down hard and fast rules for pronunciation as pronunciation is continually changing and at any time there is bound to be considerable variation considering the demographics and social geographical adaptations.

Uncertainty about pronunciation arises mainly from the irregularity of English spelling. Individual letters, or sequences of letters, that repeatedly cause difficulty are therefore listed in alphabetical order below, with comments on their pronunciation in particular words or classes or words. Problems also arise from the inconsistent and gradually shifting patterns of word stress in English. A note on this subject (which can arouse extraordinary feeling) has therefore been added at the end of the main alphabetical sequence. Finally, there is a short note on the reduction of common words in rapid speech.

Where the American pronunciation of forms and words listed below differs significantly from the British, this is usually indicated. However, no general or systematic account of the difference between British and American speech has been attempted.

Age: The standard pronunciation of the following words ending in –age is with stress on the first syllable, ‘a’ as in calm, and g as in regime.

Barrage   Dressage   Persiflage   Camouflage    Garage   Sabotage

Arily: In a few five-syllable adverbs ending with –arily, there is a tendency to stress the ‘a’ for ease of pronunciation. Some in common use are:

Arbitrarily       Ordinarily       Momentarily   Temporarily    Necessarily     Voluntarily

Ed: In the following adjectives the ending –ed is pronounced as a separate syllable:

Accursed        Naked             Wicked                       Cragged          Rugged           Wretched

Edly, -edness: When the further suffixes –ly and –ness are added to adjectives ending in –ed, an uncertainty arises about whether to pronounce this –ed as a separate syllable. Some in common use are:

Belatedly        Abandonedly  Variedly          Blessedness    Studiedness    Wickedness


(A) The position of the stress accent is the key to the pronunciation of many English polysyllable words, since under stressed vowels are subject to reduction in length, obscuration of quality, and, quite often, complete elision. Compare the sound of the stressed vowel in the words on the left with that of the same level, under stressed, in the words on the right:

(B) It is impossible to formulate rules accounting for the position of the stress in every English word, but two very general observations can be made.

(C) Two-syllable words: There is a fixed, although not invariable, pattern, by which nouns and adjectives are stressed on the first syllable and verbs on the second e.g. accent, import, torment, conflict, etc.

(D) Three-syllable words: Of the three stress patterns in three-syllable words, that with stress on the first syllable is the best established. For example – abdomen, precedent, secretive, etc.

(E) Four-syllable words: While it has been traditional in RP to favor stress on the first syllable of these, recent decades have seen a general shift to the second syllable. Words that have been or being adapted to the antepenultimate stress pattern include: centenary, miscellany, explicable, preemptory, etc.

(F) Five-syllable words: Five syllable words originally stressed on the first syllable have been affected by the difficulty of uttering more than three unstressed syllables in sequence. The stress has been shifted to the second syllable in laboratory, obligatory, whereas in veterinary the fourth syllable is elided and usually the second as well.

(G) The main difference between the patterns of stress in British and American English is as follows. In words of four syllables and over, in which the main stress falls on the first or second syllable, there is a strong secondary stress on the last syllable but one in American English, e.g. contemplative, territory. The vowel in the penultimate syllable is fully enunciated.