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English orthography

English orthography is the writing system used to represent spoken English,[1][2] allowing readers to connect the graphemes to sound and to meaning.[3] It includes English's norms of spelling, hyphenation, capitalisation, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation.

Like the orthography of most world languages, English orthography has a broad degree of standardisation. This standardisation began to develop when movable type spread to England in the late 15th century.[4] However, unlike with most languages, there are multiple ways to spell every phoneme, and most letters also represent multiple pronunciations depending on their position in a word and the context.

This is partly due to the large number of words that have been borrowed from a large number of other languages throughout the history of English, without successful attempts at complete spelling reforms,[5] and partly due to accidents of history, such as some of the earliest mass-produced English publications being typeset by highly trained, multilingual printing compositors, who occasionally used a spelling pattern more typical for another language.[4] For example, the word ghost was spelled gost in Middle English, until the Flemish spelling pattern was unintentionally substituted, and happened to be accepted.[4] Most of the spelling conventions in Modern English were derived from the phonemic spelling of a variety of Middle English, and generally do not reflect the sound changes that have occurred since the late 15th century (such as the Great Vowel Shift).[6] As a result of this, many words are spelled the way that they were pronounced more than 600 years ago, instead of being spelled like they are pronounced in the 21st century.

Despite the various English dialects spoken from country to country and within different regions of the same country, there are only slight regional variations in English orthography, the two most recognised variations being British and American spelling, and its overall uniformity helps facilitate international communication. On the other hand, it also adds to the discrepancy between the way English is written and spoken in any given location.[5]

Function of the letters

Phonemic representation

Letters in English orthography positioned at one location within a specific word usually represent a particular phoneme. For example, at /ˈæt/ consists of 2 letters ⟨a⟩ and ⟨t⟩, which represent /æ/ and /t/, respectively.

Sequences of letters may perform this role as well as single letters. Thus, in thrash /θræʃ/, the digraph ⟨th⟩ (two letters) represents /θ/. In hatch /hæ/, the trigraph ⟨tch⟩ represents /tʃ/.

Less commonly, a single letter can represent multiple successive sounds. The most common example is ⟨x⟩, which normally represents the consonant cluster /ks/ (for example, in tax /tæks/).

The same letter (or sequence of letters) may be pronounced differently when occurring in different positions within a word. For instance, ⟨gh⟩ represents /f/ at the end of some words (tough /tʌf/) but not in others (plough /pl/). At the beginning of syllables, ⟨gh⟩ is pronounced /ɡ/, as in ghost /ɡst/. Conversely, ⟨gh⟩ is never pronounced /f/ in syllable onsets other than in inflected forms, and is almost never pronounced /ɡ/ in syllable codas (the proper name Pittsburgh is an exception).

Some words contain silent letters, which do not represent any sound in modern English pronunciation. Examples include the ⟨l⟩ in talk, half, calf, etc., the ⟨w⟩ in two and sword, ⟨gh⟩ as mentioned above in numerous words such as though, daughter, night, brought, and the commonly encountered silent ⟨e⟩ (discussed further below).

Word origin

Another type of spelling characteristic is related to word origin. For example, when representing a vowel, ⟨y⟩ represents the sound /ɪ/ in some words borrowed from Greek (reflecting an original upsilon), whereas the letter usually representing this sound in non-Greek words is the letter ⟨i⟩. Thus, myth /ˈmɪθ/ is of Greek origin, while pith /ˈpɪθ/ is a Germanic word. However, a large number of Germanic words have ⟨y⟩ in word-final position.

Some other examples are ⟨ph⟩ pronounced /f/ (which is most commonly ⟨f⟩), and ⟨ch⟩ pronounced /k/ (which is most commonly ⟨c⟩ or ⟨k⟩). The use of these spellings for these sounds often marks words that have been borrowed from Greek.

Some researchers, such as Brengelman (1970), have suggested that, in addition to this marking of word origin, these spellings indicate a more formal level of style or register in a given text, although Rollings (2004) finds this point to be exaggerated as there would be many exceptions where a word with one of these spellings, such as ⟨ph⟩ for /f/ (like telephone), could occur in an informal text.

Homophone differentiation

Spelling may also be useful to distinguish between homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings), although in most cases the reason for the difference is historical and was not introduced for the purpose of making a distinction.

For example, heir and air are pronounced identically in most dialects, but, in writing, they are distinguished from each other by their different spellings.

Another example is the pair of homophones pain and pane, where both are pronounced /pn/ but have two different spellings of the vowel /eɪ/. Often, this is because of the historical pronunciation of each word where, over time, two separate sounds became the same but the different spellings remained: pain used to be pronounced as /pain/, with a diphthong, and pane as /peːn/, but the diphthong /ai/ merged with the long vowel /eː/ in pane, making pain and pane homophones (panepain merger). Later /eː/ became a diphthong /eɪ/.

In written language, this may help to resolve potential ambiguities that would arise otherwise (cf. He's breaking the car vs. He's braking the car).

Nevertheless, many homophones remain that are unresolved by spelling (for example, the word bay has at least five fundamentally different meanings).

Marking sound changes in other letters

Some letters in English provide information about the pronunciation of other letters in the word. Rollings (2004) uses the term "markers" for such letters. Letters may mark different types of information.

For instance, ⟨e⟩ in once /ˈwʌns/ indicates that the preceding ⟨c⟩ is pronounced /s/, rather than the more common value of ⟨c⟩ in word-final position as the sound /k/, such as in attic /ˈætɪk/.

⟨e⟩ also often marks an altered pronunciation of a preceding vowel. In the pair mat and mate, the ⟨a⟩ of mat has the value /æ/, whereas the ⟨a⟩ of mate is marked by the ⟨e⟩ as having the value /eɪ/. In this context, the ⟨e⟩ is not pronounced, and is referred to as a "silent e".

A single letter may even fill multiple pronunciation-marking roles simultaneously. For example, in the word ace, ⟨e⟩ marks not only the change of ⟨a⟩ from /æ/ to /eɪ/, but also of ⟨c⟩ from /k/ to /s/. In the word vague, ⟨e⟩ marks the long ⟨a⟩ sound, but ⟨u⟩ keeps the ⟨g⟩ hard rather than soft.

Doubled consonants usually indicate that the preceding vowel is pronounced short. For example, the doubled ⟨t⟩ in batted indicates that the ⟨a⟩ is pronounced /æ/, while the single ⟨t⟩ of bated gives /eɪ/. Doubled consonants only indicate any lengthening or gemination of the consonant sound itself when they come from different morphemes, as with the ⟨nn⟩ in unnamed (un+named).

Multiple functionality

Any given letters may have dual functions. For example, ⟨u⟩ in statue has a sound-representing function (representing the sound /u/) and a pronunciation-marking function (marking the ⟨t⟩ as having the value // opposed to the value /t/).

Underlying representation

Like many other alphabetic orthographies, English spelling does not represent non-contrastive phonetic sounds (that is, minor differences in pronunciation which are not used to distinguish between different words).

Although the letter ⟨t⟩ is pronounced by most speakers with aspiration [tʰ] at the beginning of words, this is never indicated in the spelling, and, indeed, this phonetic detail is probably not noticeable to the average native speaker not trained in phonetics.

However, unlike some orthographies, English orthography often represents a very abstract underlying representation (or morphophonemic form) of English words.[7][8][9]

[T]he postulated underlying forms are systematically related to the conventional orthography ... and are, as is well known, related to the underlying forms of a much earlier historical stage of the language. There has, in other words, been little change in lexical representation since Middle English, and, consequently, we would expect ... that lexical representation would differ very little from dialect to dialect in Modern English ... [and] that conventional orthography is probably fairly close to optimal for all modern English dialects, as well as for the attested dialects of the past several hundred years.[10]

In these cases, a given morpheme (i.e., a component of a word) has a fixed spelling even though it is pronounced differently in different words. An example is the past tense suffix -⟨ed⟩, which may be pronounced variously as /t/, /d/, or /ᵻd/[a] (for example, pay /ˈp/, payed /ˈpd/, hate /ˈht/, hated /ˈhtɪd/). As it happens, these different pronunciations of -⟨ed⟩ can be predicted by a few phonological rules, but that is not the reason why its spelling is fixed.

Another example involves the vowel differences (with accompanying stress pattern changes) in several related words. For instance, photographer is derived from photograph by adding the derivational suffix -⟨er⟩. When this suffix is added, the vowel pronunciations change largely owing to the moveable stress:

Spelling Pronunciation
photograph /ˈftəɡræf/ or /ˈftəɡrɑːf/
photographer /fəˈtɒɡrəfər/
photographical /ˌftəˈɡræfɪkəl/

Other examples of this type are the -⟨ity⟩ suffix (as in agile vs. agility, acid vs. acidity, divine vs. divinity, sane vs. sanity). See also: Trisyllabic laxing.

Another example includes words like mean /ˈmn/ and meant /ˈmɛnt/, where ⟨ea⟩ is pronounced differently in the two related words. Thus, again, the orthography uses only a single spelling that corresponds to the single morphemic form rather than to the surface phonological form.

English orthography does not always provide an underlying representation; sometimes it provides an intermediate representation between the underlying form and the surface pronunciation. This is the case with the spelling of the regular plural morpheme, which is written as either -⟨s⟩ (as in tat, tats and hat, hats) or -⟨es⟩ (as in glass, glasses). Here, the spelling -⟨s⟩ is pronounced either /s/ or /z/ (depending on the environment, e.g., tats /ˈtæts/ and tails /ˈtlz/) while -⟨es⟩ is usually pronounced /ᵻz/[a] (e.g. classes /ˈklæsᵻz/). Thus, there are two different spellings that correspond to the single underlying representation |z| of the plural suffix and the three surface forms. The spelling indicates the insertion of /ᵻ/ before the /z/ in the spelling -⟨es⟩, but does not indicate the devoiced /s/ distinctly from the unaffected /z/ in the spelling -⟨s⟩.

The abstract representation of words as indicated by the orthography can be considered advantageous since it makes etymological relationships more apparent to English readers. This makes writing English more complex, but arguably makes reading English more efficient.[11][12] However, very abstract underlying representations, such as that of Chomsky & Halle (1968) or of underspecification theories, are sometimes considered too abstract to accurately reflect the communicative competence of native speakers. Followers of these arguments believe the less abstract surface forms are more "psychologically real" and thus more useful in terms of pedagogy.[13]

Diacritics

English has some words that can be written with accents. These words are mostly loanwords, usually from French.[14] As they become increasingly naturalised, there is an increasing tendency to omit the accent marks, even in formal writing. For example, rôle and hôtel originally had accents when they were borrowed into English, but now the accents are almost never used. The words were originally considered foreign—and some people considered that English alternatives were preferable—but today their foreign origin is largely forgotten. Words most likely to retain the accent are those atypical of English morphology and therefore still perceived as slightly foreign. For example, café and pâté both have a pronounced final ⟨e⟩, which would otherwise be silent under the normal English pronunciation rules. However, pâté, the acute accent is helpful to distinguish it from pate.

Further examples of words sometimes retaining diacritics when used in English are: ångström (partly because the scientific symbol for this unit of measurement is "Å"), appliqué, attaché, blasé, bric-à-brac, Brötchen,[b] cliché, crème, crêpe, façade, fiancé(e), flambé, jalapeño, naïve, naïveté, né(e), papier-mâché, passé, piñata, protégé, résumé, risqué, and voilà. Italics, with appropriate accents, are generally applied to foreign terms that are uncommonly used in or have not been assimilated into English: for example, adiós, crème brûlée, pièce de résistance, raison d'être, vis-à-vis, and belles-lettres.

It was formerly common in American English to use a diaeresis to indicate a hiatus, e.g. coöperate, daïs, and reëlect. The New Yorker and Technology Review magazines still use it for this purpose, even though it is increasingly rare in modern English. Nowadays, the diaeresis is normally left out (cooperate), or a hyphen is used (co-operate) if the hiatus is between two morphemes in a compound word. It is, however, still common in monomorphemic loanwords such as naïve and Noël.

Written accents are also used occasionally in poetry and scripts for dramatic performances to indicate that a certain normally unstressed syllable in a word should be stressed for dramatic effect, or to keep with the metre of the poetry. This use is frequently seen in archaic and pseudoarchaic writings with the -ed suffix, to indicate that the ⟨e⟩ should be fully pronounced, as with cursèd.

The acute and grave accents are occasionally used in poetry and lyrics: the acute to indicate stress overtly where it might be ambiguous (rébel vs. rebél) or nonstandard for metrical reasons (caléndar); the grave to indicate that an ordinarily silent or elided syllable is pronounced (warnèd, parlìament).

Ligatures

In certain older texts (typically British), the use of the ligatures ⟨æ⟩ and ⟨œ⟩ is common in words such as archæology, diarrhœa, and encyclopædia, all of Latin or Greek origin. Nowadays, the ligatures have been generally replaced by the digraphs ⟨ae⟩ and ⟨oe⟩ (encyclopaedia, diarrhoea) in British English or just ⟨e⟩ (encyclopedia, diarrhea) in American English, though both spell some words with only ⟨e⟩ (economy, ecology) and others with ⟨ae⟩ and ⟨oe⟩ (paean, amoeba, oedipal, Caesar). In some cases, usage may vary; for instance, both encyclopedia and encyclopaedia are current in the UK.

Phonic irregularities

Partly because English has never had any official regulating authority for spelling, such as the Spanish Real Academia Española, the French Académie française, and the German Rat für deutsche Rechtschreibung, English spelling, compared to many other languages, is quite irregular and complex. Although French, among other languages, presents a similar degree of difficulty when encoding (writing), English is more difficult when decoding (reading), as there are clearly many more possible pronunciations of a group of letters. For example, in French, /u/ (as in "true", but short), can be spelled ⟨ou, ous, out, oux⟩ (ou, nous, tout, choux), but the pronunciation of each of those sequences is always the same. In English, /uː/ can be spelled in up to 24 different ways, including ⟨oo, u, ui, ue, o, oe, ou, ough, ew⟩ (spook, truth, suit, blues, to, shoe, group, through, few) (see Sound-to-spelling correspondences below), but all of these have other pronunciations as well (e.g., as in foot, us, build, bluest, so, toe, grout, plough, sew) (See the Spelling-to-sound correspondences below). Thus, in unfamiliar words and proper nouns, the pronunciation of some sequences, ⟨ough⟩ being the prime example, is unpredictable to even educated native English speakers.

Spelling irregularities

Attempts to regularise or reform the spelling of English have usually failed. However, Noah Webster popularised more phonetic spellings in the United States, such as flavor for British flavour, fiber for fibre, defense for defence, analyze for analyse, catalog for catalogue, and so forth. These spellings already existed as alternatives, but Webster's dictionaries helped standardise them in the US.[15] (See American and British English spelling differences for details.)

Besides the quirks the English spelling system has inherited from its past, there are other irregularities in spelling that make it tricky to learn. English contains, depending on dialect, 24–27 consonant phonemes and 13–20 vowels. However, there are only 26 letters in the modern English alphabet, so there is not a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. Many sounds are spelled using different letters or multiple letters, and for those words whose pronunciation is predictable from the spelling, the sounds denoted by the letters depend on the surrounding letters. For example, ⟨th⟩ represents two different sounds (the voiced and voiceless dental fricatives) (see Pronunciation of English th), and the voiceless alveolar sibilant can be represented by ⟨s⟩ or ⟨c⟩.

It is, however, not (solely) the shortage of letters which makes English spelling irregular. Its irregularities are caused mainly by the use of many different spellings for some of its sounds, such as /uː/, /iː/ and /oʊ/ (too, true, shoe, flew, through; sleeve, leave, even, seize, siege; stole, coal, bowl, roll, old, mould), and the use of identical sequences for spelling different sounds (over, oven, move).

Furthermore, English no longer makes any attempt to anglicise the spellings of loanwords, but preserves the foreign spellings, even when they do not follow English spelling conventions like the Polish ⟨cz⟩ in Czech (rather than *Check) or the Norwegian ⟨fj⟩ in fjord (although fiord was formerly the most common spelling). In early Middle English, until roughly 1400, most imports from French were respelled according to English rules (e.g. bataillebattle, boutonbutton, but not double, or trouble). Instead of loans being respelled to conform to English spelling standards, sometimes the pronunciation changes as a result of pressure from the spelling, e.g. ski, adopted from Norwegian in the mid-18th century. It used to be pronounced /ʃiː/, similar to the Norwegian pronunciation, but the increasing popularity of the sport after the mid-20th century helped the /skiː/ pronunciation replace it.[citation needed]

There was also a period when the spelling of a small number of words was altered to make them conform to their perceived etymological origins. For example, ⟨b⟩ was added to debt (originally dette) to link it to the Latin debitum, and ⟨s⟩ in island to link it to Latin insula instead of its true origin, the Old English word īġland. ⟨p⟩ in ptarmigan has no etymological justification whatsoever, only seeking to show Greek origin despite being a Gaelic word.

The spelling of English continues to evolve. Many loanwords come from languages where the pronunciation of vowels corresponds to the way they were pronounced in Old English, which is similar to the Italian or Spanish pronunciation of the vowels, and is the value the vowel symbols ⟨a, e, i, o, u⟩ have in the International Phonetic Alphabet. As a result, there is a somewhat regular system of pronouncing "foreign" words in English,[citation needed] and some borrowed words have had their spelling changed to conform to this system. For example, Hindu used to be spelled Hindoo, and the name Maria used to be pronounced like the name Mariah, but was changed to conform to this system. This only further complicates the spelling, however. On the one hand, words that retained anglicised spellings may be misread in a hyperforeign way. On the other hand, words that are respelled in a 'foreign' way may be misread as if they are English words, e.g. Muslim was formerly spelled Mooslim because of its original pronunciation.

Commercial advertisers have also had an effect on English spelling. They introduced new or simplified spellings like lite instead of light, thru instead of through, and rucsac instead of rucksack.[citation needed] The spellings of personal names have also been a source of spelling innovations: diminutive versions of women's names that sound the same as men's names have been spelled differently: Nikki and Nicky, Toni and Tony, Jo and Joe. The differentiation in between names that are spelled differently but have the same phonetic sound may come from modernisation or different countries of origin. For example, Isabelle and Isabel sound the same but are spelled differently; these versions are from France and Spain respectively.[16]

As an example of the irregular nature of English spelling, ⟨ou⟩ can be pronounced at least nine different ways: /aʊ/ in out, /oʊ/ in soul, // in soup, /ʌ/ in touch, /ʊ/ in could, /ɔː/ in four, /ɜː/ in journal, /ɒ/ in cough, and /ə/ in famous (See Spelling-to-sound correspondences). In the other direction, // can be spelled in at least 18~21 different ways: be (cede), ski (machine), bologna (GA), algae, quay, beach, bee, deceit, people, key, keyed, field (hygiene), amoeba, chamois (GA), dengue (GA), beguine, guyot, and ynambu (See Sound-to-spelling correspondences). (These examples assume a more-or-less standard non-regional British English accent. Other accents will vary.)

Sometimes everyday speakers of English change a counterintuitive spelling simply because it is counterintuitive. Changes like this are not usually seen as "standard", but can become standard if used enough. An example is the word miniscule, which still competes with its original spelling of minuscule, though this might also be because of analogy with the word mini.[17][18]

History

Inconsistencies and irregularities in English pronunciation and spelling have gradually increased in number throughout the history of the English language. There are a number of contributing factors. First, gradual changes in pronunciation, such as the Great Vowel Shift, account for a tremendous number of irregularities. Second, relatively recent loan words generally carry their original spellings, which are often not phonetic in English. The Romanization of languages (e.g., Chinese) has further complicated this problem, for example when pronouncing Chinese proper names (of people or places).

The regular spelling system of Old English was swept away by the Norman Conquest, and English itself was supplanted in some spheres by Norman French for three centuries, eventually emerging with its spelling much influenced by French. English had also borrowed large numbers of words from French, and kept their French spellings. The spelling of Middle English is very irregular and inconsistent, with the same word being spelled in different ways, sometimes even in the same sentence. However, these were generally much better guides to the then-pronunciation than modern English spelling is.

For example, /ʌ/, normally written ⟨u⟩, is spelled with an ⟨o⟩ in one, some, love, etc., due to Norman spelling conventions which prohibited writing ⟨u⟩ before ⟨m, n, v⟩ due to the graphical confusion that would result. (⟨n, u, v⟩ were written identically with two minims in Norman handwriting; ⟨w⟩ was written as two ⟨u⟩ letters; ⟨m⟩ was written with three minims, hence ⟨mm⟩ looked like ⟨vun, nvu, uvu⟩, etc.). Similarly, spelling conventions also prohibited final ⟨v⟩. Hence the identical spellings of the three different vowel sounds in love, move, and cove are due to ambiguity in the Middle English spelling system, not sound change.

In 1417, Henry V began using English, which had no standardised spelling, for official correspondence instead of Latin or French which had standardised spelling, e.g. Latin had one spelling for right (rectus), Old French as used in English law had six and Middle English had 77. This motivated writers to standardise English spelling, an effort which lasted about 500 years.[19]

There was also a series of linguistic sound changes towards the end of this period, including the Great Vowel Shift, which resulted in the ⟨a⟩ in ate, for example, changing from a pure vowel to a diphthong. These changes for the most part did not detract from the rule-governed nature of the spelling system; but, in some cases, they introduced confusing inconsistencies, like the well-known example of the many pronunciations of ⟨ough⟩ (tough, through, though, cough, plough, etc.). Most of these changes happened before the arrival of printing in England. However, the arrival of the modern printing press in 1476 froze the current system, rather than providing the impetus for a realignment of spelling with pronunciation.[4] Furthermore, it introduced further inconsistencies, partly because of the use of typesetters trained abroad, particularly in the Low Countries. For example, the ⟨h⟩ in ghost was influenced by Flemish.[4][20] The addition and deletion of a silent e at the ends of words was also sometimes used to make the right-hand margin line up more neatly.[20]

By the time dictionaries were introduced in the mid-17th century, the spelling system of English had started to stabilise. By the 19th century, most words had set spellings, though it took some time before they diffused throughout the English-speaking world. In The Mill on the Floss (1860), English novelist George Eliot satirised the attitude of the English rural gentry of the 1820s towards orthography:

Mr. Tulliver did not willingly write a letter, and found the relation between spoken and written language, briefly known as spelling, one of the most puzzling things in this puzzling world. Nevertheless, like all fervid writing, the task was done in less time than usual, and if the spelling differed from Mrs. Glegg's,–why, she belonged, like himself, to a generation with whom spelling was a matter of private judgment.

The modern English spelling system, with its national variants, spread together with the expansion of public education later in the 19th century.

"Ough" words

The most notorious multigraph in the English language is the tetragraph ⟨ough⟩, which can be pronounced in at least ten different ways, six of which are illustrated in the construct, Though the tough cough and hiccough plough him through, which is quoted by Robert A. Heinlein in The Door into Summer to illustrate the difficulties facing automated speech transcription and reading. Ough itself is a word, an exclamation of disgust similar to ugh, though rarely known or used. The following are typical pronunciations of this string of letters:

  • // (as in so) in though and dough
  • /ʌf/ (as in cuff) in tough, rough, enough, and the name Hough
  • /ɒf/ (as in off) in trough, cough, and Gough
  • // (as in blue) in through
  • /ɔː/ (as in saw) in thought, ought, sought, nought, brought, etc.
  • /ə/ (as in comma) in thorough, borough, and names ending in -borough; however, American English pronounces this as //
  • // (as in how) in bough, sough, drought, plough (plow in North America), doughty, and the names Slough and Doughty
  • /ɒx/ (as in loch; mainly in words of Gaelic origin) in the word lough (an anglicised variant of loch used in Ireland) and in Irish place names, such as Ardclough, Glendalough, Loughmoe, Loughrea, etc.

The following pronunciations are found in uncommon single words:

  • hough: /ɒk/ (more commonly spelled "hock" now)
  • hiccough (a now-uncommon variant of hiccup): /ʌp/ as in up
  • Oughterard (Irish place name): /x/

The place name Loughborough uses two different pronunciations of ⟨ough⟩: the first ⟨ough⟩ has the sound as in cuff and the second rhymes with thorough.

Spelling-to-sound correspondences

Notes:

  • In the tables, the hyphen has two different meanings. A hyphen after the letter indicates that it must be at the beginning of a syllable, e.g., ⟨j⟩- in jumper and ajar. A hyphen before the letter indicates that it cannot be at the beginning of a word, e.g., -⟨ck⟩ in sick and ticket.
  • More specific rules take precedence over more general ones, e.g., "⟨c⟩- before ⟨e, i, y⟩" takes precedence over "⟨c⟩".
  • Where the letter combination is described as "word-final", inflectional suffixes may be added without changing the pronunciation, e.g., catalogues.
  • The dialect used is RP. Several entries are indicated as specifically being GA.
  • Isolated foreign borrowings are excluded.

Vowels

In a generative approach to English spelling, Rollings (2004) identifies twenty main orthographic vowels of stressed syllables that are grouped into four main categories: "Lax", "Tense", "Heavy", "Tense-R".

Letter Lax Tense Heavy Tense-R
IPA example IPA example IPA example IPA example
a /æ/ man /eɪ/ mane /ɑːr/ mar /ɛər/ mare
e /ɛ/ met /iː/ mete /ɜːr/ her /ɪər/ here
i /ɪ/ win /aɪ/ wine /ɜːr/ fir /aɪər/ fire
o /ɒ/ mop /oʊ/ mope /ɔːr/ for[i] /ɔːr/ fore[i]
u /ʌ/ hug /juː/ huge /ɜːr/ cur /jʊər/ cure
/ʊ/ push /uː/ rude [ii] /ʊər/ sure
  1. ^ a b no distinction between heavy and tense-r ⟨o⟩ in most varieties of English (see horse–hoarse merger).
  2. ^ ⟨u⟩ in the /ʊ/, /uː/, /ʊər/ pattern does not have a heavy vowel.
Digraph Lax Tense Heavy Tense-R
IPA example IPA example IPA example IPA example
ai, ay /eɪ/ bait - /ɛər/ air
essay Ayr
au, aw /ɔː/ audio /ɔːr/ aura
draw rawr
ea /ɛ/ dreamt /iː/ dream /ɜːr/ learn /ɪər/ hear
ee /iː/ see - /ɪər/ beer
eu, ew /juː/ feudal /jʊ(ə)r/ neurotic
few Newry
oa /oʊ/ boat /ɔːr/ coarse /ɔːr/ soar
oo /ʊ/ foot /uː/ goose - /ʊər/ poor
ou, ow /ʌ/ southern /aʊ/ south /ɜːr/ scourge /aʊər/ hour
now dowry
/oʊ/ soul /ɔːr/ four
/ɒ/ knowledge know
oi, oy /ɔɪ/ point /ɔɪər/ coir
boy Moyra

For instance, ⟨a⟩ can represent the lax vowel /æ/, tense /eɪ/, heavy /ɑː/, or tense-r /ɛə/. Heavy and tense-r vowels are the respective lax and tense counterparts followed by ⟨r⟩.

Tense vowels are distinguished from lax vowels with a "silent" ⟨e⟩ that is added at the end of words. Thus, ⟨a⟩ in hat is lax /æ/, but when ⟨e⟩ is added in the word hate ⟨a⟩ is tense /eɪ/. Heavy and tense-r vowels follow a similar pattern, e.g. ⟨ar⟩ in car is heavy /ɑːr/, ⟨ar⟩ followed by silent ⟨e⟩ in care is /ɛər/. ⟨u⟩ represents two different vowel patterns, one being /ʌ/, /juː/, /ɜː/, /jʊə/, the other /ʊ/, /uː/, /ʊə/. There is no distinction between heavy and tense-r ⟨o⟩, and ⟨u⟩ in the /ʊ/, /uː/, /ʊə/ pattern does not have a heavy vowel.

Besides silent ⟨e⟩, another strategy for indicating tense and tense-r vowels is the addition of another orthographic vowel forming a digraph. In this case, the first vowel is usually the main vowel while the second vowel is the "marking" vowel. For example, man has a lax ⟨a⟩ (/æ/), but the addition of ⟨i⟩ (as the digraph ⟨ai⟩) in main marks the ⟨a⟩ as tense (/eɪ/). These two strategies produce words that are spelled differently but pronounced identically, which helps differentiate words that would otherwise be homonyms, as in mane (silent ⟨e⟩ strategy), main (digraph strategy) and Maine (both strategies).

Besides the 20 basic vowel spellings, Rollings (2004) has a reduced vowel category (representing the sounds /ə, ɪ/) and a miscellaneous category (representing the sounds /ɔɪ, aʊ, aɪ/ and /j/+V, /w/+V, V+V).

Combinations of vowel letters

To reduce dialectal difficulties, the sound values given here correspond to the conventions at Help:IPA/English. This table includes ⟨h, w, y⟩ when they represent vowel sounds. If no information is given, it is assumed that the vowel is in a stressed syllable.

Deriving the pronunciation of an English word from its spelling requires not only a careful knowledge of the rules given below (many of which are not explicitly known even by native speakers: speakers merely learn the spelling of a word along with its pronunciation) and their many exceptions, but also:

  • a knowledge of which syllables are stressed and which are unstressed (not derivable from the spelling: compare hallow and allow)
  • which combinations of vowels represent monosyllables and which represent disyllables (ditto: compare waive and naive, creature and creator)
Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Minor
values
Examples of minor value Exceptions
a in closed syllables
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
/æ/ hatchet, banner, tally
acrobat, cat
/eɪ/ ancient, chamber, pastry,
bass
  • /ɒ/ yacht, restaurant
  • /ɛ/ catch (GA)
  • /ʌ/ apsaras
  • ∅ forecastle
/ɑː/ RP: aft, ask, dance, past
  • followed by 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ, ə/
/æ/ national, camera, reality
acid, granite, palace
/eɪ/ nationhood, scathingly
basis, aphasic
∅ sarsaparilla
before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + cons.
  • open syllables
/ɑː/ bar, cart
barred, marring
/ɛə/ scarce
/æ/ sarsaparilla (GA)
/ɜː/ dharna
in open syllables or before cons. + ⟨e⟩
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/eɪ/ ache, gave,
opaque, savor, status
table, hatred, April
chaos, aorta, mosaic
/æ/ have, plaque, manor, statue
macle, sacrifice, theatrical
/ɛ/ many, any, ate (RP)
/aɪ/ naive (also with /ɑː/)
/ʌ/ sati
/ɑː/ debacle
gala, lava, slalom, sonata
before final -⟨nge, ste⟩ /eɪ/ range, exchange, haste /æ/ flange, caste (GA)
/ɑː/ melange
before ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • open syllables
/ɛə/[i] area, care, garish, antiquarian, square, wariness /æ/[i]
/ɑː/
arid, parish, mariners, caraway
aria, are, safaris, faraway
/ɔː/ quarantine (GA)
/ɒ/ waratah
/ʌ/ bharal
after /w/ except before /k, g, ŋ/
  • closed syllables
/ɒ/ want, watch,
swamp, swastika, wallet
/ɒ/ (RP), /ɔː/ (GA)
/ɔː/
/eɪ/
wasp
wall, walnut, waltz
wastage
/ɑː/ qualm (also /ɔː/), suave, swami
/æ/ swam, aquatic (RP)
/ʌ/ wa(GA), wha(GA)
after /w/ before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + cons.
  • closed syllables
/ɔː/ war, award, dwarf, warning, quarter, warring
after /w/ except before /k, g, ŋ/
  • open syllables
/eɪ/ persuade, swathe /ɒ/
/ɒ/ (RP), /ɔː/ (GA)
/ɔː/
quality,
squash, wapiti, wash
water
word-final /ɑː/ bra, cha-cha, schwa, spa
unstressed in -⟨ace, age, ase, ate⟩
(except verbs)
/ɪ, ə/ palace, damage, forage, garbage, pirate, private /ɑː/
/ɪ/
RP: garage, barrage
chocolate, purchase, solace
/eɪ/ rampage, primate
elsewhere /ə/ about, an, salary, woman,
blancmange, opera, via
/ə/ to ∅
/eɪ/
artistically, ordinary, necessary
probate, folate, kinase
/i/ karaoke, bologna (GA)
/ɑː/ retard (n), canard (RP)
/æ/ Assam
/ʌ/ chaprassi
aa, ah /ɑː/ baa, aardvark, blah /æ/ (/ɛə/)
/ə/
Aaron
Isaac, bar mitzvah
/eɪ/ Quaalude
ae usually /iː/ encyclopaedia, paediatrician /ɛ/ aesthetic /eɪ/ reggae, sundae, Gael
/aɪ/ maestro
/æ/ Gaelic (Scottish Gaelic)
/ə/ Michael, polkaed
before ⟨r⟩ /ɛə/ aerial, aeroplane /ɪə/ chimaera /ə/ anaerobe
ai stressed /eɪ/ daisy, laid, paisley, regain, waif /aɪ/
/ɛ/
/eɪ.ɪ/
aisle, bonsai, daimon, krait
said, again, against
dais, laic, mosaic, papain
/æ/ plaid, plaited, daiquiri
/aɪˈiː/ naif, caique
/i.ɪ/ archaism (RP)
before ⟨r⟩ /ɛə/ cairn, millionaire, dairy /aɪ/ hetaira, zaire
unstressed /ɪ, ə/ bargain, mountain, portrait /ə/ certain, coxswain, spritsail
ao /aʊ/ manoao, miaow, Maoism, cacao (GA) /eɪ/
/eɪ.ɒ/
/eɪˈɔː/
/eɪə/
/ɔː/
/iˈoʊ/
/ɑːoʊ/
gaol
kaon, chaos
aorta
aorist, kaolin
extraordinary
karaoke
baobab
au /ɔː/ aura, cause, fraud, slaughter /ɒ/
/ɑː/ (/æ/)[ii]
/aʊ/
/oʊ/
because (RP), laurel (RP), leprechau(GA)
aunt, draught, laughter
degauss, graupel, trauma (GA)
chauffeur, gauche, mauve
/eɪ/ gauge
/aʊə/ gaur
/ʌ/ because (GA)
/ə/ aurora, meerschaum
∅ restaurant
aw /ɔː/ awed, flaw, hawk, tawny /aʊ/ Mawlid
ay /eɪ/ bayonet, essays, grayer, hayride /aɪ/
/ɛ/
aye, bayou, kayak, papaya
mayor, prayer, says
/iː/ cay, quay, parlay
/əj/ gayal
e in closed syllables
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
/ɛ/ petty, lethargy, merry, trebleget, watershed /iː/ axes (plural of axis) /ɪ/ pretty, English
/ɒ/ ennui, entourage, genre
/eɪ/ eh
/ʌ/ feng shui
  • bef. 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɛ/ legacy, elegant, delicate, metric, crevice, epic /iː/ lethal, reflex, Stephen, feces, legally, devious, premium, evil, scenic, strategic
before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + other cons. /ɜː/ her, coerced, jerk, merchant, erring, preferred /ɛə/ berceuse /ɑː/ clerk, sergeant
/ɛ/ error
in open syllables
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • final, only vowel in word
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/iː/ even, demon, fetal, recombine
metre, secret, egret, secretion
be, she
museum, neon, theater (GA)
/ɛ/ ever, lemon, petal, recollect
petrol, debris (RP), discretion
/eɪ/ crepe, suede, ukulele
/eɪ/ abbe, cafe (GA), saute, seance, rodeo, deity  (RP) /ɛ/ yeah (GA)
before ⟨r⟩ + vowel /ɪə/ here, series, reremice, stereo /ɛə/
/ɛ/
/iː/
compere, there, werewolf
derelict, heresy, perish, very
derail, reremind
/ɜː/ were, weregild
unstressed word-final discipline, recites, smile, limitrophe /iː/ recipes, simile, apostrophe, deled /eɪ/ latte, mores, protege
before heterosyllabic vowel /i/ create, area, atheism, video /eɪ/ fideism, realpolitik
elsewhere /ɪ, ə/ market, ticket, honest, college, boxes, perfect, express, believe /ə/ taken, decency, moment /ɛ/ contest, alphabet, princess
ea in closed syllables
  • before multiple consonants
/ɛ/ dreamt, cleanse /iə/ realty, fealty /ɔː/ ealderman, /æ/ poleax,
/eɪ.ɑː/ seance
before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + cons. /ɜː/ pearly, hearse, yearning, earth /ɪə/
/ɑː/
/ɛə/
/iːə/
dearly, hears, yearling, tear
hearken, hearty, hearth
tear, bears
linear, nuclear
/ɪ/ beard, peart
/eɪə/ bearnaise,
/i'ɑː/ rearm
in open syllables
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • final, only vowel in word
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/iː/ read (infinitive), leaf, zeal, dreams, cleans /ɛ/
/eɪ/
/ə/
/iːə, ɪə/
/ɪə/
/iːə/
/iːeɪ/
read (past simple), deaf, zealot
break, great, eagre, yea
hydrangea, likeable, ocean
ideal, real, cereal
idea
urea, laureate
creating, protease, reagent
/ɑː/ orgeat
/ɛə/ yeah
/æ/ whereas
/iːæ/ caveat
/ɪ/ mileage
/iː.ɪ/ lineage
/iːæ/ beatify, reality
/eɪˈɑː/ real
before ⟨r⟩ + vowel /ɛə/ wearing /iːə/ stearin /iː/ tearoom
eau /oʊ/ bureau, plateau, tableau /juː/ beauty /ɒ/ bureaucracy
/ə/ bureaucrat
ee usually /iː/ bee, breech, feed, trainee /ɪ/ breeches, bee(GA) /eɪ/ matinee, fiancees, nee
/i/ bungee, coffee
/iː.ə/ freest, weest
/iː.ɛ/ reecho, /iː.ɪ/ reelect
/ɛ/ threepence (also /ɪ/ or /ʌ/)
before ⟨r⟩ /ɪə/ cheering, beer, eerie /iːə/ freer, seers
eh /eɪ/ eh, prehnite, tempeh /ɛə/ yeh /ɛ/ feh /ə/, keffiyeh
ei, ey usually /eɪ/ veil, weight, heinous, obey /iː/
/aɪ/
/iːɪ/
caffeine, seize, key, geyser
either, height, heist, heinie, eye
albeit, being, cysteine, deist
/ɛ/ heifer, leisure, seigneur
/æ/ reveille, serein
/eɪ.ɪ/ fideist, /iˈaɪ/ deice
after ⟨c⟩ /iː/ deceive, ceiling, conceit /æ/ ceinture, enceinte
/eɪ.ɪ/ glaceing, /iːɪ/ haecceity
before ⟨r⟩ /ɛə/ heir, madeira, their /ɪə/ weird, weir, eyrie /aɪ/ oneiric, eirenic
unstressed word-final /i/
/iː/
monkey, volley, curtsey, jersey /eɪ/ survey (n)
elsewhere /ɪ, ə/ foreign, counterfeit, forfeit /ə/
mullein, villein
/ɪ/ ageist, herein, ogreish
eo usually bisyllabic /iːɒ/
/iːoʊ/
/iːə/
eon, geology, reoffer, teleost
creole, geode, leonine, video
galleon, leotard, peon, theory
/ɛ/
/iː/
/ə/
feoffee, jeopardy, leopard
feoff, people
luncheon, pigeon, embraceor
/oʊ/ yeoman, /ɛə/ ceorl
/juː/ feodary, /uːi/ geoduck
/eɪoʊ/ rodeo, teosinte
/ɒ/ thereon
/ʌ/ whereof
/wʌ/ someone
eu, ew, ieu, iew usually /juː/ deuce, feudal, queue,
dew, ewe, view
/ɜː/
/uː/
/iːə/
berceuse, danseuse
leukemia, lewd, lieu (sic)
museum, pileus
/oʊ/ sew, shew
/ɛf/ lieutenant (RP), /jɜː/ milieu
/iːˈjuː/ reuse,
/iːʌ/ reutters
/ʌ/ pileup,
∅ fauteuil
/ɔɪ/ Freudian
after /r, ʃ, ʒ, j/, or cons. + /l/ /uː/ rheumatism, sleuth, jewel, blew /iːə/ nucleus
before ⟨r⟩ /jʊə/ euro, liqueur, neural /ɜː/ masseur, voyeur /ʊə/ pleurisy, /iːɜː/ theurgy
unstressed before ⟨r⟩ /ju(ə)/ eurhythmic, neurotic /jə/
/ə/
aneurism, derailleur, grandeur
amateur, chauffeur
i in closed syllables
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in worded
/ɪ/ dissent, mislaid, slither
kiss, sic, bit, inflict, hint, plinth
/aɪ/ dissect, island,
indict, pint, ninth
/æ/ meringue, timbre, absinthe (also /ɪ/)
/iː/ artiste, chenille, skis, chic, ambergris
  • bef. 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
  • before cons. + ⟨e, i⟩ + vowel
/ɪ/ litany, liberal, chivalry, misery
finish, limit, minute (n)
hideous, position, Sirius
/aɪ/ blithely, irony, libelous, rivalry, miserly whitish, writing, shinier, tidied
before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + cons.
(and in derived terms)
/ɜː/ bird, fir, stirrer /ɪə/ menhir
/aɪə/ ritonavir (also with /ɪə/)
/ə/ triumvir
in open syllables
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • before -⟨gh, gn⟩
  • word final
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/aɪ/ cited, dive, mica, rise, polite, shine
idle, trifle, nitrous, mitres
sighed, signage
alumni, alibi, radii
vial, quiet, prior, pious
/ɪ/ city, give, vicar, risen
triple, citrus, giblets
pighead, signal
/iː/ ski, police, elite, machine, litres, in vitro, chignon, Monsignor
clientele, fiat, lien, skiing
before -⟨nd, ld⟩ /aɪ/ wilder, remind /ɪ/ bewilder, rescind
before ⟨r⟩ + vowel (except
bef. 2+ unstressed syllables)
/aɪə/ pirate, mired, virus, iris, wiring /ɪ/ mirage, virile, iridescent, spirit
unstressed before heterosyllabic vowel /j/ onion, minion /aɪ/ biology, diameter ∅ parliament, lieu, nostalgia
/i/ liaison, alien, radii, idiot
elsewhere /ɪ, ə/ divide, permit (n), livid, typical /ə/ giraffe, pencil, cousin, Cheshire ∅ business
/aɪ/ director, minute (adj)
/aɪə/ sapphire
ie word-finally /aɪ/ belie, die, untie, vie /i/ goalie, oldie, auntie, movie /eɪ/ lingerie (GA), /ieɪ/ kyrie
elsewhere /iː/ field, siege, rabies, skied /aɪ/
/aɪə/
/iə/ to /jə/
/iˈɛ/
allied, pied, skies
client, diet, science, sliest
ambient, alien, oriel, ugliest
orient (v), acquiesce
/ɪ/ sieve, mischief, kerchief
/ɛ/ friend, hygienic (GA)
/aɪˈɛ/ biennial
/aɪiː/ diene
/iːɒ/ clientele
/iˈiː/ medieval
/iːə/ lien
before ⟨r⟩ /ɪə/ cashier, fierce, frontier, pier /aɪə/
/iə/ to /jə/
shier, fiery, hierarchy, plier
busier, rapier, glacier, hosiery
/iɛə/ concierge, premiere
/iˈeɪ/ atelier, bustier, dossier
/iːə/ skier
o in closed syllables
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
/ɒ/ doctor, bother, donkey
dot, bomb, wonk, font
/ʌ/
/oʊ/
won, monkey, front
gross, comb, wonted, both
/uː/ tomb, womb
/ʊ/ wolf
/wʌ/ once
/ɔː/ (GA) long, broth
  • bef. 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɒ/ opera, colonise, botany
topic, solid, promise
/oʊ/ brokenly, probity, diplomacy
meiosis, aerobic
in open syllables
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • word-final
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
    (inc. unstressed)
/oʊ/ omen, grove, total
noble, cobra
banjo, go
boa, poet, stoic
cooperate, proactive
/ɒ/
/uː/
/ʌ/
/ə/
proper, gone, shone (RP)
to, who, move, doable
come, love, done, colander
purpose, Europe
/ʊ/ woman, bosom
/ɪ/ women
/wʌ/ one
∅ colonel, chocolate
before ⟨r⟩ /ɔː/ ford, boring, more /ɒ/ forest, borrow, moral /ɜː/ whorl
/ʌ/ borough
/oʊ/ forecastle
after ⟨w⟩, before ⟨r⟩ /ɜː/ word, work, worst /ɔː/ worn, sword, swore /ʌ/ worry
unstressed /ə/ eloquent, wanton, author /ɒ/ neuron, proton
/ɪ, ə/ hydrogen
oa
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • word-final
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
    (inc. unstressed)
/oʊ/ boat, coal, load, coaxing /oʊə/
/oʊæ/
/oʊˈeɪ/
boa, inchoate
coaxial, ogdoad
oasis, cloaca
/ɔː/ broad
/uːə/ doable
/oʊˈɑː/ koala
/wɑː/ quinoa
before ⟨r⟩ /ɔː/ boar, coarse, keyboard, soaring /ə/ cupboard, starboard
/oʊˈɑː/ coarctate
oe usually /iː/ amoeba, coelacanth, foetal, phoenix /oʊ/
/uː/
/oʊˈɛ/
doeskin, woeful
shoelace, canoeing
poetic, soever, orthoepic
/ɛ/ foetid, roentgen
/oʊˈiː/ coeval, noesis
/oʊˈɜː/ coerce
/oʊə/ poetry, orthoepy
last vowel in word /oʊ/ foe, goes, toed, woe /uː/
/oʊɛ/
/oʊə/
/oʊɪ, oʊə/
shoes, canoe
coed, noel, phloem
goer
loess, poem
/ʌ/ does
/uːə/ doeth, doer
/ɜː/ foehn
/oʊiː/ diploe, kalanchoe
unstressed /ɪ/ oedema, oesophagus /oʊ/ aloe, echoed, oboes, soloed /uː/ hoopoe
oeu /uː/ manoeuvre /ɜː(r)/ hors d'oeuvre
oh final or before a consonant /oʊ/ oh, kohlrabi, ohm, pharaoh /ɒ/ John, johnny /ɔː/ bohrium
/ə/ matzoh
oi usually /ɔɪ/ boing, moist, coin, envoi /oʊɪ/
/wɑː/
/ə/
going, egoist, heroin, stoic
bourgeois, coiffeur, patois
connoisseur, porpoise, tortoise
/uːɪ/ doing
/wæ/ croissant (RP)
/i/ chamois
/oʊaɪ/ ghettoise, oroide
before ⟨r⟩ /wɑː/ reservoir, memoir, moire, soiree /ɔɪə/ coir, loir /waɪə/ choir
/ə/ avoirdupois
oo usually /uː/ cool, sooth, boot, goosebumps /ʊ/ wool, soot, foot, gooseberry /oʊ/ brooch
/oʊ ɒ/ coopt, zoology
before ⟨k, d⟩ /ʊ/ cook, shook, wood, stood /uː/ kook, spook, food, brood /ʌ/ flood, blood
before ⟨r⟩ /ʊə/ poor, moor, roorback /oʊ.ɔː/ coordinate /ɔː/ door, flooring
/ə/ whippoorwill
ou
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • before -⟨nd, ld, gh, gn⟩
  • word final
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/aʊ/ out, aloud, bough /uː/
/ʌ/
/oʊ/
soup, you, through
touch
soul, dough
/juː/ (GA): ampoule, coupon
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
  • bef. 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
  • before cons. + ⟨e, i⟩ + vowel
/ʊ/ could, should /ʌ/
/oʊ/
trouble, country
boulder
/ɒ/ cough, fount (printing)
stressed before ⟨r⟩ /ɔː/ four, courtesan, discourse /aʊə/
/ɜː/
/ʊ(ə)/
hour, flour, scours
journey, courtesy, scourge
tour, courier, gourd (RP), velour
/ʌ/ encourage, flourish
unstressed /ə/ camouflage, labour, nervous /ʊ/
/ʊə/
bivouac, bedouin, potpourri
detour, fourchette
/ʌ/ hiccough
/w/ ratatouille, ouabaine
ow stressed /aʊ/ owl, bow, row, sow, allow /oʊ/ own, bow, row, sow, alow /ɒ/ acknowledge
/ɒ/ or /ʌ/ rowlock
before ⟨r⟩ /aʊə/ dowry, cowries /oʊ/ cowrites, showroom
unstressed /oʊ/ yellow, teabowl, landowner /aʊ/ peafowl, sundowner /əw/ cassowary, toward (RP)
oy /ɔɪ/ boy, doyenne, foyer, voyage /waɪ/ voyeur, noyade /oʊj/ oyez
/aɪ/ coyote (GA)
/i/ buoy (GA)
u in closed syllables
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
/ʌ/ budding, cuckold, mullet
but, gull, fuss
/ʊ/ pudding, cuckoo, bullet, put, full, puss /uː/ ruthless, brut
/juː/ butte, debut, fuchsia, tulle
before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + cons. /ɜː/ turn, occur, curdle, burr
furry, demurral, blurred, recurring
/ʌ/ recurrent, occurrenceRP /ʊə/ langur
in open syllables
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
  • word-final
/juː/ mute, student, puny, union, fuses
bugle, hubris, nutrient (RP)
duo, nuance, pursuant, ensuing
menu, emu, impromptu (RP)
/ʌ/
/uː/
study, punish, bunion, buses
butler, cutlery, subrogate
super, lunar, absolute, revolution
suet, lucrative, lugubrious
hindu, tutu, tofu, truth
/ɪ/ busy, business
in open syllables after /r, ʃ, ʒ, j/, or cons. + /l/
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
  • word-final
/uː/ rule, chute, June, recluses
scruples, rubric
truant, fluent, cruelty
flu, guru
/juː/ overuse, underused /ʌ/ pluses, runaway, truculent, clubroom, rumrunner
after ⟨s⟩ pronounced /ʃ, ʒ/
  • in open syllables
/ʊ/ sugar
before ⟨r⟩ + vowel /jʊ(ə)/ lure, purity, curing /ʊ(ə)/ allure, guru, Silurian /ɛ/ bury, burial
above after /r, ʃ, ʒ, j/, or cons. + /l/ /ʊ(ə)/ rural, sure, jury, plural
after ⟨g⟩ before ⟨e, i, y⟩ guest, guide, vaguer /w/ segue, distinguish ambiguity
before ⟨a, o⟩ /w/ language guard, languor /juː/ jaguar (RP)
after ⟨q⟩ /w/ quail, conquest, banquet, quite quay, conquer, bouquet, mosquito
unstressed before ⟨r⟩ /jə/ accurate, failure, tenure /ʊə/ plurality
elsewhere /ə/ support, industry, useful, medium /juː/
/ʌ/
debut
guffaw, unruly, upend, vulgarity
/ɪ, ə/ minute, lettuce
ue after ⟨g⟩ word final league, tongue /juː/ ague /eɪ/ merengue, /i/ dengue
word medial /ɛ/
/ə/
guest, guessed, baguette
guerrilla, beleaguered

/juː/

vaguely, intrigued

argued

/weɪ/ segued, /wɛ/ guenon
/wə/ unguent, /wiː/ ungues
/juːə/ arguer
/iː/ Portuguese
after ⟨r⟩, or cons. + ⟨l⟩ /uː/ true, clue, gruesome, blues /uːə/ influence, cruel, fluent, bluest /uː.ɪ/ cruet, /uːɛ/ influential
elsewhere (except after ⟨q⟩) /juː/ virtue, cue, valued, hue, muesli /juːə/
/juːɛ/
/uː/
/uːə/
fuel, constituent, rescuer
innuendo, statuesque, minuet
Sue, snafued (GA: due, revenue)
GA: duel, pursuer
/uː.ɪ/ suet, /uːɛ/ muezzin
/juːiː/ tenues, /juːeɪ/ habitue
/jʊə/ puerile, /ʊ/ muenster
/weɪ/ suede, Venezuelan
/wɛ/ pueblo, /wɪ/ desuetude
ui after ⟨g⟩ /ɪ/
/aɪ/
guild, guitar, intriguing, roguish

guide, guise, beguile

/wɪ/ anguish, penguin, linguist, sanguine /iː/ beguine, /wiː/ linguine
/juːɪ/ arguing, aguish
/juːə/ contiguity
after ⟨j, r⟩ or cons. + ⟨l⟩ /uː/ juice, cruise, sluice, fruiting /uːɪ/ fruition, fluid, ruin, druid, truism /uːə/ incongruity, /uː.j/ alleluia
/ʊ/ Cruickshank
elsewhere (except after ⟨q⟩) /juːɪ/
/ɪ/
conduit, cuing, genuine,
Buick, circuitous, Jesuit
build, circuit, biscuit, pursuivant
/uː/
/juːə/
/juː/
/uːɪ/
suit, suitable, nuisance (GA)
intuitive (RP), promiscuity
nuisance (RP), puisne
suicide, tui, Inuit, Hinduism
/aɪ/ duiker, /ə/ circuitry
/wɪ/ cuisine, suint
/wiː/ suite, ennui, tuille
/uːaɪ/ sui generis
/weɪ/ feng shui
uu /juə/ continuum, residuum /uə/ menstruum /(j)uːʌ/ duumvir
/juː/ vacuu(GA)
/uː/ muumuu
uy /aɪ/ buy, buyout, guyed /iː/
/wi/
guyot, cliquy, plaguy
obsequy, soliloquy
/jʊɪ/ toluyl
/uːj/ thuya, gruyere
/wiː/ puy
/wiːj/ tuyere
w /uː/ cwm
y
  • before multiple consonants
  • bef. 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɪ/ myth, cryptic, system, symbol
cylinder, typical, pyramid, dynasty
cynic, lyric, lytic, syringe
/aɪ/ cyclone, hyphen, psyche, python
hydrogen, dynasty (GA)
cyclist, hybrid, psychic, typist
before final ⟨r⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + cons. /ɜː/ myrtle, myrrh /ɪ/ pyrrhic
  • before single consonant
  • before cons. + -⟨le⟩ or ⟨r⟩ + vowel
  • word-final
/aɪ/ typing, style, paralyze, nylon
cycle, cypress, hydrate, lycra
awry, by, deny, sky, supply
/ɪ/ byzantine, synod, synagogue,
Cypriote, sycophantic
before ⟨r⟩ + vowel /aɪə/ lyre, tyrant, gyrate /ɪ/ syrup, Pyrenees
unstressed word-final /i/ any, city, happy, only, supply (adv) /aɪ/ ally (n)
elsewhere /ɪ/ bicycle, oxygen, polymer,
dyslexia, physique, synonymous
/ə/
/aɪ/
/i/
sibyl, martyr, pyjamas
dynamics, hypothesis, typhoon
anyway, everything
  1. ^ a b In many if not most North American accents, /ær/ is merged with /ɛr/.
  2. ^ The BATH lexical set is pronounced with /æ/ in GA.

Consonants

Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Other
values
Examples of other values
b, bb word final after ⟨m⟩ climber, numbing, bombed /b/ iamb, nimb
elsewhere /b/ bit, ebb, limber, bombe, obtain, blood, bring combe, bdellium, debtor, doubt
c before ⟨e, i, y, ae, oe⟩ /s/ cellar, city, cyst,
face, prince, nicer
caesium, coelacanth
/tʃ/
/ʃ/
/ʒ/
/k/
/ts/
cello, vermicelli
special, liquorice
coercion
Celts, chicer, syncing
letovicite
word initial before ⟨n, t⟩ cnidarian, ctenoid
elsewhere /k/ cat, cross, predict, opuscule, picture blancmange, indict, muscle, victual
cc before ⟨e, i, y⟩ /ks/ accept, eccentric, occidental /k/
/tʃ/
/s/
soccer, recce, siccing
bocce, breccia, cappuccino
flaccid
elsewhere /k/ account, accrue, occur, yucca
ch after ⟨n⟩ /(t)ʃ/ branch, truncheon, franchise, trenchant /k/
/tʃ/
/ʃ/
inchoate, synchronise, elasmobranch
enchant, enchilada, chinchilla
penchant
in words of Greek origin /k/ chasm, chimera, chord, lichen drachm
in words of Modern French origin /ʃ/ chaise, machine, cached, parachute /k/
/tʃ/
chemist, choir, machination
chassis (GA), cheque, chowder, nich(GA)
elsewhere /tʃ/ chase, chin, attached, chore /k/
/ʃ/
/h/
/dʒ/
/x/
ached, anchor, leprechaun
machete, pistachio, welch
chutzpah (also with /x/)
sandwich, Greenwich
loch
yacht, Crichton
ck /k/ tack, ticket
d, dd, dh /d/ dive, ladder, jodhpurs /t/
/dʒ/
/ð/
ached, creased, iced, puffed, raked
graduate, gradual (both also /dj/ in RP)
gorsedd, edh
Wednesday, handsome, sandwich, ceilidh
dg before ⟨e, i, y⟩ or a suffix /dʒ/ lodger, pidgin, edgy, abridgment, acknowledgment, judgment, lodgment, fledgling /dɡ/ headgear
f, ff /f/ fine, off, affinity /v/ of
g before ⟨e, i, y, ae, oe⟩ /ɡ/
/dʒ/
get, eager, gig, algae (RP)
gel, pager, gin, algae (GA)
gentle, rage, gigantic, regimen
/ʒ/ genre, barrage, gigue, regime
before ⟨m, n⟩ phlegmy, diaphragm
gnome, signed, poignant, reign
/ɡ/
/ʒ/
pigmy, signet, indignant
judgment
elsewhere /ɡ/ go, great, leg, margaric /dʒ/
/x/
margarine, gaol
witgat
gg /ɡ/ dagger, smuggest, staggerring /dʒ/
/ɡdʒ/
agger, suggest, exaggerate
suggest (GA)[i]
gh word-initial /ɡ/ ghost, ghastly, ghetto
elsewhere daughter, through, fraught, brougham
eight, higher, straight, sighed
/ə/ /oʊ/
/x/ /k/
/k/
/f/
/ɡ/
/ɡh/
/p/
burgh
lough, saugh
hough
laughter, trough, draught, rough
burgher, ogham, yogh
leghorn, pigheaded
hiccough
h word-final or after ⟨r, ex⟩ oh, rhubarb, rhyme, exhibit, exhaust /h/ exhale, exhume (in RP)
elsewhere /h/ honey, heist, house, manhandle
doohickey, vehicular
j w ∅ posthumous (in RP) Nahuatl honest, heir, hours, piranha
annihilate, vehicle, dinghy
j /dʒ/ jump, ajar
jonquil, Julian
jalap, cajole
bijugate
/j/
/ʒ/
/h/
Hallelujah, fjord
jongleur, julienne, bijou
jalapeno, fajita
marijuana
k, kk, kh word-initial before ⟨n⟩ knee, knife, knock /k/ knish, Knoebel
elsewhere /k/ key, bake, trekking, sheikh, weeknight beknave, camiknickers
l, ll /l/ valve, balcony, almost, valley, flotilla, line, colony
/j/
/r/
halve, balk, salmon
tortilla
colonel (in rhotic accents)
m, mm word-initial before ⟨n⟩ mnemonic
elsewhere /m/ mine, hammer
n, nn word-final after ⟨m⟩ hymn, autumn, damningly
before /k, g/ /ŋ/ inkling, bangle, anchor, minx /n/ incline, vanguard, mankind
elsewhere /n/ nice, funny, enzyme
monsignor, damnable, tin
/ŋ/
anxiety
monsieur
ng word-final non-silent letter /ŋ/ long, tongue, kingly, singer, clingy /ŋɡ/
/ndʒ/
/ŋ(k)/
longer, strongest
stingy (ungenerous)
strength, amongst
medially otherwise /ŋɡ/
/ndʒ/
congress, singly, finger, language
binging, wharfinger, dingy, engaol
/nɡ/
/ŋ/
/nʒ/
congrats, engage, vanguard
hangar, lingonberry, angst
ingenue, lingerie
word-initial /əŋɡ/ ngana, ngultrum, Nguni /n/ ngaio, Ngati
p, pp word-initial before ⟨n, s, t⟩ pneumonia, psyche, ptomaine /p/ psst
elsewhere /p/ pill, happy, soup, corpse, script coup, corps, receipt, raspberry
ph, pph /f/ photograph, sapphire /v/
/p/
/ph/
nephew (RP), Stephen
shepherd,
kniphofia, drophead
apophthegm
q in words of Chinese origin /tʃ/ qi, qigong, guqin
elsewhere /k/ Iraq, waqf, yaqona, mbaqanga, qiviut
r, rr, rh, rrh
  • before a consonant
  • finally
  • before final ⟨e⟩
/r/, ∅ in non-rhotic cart, hurt
fir, walker, tear, burr, myrrh
care
sarsaparilla, forecastle
elsewhere /r/ ray, parrot, rhyme, diarrhoea iron, croissant (RP), hors d'oeuvre (some pronunciations)
See below for combinations of vowel letters and ⟨r⟩
s word-final -⟨s⟩ morpheme
after a voiceless sound
/s/ pets, shops
word-final -⟨s⟩ morpheme
after a lenis sound
/z/ beds, magazines
between vowels /z/ phrases, prison, pleasing /s/
/ʒ/
bases, bison, leasing
vision, closure
elsewhere /s/ song, ask, misled /z/
/ʃ/
is, lens, raspberry
sugar, tension
island, aisle, debris, mesne
sc before ⟨e, i, y⟩ /s/ scene, scepter, scissors, scythe /sk/
/ʃ/
/z/
sceptic, scirrhus
fascism
crescent (RP), discern
sch /ʃ/ schedule (RP), schist, eschalot /sk/
/s/
/s tʃ/
school, scheme,
schizoid,
ischemia, eschar
schism (RP)
mischief, eschew
sh /ʃ/ shin, fashion, wish,
Lewisham, foreshore, kinship
/s h/
/z h/
/s ʃ/
h/
/s/
mishap, mishit
hogshead
tranship
threshold
dishonour
ss /s/ boss, assign, narcissus
dissert, posses, brassier,
finesse, cesspool, missout
/ʃ/
/ʒ/
/z/
/s s/
tissue, passion
rescission, scissure
dessert, possess, brassiere, scissor
disseat, misspell, missort
sw /sw/ swore, swan, swift /s/
/zw/

sword, answer
menswear
coxswain

t, tt in -⟨sten, stle⟩ hasten, listens, rustling, thistles /t/ tungsten, listless
elsewhere /t/ ten, bitter, etiology,
nastier, attune, piteous,
cation,
softer, wallet, gristmill,
haste, dishearten
/ʃ/
/tʃ/
/ʒ/
/d/
ration, martial, cautious
bastion, nature, fortune, righteous
equation, transition (RP)
kindergarten (GA)
soften, ballet, Christmas, mortgage
tch /tʃ/ batch, kitchen
th /θ/
/ð/
absinthe
bother, soothe
/t/
/tθ/
/th/
/tʃ/

thyme
eighth
outhouse, potherb (RP)
posthumous (GA)
asthma
v, vv /v/ vine, heavy, savvy, reveled, revved
w before ⟨r⟩ /∅/ [ii] wrong, wrist, awry
elsewhere /w/ sward, swerve, wale
/v/
two, sword, answer, gunwale
Weltanschauung, witgat
wh- before ⟨o⟩ /h/ who, whole /w/[iii] whopping, whorl
elsewhere /w/[iii] wheel /f/ whew (RP), whanau
x word-initial /z/ xylophone, xenon, xenophobia
after ⟨e⟩-, and before a vowel /ɡz/ example, exist, exotic, exult
existential, exultation, exit[iv]
/ks/
/z/
exogenous, exercise
elsewhere /ks/ boxes, mixes, expect, taxation, tuxedo, proximity,
jinxed, next, six, taxi
/ɡz/
/ɡʒ/
/kʃ/
/z/
Alexander, auxiliary
luxury (GA)[v] anxiety
anxious, luxury, sexual (GA) luxurious[v]
plateaux, chateaux
faux-pas, roux
xc before ⟨e, i⟩ /ks/ excellent, except, excited
xh /ksh/ exhale, exhume, foxhole /ks/
/gz/
exhibition, Vauxhall
exhaust, exhibit
exhilarating, exhortation
y- /j/ yes, young /ð/ y(mock archaic)
z, zz /z/ gazump, seized, crazier,
rhizoophagous, pizzazz,
zoo, quiz
/ʒ/
/ts/
azure, seizure, brazier (GA)
schizophrenic, pizzas
rendezvous
  1. ^ According to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 77% of Americans pronounce "suggest" as /səɡˈɛst/.[21]
  2. ^ /w/ in Scottish English.
  3. ^ a b Or /hw/ in Scottish English, Hiberno-English, Southern American English and, less commonly, other variations (including RP).
  4. ^ About half of both British and American speakers say /ˈɛksɪt/, the other half says /ˈɛɡzɪt/.[21]
  5. ^ a b Nearly 80% of Americans pronounce luxurious with /ɡʒ/, while two thirds of British people use /kʒ/. Half the American speakers pronounce luxury as /ˈlʌɡʒəri/, the rest says /ˈlʌkʃəri/.[21]

Combinations of vowel letters and ⟨r⟩

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (April 2014)
Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Minor values
(IPA)
Examples of minor value Exceptions
ar before a vowel /ɛər/ area, care, garish, wariness /ær/
/ɑːr/
arid, parish, mariners, caraway
aria, are, safaris, faraway
/ɔːr/ quarantine (GA)
/ɒr/ waratah
elsewhere stressed /ɑːr/ argyle, car, farce /ɛər/ scarce
/ær/ sarsaparilla (GA)
/ɜːr/ dharna
after /w/ /ɔːr/ war, award, dwarf, warning, quarter
unstressed /ər/ circular, pillar
arr before a spoken vowel /ær/ marry, barrel, arrow, barren, carrot /ɑːr/ starry, barring
elsewhere /ɑːr/ scarred, Parr
aer /ɛər/ aerial, aeroplane /ɪər/ chimaera /ər/ anaerobe
air, aire /ɛər/ cairn, millionaire, dairy /aɪər/ hetaira
/aɪ'ɪər/ zaire
aor /eɪ'ɔːr/ aorta /aʊ.r/ Maori
aur /ɔːr/ dinosaur, aural, aura, Laura /ɒr/ laurel, Laurence
awer /ɔː.ər/ gnawer, rawer, thawer /ɔːr/ drawer
ayer, ayor /eɪər/ layer, mayor, soothsayer
er before a vowel /ɪər/ here, series, reremice /ɛər/
/ɛr/
/iː'r/
compere, there, werewolf
derelict, heresy, perish, very
derail, reremind
/ɜːr/ were, weregild
elsewhere stressed /ɜːr/ her, jerk, coerced, merchant /ɛər/ berceuse /ɑːr/ clerk, sergeant
unstressed /ər/ starter, fewer, Berber, arguer, shower
err before a spoken vowel /ɛr/ error, merry, terrible, herring, ferret /ɜːr/ referring
elsewhere /ɜːr/ err, preferred
ear before a consonant /ɜːr/ pearly, hearse, yearning, earth /ɑːr/ hearken, hearty, hearth /ɪər/ beard, peart
/eɪər/ bearnaise
/i'ɑːr/ rearm
elsewhere /ɪər/ dearly, hears, yearling, tear /ɛər/
/iː.ər/
tear, bears, wearing
linear, nuclear, stearin
/ɜːr/ heard
/iː'r/ tearoom
eer /ɪər/ cheering, beer, eerie /iːər/ freer, seers
eir /ɛər/ heir, madeira, their /ɪər/ weird, weir, eyrie /aɪər/ oneiric, eirenic
eor /iɔːr/ deorbit, reorganise /ɪər/ theory
eur after /r, ʃ, ʒ, j/, cons. + /l/ /ʊər/ pleurisy
elsewhere /jʊər/ euro, liqueur, neural /ɜːr/ masseur, voyeur /iː.ɜːr/ theurgy
ir before a vowel /aɪər/ pirate, mired, virus, iris, wiring /ɪr/ mirage, virile, iridescent, spirit
elsewhere stressed /ɜːr/ bird, fir /ɪər/ menhir
unstressed /ər/ elixir, kefir, triumvir
irr before a spoken vowel /ɪr/ mirror, squirrel, cirrus, tirret /ɜːr/ stirrer
elsewhere /ɜːr/ whirred
ier /ɪər/ cashier, fierce, frontier, pier /aɪər/
/iər/
shier, fiery, hierarchy, plier
busier, rapier, glacier, hosiery
/iɛər/ concierge, premiere
/ieɪ/ atelier, bustier, dossier
/iːər/ skier
or after ⟨w⟩ /ɜːr/ word, work, worst /ɔːr/ worn, sword, swore
elsewhere stressed /ɔːr/ ford, boring, more /ɒr/ forest, moral /ɜːr/ whorl
/ʌr/ borough
∅ comfortable
unstressed /ər/ gladiator, major, equator
orr after ⟨w⟩ /ʌr/ worry
elsewhere /ɒr/ borrow, horrid, sorry, torrent
oar /ɔːr/ boar, coarse, keyboard, soaring /ər/ cupboard, starboard
/oʊˈɑːr/ coarctate
oer /oʊ.ər/ partygoer, forgoer /uː.ər/ undoer, canoer /ər/ oersted
oir /wɑːr/ reservoir, memoir, moire, soiree /ɔɪər/ coir, loir, Moira /waɪər/ choir
/ər/ avoirdupois
oor /ʊər/ poor, moor, roorback /ɔːr/ door, flooring /ər/ whippoorwill
/oʊ'ɔːr/ coordinate
our stressed /ɔːr/ four, courtesan, discourse /aʊər/
/ɜːr/
/ʊər/
hour, flour, scours
journey, courtesy, scourge
tour, courier, gourd, velour
/ʌr/ courage, flourish
unstressed /ər/ labour, colourful /ʊr/
/ʊər/
entourage, potpourri
detour, fourchette
oyer /ɔɪər/ foyer, destroyer
ur before a vowel elsewhere /jʊər/ lure, purity, curing /ʊər/ allure, guru, Silurian /ɛr/ bury, burial
after /r, ʃ, ʒ, j/, cons. + /l/ /ʊər/ rural, jury, plural, sure, assurance, allure
elsewhere stressed /ɜːr/ turn, occur, curdle /ʌr/ /ʊər/ langur
unstressed /ər/ sulphur, jodhpur, bulgur, murmur
urr before a spoken vowel /ʌr/ current, hurry, flurry, burrow, turret /ɜːr/ furry, blurring
elsewhere /ɜːr/ burr, blurred
uer after /r, ʃ, ʒ, j/, cons. + /l/ /uː.ər/ bluer, truer
elsewhere /juː.ər/ arguer,
yr
  • bef. 2+ unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɪr/ syrup, Pyrenees, lyric, pyramid, Syria, myriad, syringe, tyranny, pyrrhic
before a vowel /aɪər/ lyre, tyrant, gyrate
elsewhere stressed /ɜːr/ myrtle, myrrh
unstressed /ər/ martyr

Combinations of other consonant and vowel letters

Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Minor values
(IPA)
Examples of minor value Exceptions
al /æl/ pal, talcum, algae, alp /ɔːl/ bald, Nepal, false (also /ɒl/ in RP), withal /ɔː/ falcon (also with /ɔːl/ or /æl/)
alf before a vowel /ælf/ alfalfa, malfeasance
elsewhere /ɑːf/ (RP)
/æf/ (GA)
calf, half /ɔːlf/ palfrey
alk before a vowel /ælk/ alkaline, grimalkin /ɔːlk/ balkanise
elsewhere /ɔːk/ walk
all /ɔːl/
/æl/
call, fallout, smaller
shall, callus, fallow
/ɒl/
/(ə)l/
wallet, swallow
allow, dialled
/ɛl/ marshmallow (GA), pall-mall (GA)
alm before a vowel /ælm/ palmate, salmonella, talmud /ɔːlm/ almanac, almost , instalment /æm/ salmon
/ɑːlm/ almond (GA)[i]
/əlm/ signalment
/ɑːm/ almond (RP), balmy, palmistry.
elsewhere /ɑː(l)m/ alms, calm
/ɔːm/ halm
alt /ɔːlt/ (also /ɒlt/ in RP ) alter, malt, salty, basalt /ælt/ alto, shalt, saltation, asphalt (RP) /ɑːlt/ gestalt (GA)
/əlt/ royalty, penalty
ange word final /eɪndʒ/ arrange, change, mange, strange /ændʒ/ flange, phalange /ɑːnʒ/ melange
/ɒndʒ/ blancmange
/ɪndʒ/ orange
aste word final /eɪst/ chaste, lambaste, paste, taste /æst/ cineaste, caste (GA), pleonaste /ɑːst/ (out)caste (RP)
/əsteɪ/ namaste
-ci unstressed before vowel /ʃ/ special, gracious /si/ (also /ʃ/) species
-cqu /kw/ acquaint, acquire /k/ lacquer, racquet
ed word final after /t/ or /d/ /ɪd, əd/ loaded, waited
word final after a voiceless sound /t/ piped, enserfed, snaked /ɛd/ biped, underfed /ɪd, əd/ naked
word final after a lenis sound /d/ limbed, enisled, unfeared /ɛd/ imbed, misled, infrared /ɪd, əd/ beloved
es word final after a fricative /ɪz, əz/ mazes, washes, axes, bases, pieces /iːz/ axes, bases, feces, oases
ex- unstressed before ⟨h⟩ or a vowel /ɪɡz, əɡz/ exist, examine, exhaust /ɛks/ exhale
gu- before ⟨a⟩ /ɡw/ bilingual, guano, language /ɡ/ guard, guarantee
(a)isle word final /aɪl/ aisle, isle, enisle, lisle
le word final after non ⟨r⟩ cons. /əl/ little, table /l/ orle, isle /leɪ/ boucle
ngue word final /ŋ/ tongue, harangue, meringue /ŋɡeɪ/ merengue, distingué /ŋɡi/ dengue
old /oʊld/ blindfold, older, bold /əld/ scaffold, kobold (also /ɒld/)
olk /oʊk/ yolk, folklore /ɒlk/ polk(RP), kolkhoz /oʊlk/ polk(GA)
oll /ɒl/ dollhouse, pollen, trolley, holly /oʊl/ tollhouse, swollen, troller, wholly /ɔː/ atoll (GA)
/ɔɪ/ cholla
/əl/ caroller, collide
olm /ɒlm/ olm, dolmen /oʊlm/ enrolment, holmium /oʊm/ holm (oak)
ong /ɒŋ/ (RP), /ɔːŋ/ (GA)
/ɒŋɡ/
songstress, along, strong, wronger
congress, jongleur, bongo, conger, ongoing, nongraded
/ɒndʒ/
/ɒŋ/
/ɒŋg/ (RP), /ɔːŋg/ (GA)
/ʌŋɡ/
/ʌndʒ/
congeries, longevity, pongee
tonger, bong, dugong, tongs
longer, strongest, elongate
monger, humongous, mongrel
sponger, longe, spongy
/ʌŋ/ among, tongue
/ənɡ/ congratulate, lemongrass
/əndʒ/ congeal, congestion
/ɒnʒ/ allonge

/oʊnʒ/ congé (GA)

ought /ɔːt/ bought, brought, fought, nought, ought, sought, thought, wrought /aʊt/ doughty, drought
qu- /kw/ queen, quick /k/ liquor, mosquito
que word final /k/ mosque, bisque /keɪ/ manque, risqué /kjuː/ barbeque
/ki/ pulque
re word final after non ⟨r⟩ cons. /ər/ timbre, acre, ogre, centre /reɪ/, /ri/
/rə/
cadre (GA), compadre, emigre
genre, oeuvre, fiacre
ron word final after vowel /rɒn/ neuron, moron, interferon, aileron /rən/ baron, heron, environ /ə(r)n/ iron
/roʊn/ chaperon
sci- unstressed before a vowel /ʃ/ conscience, luscious, prosciutto /saɪ/ sciatica, sciamachy, sciential /ʃi/ conscientious, fasciated
/sɪ/ (RP) omniscient, prescience
scle word final /səl/ corpuscle, muscle /skəl/ mascle
-se word final after vowel (noun) /s/ house, excuse, moose, anise, geese /z/ prose, nose, tease, guise, compromise /zeɪ/ marchese
word final after vowel (verb) /z/ house, excuse, choose, arise, please /s/ grouse, dose, lease, chase, promise
-si unstressed after a vowel /ʒ/ vision, occasion, explosion, illusion /zi/ easier, enthusiasm, physiological
unstressed after a cons. /ʃ/ pension, controversial, compulsion /si/ tarsier, Celsius
-ssi unstressed before a vowel /ʃ/ mission, passion, Russia, session /si/ potassium, dossier, messier
-sti unstressed before a vowel /stʃ/ question, Christian, suggestion
-sure unstressed after a vowel /ʒər/ leisure, treasure
unstressed after a cons. /ʃər/ tonsure, censure
-the unstressed /ð/ scathe, spathe
-ti unstressed before a vowel /ʃ/ cautious, patient, inertia, initial, ration /ti/
/ʃi/
patios, consortia, fiftieth, courtier
ratios, minutia, initiate, negotiate
/taɪ/ cation, cationic
/ʒ/ equation
/tj/ rentier (GA)
-ture unstressed /tʃər/ nature, picture
-zure unstressed /ʒər/ seizure, azure
  1. ^ According to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 75% of Americans pronounce almond as /ˈɑːlmənd/.[21]

Sound-to-spelling correspondences

The following table shows for each sound the various spelling patterns used to denote it, starting with the prototypical pattern(s) followed by others in alphabetical order. Some of these patterns are very rare or unique (such as ⟨gh⟩ for /p/, ⟨ph⟩ for /v/, ⟨i⟩ for /ɑː/). An ellipsis (⟨…⟩) stands for an intervening consonant.

Consonants

Arranged in the order of the IPA consonant tables.

Consonants
IPA Spelling Examples
/m/ m, mm, chm, gm, lm, mb, mbe, me, mh, mme, mn, monde, mp, sme, tm mine, hammer, drachm, phlegm, salmon, climb, combe, forme, mho, femme, autumn, Cholmondeley, assumption, disme, tmesipteris
/n/ n, nn, cn, dn, gn, gne, hn, kn, ln, mn, mp, nd, ne, ng, nh, nne, nt, pn, sn, sne nice, inn, cnidarian, Wednesday, gnome, coigne, John, knee, Lincoln, mnemonic, comptroller, handsome, borne, ngaio, piranha, tonne, topgallant-sail, pneumonia, puisne, mesne
/ŋ/ ng, n, nc, nd, ngh, ngue sing, link, charabanc, handkerchief, sangh, tongue
/p/ p, pp, gh, pe, ph, ppe, lfp pill, apps, hiccough, thorpe, diphthong (RP),[i] steppe, halfpenny
/b/ b, bb, be, bh, pb, gb, (p) bit, ebb, barbe, bhang, cupboard, Igbo, (thespian (GA)[ii])
/t/ t, tt, bt, cht, ct, d, dt, ed, ght, kt, pt, phth, st, te, th, tte ten, sett, doubt, yacht, victual, iced, veldt, dressed, lighter, ktypeite, ptarmigan, phthisical, cestui, forte, thyme, cigarette
/d/ d, dd, ddh, bd, de, dh, ed, ld, t, tt (some dialects) dive, odd, Buddhism, bdellium, horde, dharma, abandoned, solder, kindergarten (GA), (flatter)
/k/ c, k, cc, cch, ch, ck, cq, cqu, cque, cu, ke, kh, kk, lk, q, qh, qu, que, x, (g) cat, key, account, zucchini, chord, tack, acquire, lacquer, sacque, biscuit, burke, khaki, trekker, polka-dotted, quorum, fiqh, liquor, mosque, excite, (strength)
/ɡ/ g, gg, ckg, gge, gh, gu, gue gig, egg, blackguard, pogge, ghost, guard, catalogue
/f/ f, ff, fe, ffe, ft, gh, lf, ph, phe, pph, v, ve, u fine, chaff, carafe, gaffe, soften, laugh, half, physical, ouphe, sapphire, sovkhoz, fivepence, lieutenant (RP)
/v/ v, vv, f, lve, ph, u, ve, w, zv, b, bh, mh vine, savvy, of, halve, Stephen, quetsch, have, weltanschauung, rendezvous, Habdalah, kethibh, ollamh
/θ/ th, the, chth, phth, tth, h thin, absinthe, chthonic, apophthegm, Matthew, eighth
/ð/ th, the, dd, dh, y them, breathe, gorsedd, edh, y(mock archaic)
/s/ s, ss, c, cc, ce, ps, sc, sce, sch, se, sh, sse, sses, st, sth, sw, t, th, ti, ts, tsw, tzs, tz, z song, mess, city, flaccid, ounce, psalm, scene, coalesce, schism (RP), horse, dishonest, finesse, chausses, listen, asthma (RP), sword, tzitzit, zizith, Kiribati, tsunami (GA), boatswain, britzska, waltz (RP), quartz
/z/ z, zz, cz, ds, dz, s, sc, se, sh, sp, ss, sth, ts, tz, x, ze, zh, zs (one pronunciation), c (some dialects) zoo, fuzz, czar, Windsor, Dzongkha, has, crescent (RP),[iii] tease, déshabillé, raspberry, dissolve, asthma (GA), tsarina, tzar, xylophone, breeze, zho, (vizsla), (electricity)
/ʃ/ sh, c, ce, ch, che, chi, chsi, ci, s, sc, sch, sche, schsch, sci, sesh, she, shh, shi, si, sj, ss, ssi, ti, psh, zh, x shin, speciality, ocean, machine, quiche, marchioness, fuchsia, special, sugar, crescendo, schmooze, schottische, eschscholtzia, conscience, tortoiseshell, galoshe, shh, cushion, expansion, sjambok, tissue, mission, nation, pshaw, pirozhki, paxiuba
/ʒ/ ci, g, ge, j, s, si, ssi, ti, z, zh, zhe, zi, zs (one pronunciation) coercion (GA), genre, beige, bijou, leisure, division, abscission, equation, seizure, muzhik, uzhe,[iv] brazier (GA), (vizsla)
/x/ ch (in Scottish English), gh (in Irish English) loch, lough
/h/ h, wh, j, ch, x he, who, fajita, chutzpah, Quixote
/ɾ/  In some dialects (see flapping): tt, dd, t, d better, daddy, united, Cody
/r/ r, rr, l, re, rh, rre, rrh, rt, wr fur, burr, colonel, forewarn, rhyme, murre, myrrh, mortgage, wrong
/l/ l, ll, le, lh, lle, gl, sle, ln (some dialects) line, shall, tale, pelham, gazelle, imbroglio, aisle, (kiln)
/j/ y, h, i, j, l, ll, z, r (one pronunciation) yes, vinho verde, onion, hallelujah, llano, tortilla, capercailzie, February[v]
/hw/ wh (in some dialects), hu, hw, ju which, Huang He, Hwang Ho, Don Juan
/w/ w, u, o, ou, hu, hw, ju, wh (in most dialects) we, persuade, choir, Ouija, Huastec, Yahweh, marijuana, what
/tʃ/ ch, tch, c, cc, cch, che, chi, cs, cz, t, tche, te, th, ti, ts, tsch, tsh, tz, tzs, tzsch, q chop, batch, cello, bocce, kaccha, niche (GA), falchion, csardas, Czech, nature, escutcheon, righteous, posthumous (GA), bastion (GA), britska (US), putsch, Wiltshire, britz(s)ka (US), Nietzschean, Qin
/dʒ/ g, j, ch, d, dg, dge, di, dj, dzh, ge, gg, gi, jj, t magic, jump, sandwich (RP), graduate, judgment, bridge, soldier, adjust, Tadzhik, barge, veggies, Belgian, hajj, congratulate (US)[vi]
/ks/ x, xx, cast, cc, chs, cks, cques, cs, cz, kes, ks, lks, ques, xc, xe, xs, xsc, xsw sax, doxxing, forecastle, accent, tachs, backs, sacques, sacs, eczema, burkes, yaks, caulks, toques, excel, axe, exsert, exscind, coxswain
/gz/ x, ggs, gs exam, eggs, bags
/ts/ ts, tz, zz, tz, ts, ce, se nuts, quartz, pizza, pretzel, prints, prince, tense
/dz/ s, ze, pawns, bronze[citation needed]
  1. ^ In 2008, 61% of British people pronounced diphthong as /ˈdɪpθɒŋ/, though phoneticians prefer /ˈdɪfθɒŋ/.[22]
  2. ^ In 2008, 20% of Americans pronounced thespian as /ˈθɛzbiən/.[23]
  3. ^ The majority of British people, and the great majority of younger ones, pronounce crescent as /ˈkrɛzənt/.[24]
  4. ^ The primarily spoken-only abbreviation of usual has no standardised spelling, but is often spelled uzhe.
  5. ^ In 2008, 64% of Americans and 39% of British people pronounce February as /ˈfɛbjuɛri/.[25]
  6. ^ The majority of Americans, and the great majority of younger ones, pronounce congratulate as /kənˈɡræəlt/.[26]

Vowels

Sorted more or less from close to open sounds in the vowel diagram. Nasal vowels used by some speakers in words of French origin such as enceinte (/ɒ̃ˈsæ̃t/), are not included.

Vowels
IPA Spelling Examples
/iː/ e, e...e, i, i...e, a (some dialects), ae, aoi, ay, ea, ee, e'e, ei, eo, ey, eye, ie, ie...e, is, ix, oe, oi (some dialects), ue (some dialects), ui, uy, y be, cede, ski, machine, bologna (GA), algae, Taoiseach, quay, beach, bee, e'en, deceit, people, key, keyed, field, hygiene, debris, prix, amoeba, chamoi(GA), dengue (GA), beguine, guyot, ynambu
/ɪər/ ere, aer, e're, ea, ear, eare, eer, eere, ehr, eir, eor, er, ers, eyr, ier, iere, ir, oea, yer here, chimaera, we're, idea (RP), ear, feared, beer, peered, lehr, weird, theor(RP), series, revers, eyrie, pier, premiere, souvenir, diarrhoea (RP), twyer
/ɪ/ i, y, a, a...e, ai, e, ea, ee, ei, ey (some dialects), eye (some dialects), i...e, ia, ie, ii, o, oe, oi (some dialects), u, u...e, ue (some dialects), ui, uy (some dialects) bit, myth, orange, chocolate, bargain, pretty, mileage, breeches, counterfeit, money (RP), volleye(RP), medicine, carriage, sieve, shiitake, women, oedema, chamoi(RP), busy, minute, dengue (RP), build, plaguy (RP)
/uː/ u, u...e, oo, oo...e, eew, eu, ew, ieu, ioux, o, o...e, oe, oeu, ooe, ou, ough, ougha, oup, ue, uh, ui, uo, w, wo tutu, flute, too, groove, leeward, sleuth, yew, lieu, Sioux, to, lose, shoe, manoeuvre, cooed, soup, through, brougham, coup, true, buhl, fruit, buo(GA), cwm, two
/ʊ/ oo, u, o, o...e, or, ou, oul, w look, full, wolf, pembroke, worsted, courier, should, cwtch
/eɪ/ a, a...e, aa, ae, ai, ai...e, aig, aigh, ais, al, alf, ao, au, ay, aye, e (é), e...e, ea, eg, ee (ée), eh, ei, ei...e, eig, eigh, eighe, er, ere, es, et, ete, ey, eye, ez, ie, oeh, ue, uet bass, rate, quaalude, reggae, rain, cocaine, arraign, straight, palais, Ralph (Br.), halfpenny, gaol, gauge, hay, played, ukulele (café), crepe, steak, matinee (soirée), thegn, eh, veil, beige, reign, eight, weighed, dossier, espaliered, demesne, ballet, crocheted, they, obeyed, chez, lingerie (GA), boehmite (GA), merengue, bouquet
/ɛər/ are, aer, air, aire, ar, ayer, ayor, ayre, e'er, eah, ear, ehr, eir, eor, er, ere, err, erre, ert, ey're, eyr, (ahr) bare, aerial, tahr, hair, millionaire, scarce, prayer, mayor, fayre, ne'er, yeah, bear, Wehrmacht, heir, ceorl, moderne, where, err (GA), parterre, couvert, they're, eyra, (tahr)
/ɛ/ e, a, ae, ai, ay, e...e, ea, eh, ei, eo, ie, ieu, oe, u, ue, ee (one pronunciation) met, many, aesthetic, said, says, there, deaf, feh, heifer, jeopardy, friend, lieutenant (RP), foetid, bury, guess, (threepence)
/ə/ a, e, i, o, u, y, a...e, ae, ah, ai, anc, ath, au, ea, eau, eh, ei, eig, eo, eou, eu, gh, ie, o...e, oa, oe, oh, oi, oo, op, ou, ough, u...e, ua, ue, ui, uo, wa...e tuna, oven, pencil, icon, opus, beryl, carcase, anaerobe, Messiah, mountain, blancmange, tuath, aurora, Eleanor, bureaucrat, keffiyeh, mullein, foreign, truncheon, timeous, amateu(RP), burgh, mischievous (GA), awesome, starboard, biocoenosis, matzoh, porpoise, whipoorwill, topgallant, callous, borough (RP), minute (GA), piquant, guerilla, circui(GA), languor, gunwale
/ɜːr/ er, ir, ur, ar, ear, ere, err, erre, eur, eure, irr, irre, oeu, olo, or, our, ueur, uhr, urr, urre, yr, yrrh defer, fir, fur, dharna, earl, were, err, interred, voyeur, chauffeure(GA), birr, stirred, hors d'oeuvre, colonel, worst, adjourn, liqueur, buhrstone, purr, murre, myrtle, myrrh
/oʊ/ o, o...e, aoh, au, aux, eau, eaue, eo, ew, oa, oe, oh, oo, ore, ot, ou, ough, oughe, ow, owe, w so, bone, pharaoh, mauve, faux, beau, plateaued, yeoman, sew, boat, foe, oh, brooch, forecastle, depot, soul, though, furloughed, know, owe, pwn
/ʌ/ u, o, o...e, oe, oo, ou, uddi, wo, a, au (some dialects), ee (one pronunciation) sun, son, come, does, flood, touch, studdingsail, twopence, sati, (because), (threepence)
/ɔː/ o, a, al, au, au...e, augh, aughe, aw, awe, eo, oa, oh, oo, oss, ou, ough, u, uo flora, bald, talk, author, cause, caught, overslaughed, jaw, awe, ealdorman, broad, bohrium, flooring, crossjack, pouring, bought, surest (RP), fluoridate (RP)
/ɔːr/[i] or, ore, aor, ar, aur, aure, hors, oar, oare, oor, oore, our, oure, owar, ure or, fore, extraordinary, war, dinosaur, roquelaure, hors d'oeuvre, oar, soared, bohrium, door, floored, four, poured, towar(GA), sure (RP)
/æ/ a, a...e, aa, ag, ah, ai, al, ar, au, e, ea, eathersto, ei, i, ua, o (one pronunciation) hand, have, Aaron, seraglio (GA), Fahrenheit, plaid, salmon, sarsaparilla (GA), laugh (GA), Cheyenne, poleax, Featherstonehaugh, enceinte, meringue, guarantee, (chometz)
/ɑː/ a, a...e, aa, aae, aah, aahe, ag, ah, au, i, o (one pronunciation), ar (one pronunciation) father, garage, salaam, baaed, aah, aahed, seraglio (RP), blah, aunt (RP), lingerie (GA), (chometz), (schoolmarm)
/ɑːr/[i] ar, aar, ahr, alla, are, arr, arre, arrh, ear, er, uar, our (some dialects) car, bazaar, tahr, topgallant-sail, are, parr, bizarre, catarrh, heart, sergeant, guard, (our)
/ɒ/ a, o, ach, au, eau, oh, ou, ow, e, eo watch, lock, yacht, sausage, bureaucracy, John, cough, acknowledge, entrée, cheongsam (RP)
/juː/ u, u...e, ew, eau, eo, eu, ewe, ieu, iew, ou, ue, ueue, ugh, ui, ut, uu, you music, use, few, beauty, feodary, feud, ewe, adieu, view, ampoule (GA), cue, queue, Pugh, nuisance, debut, vacuu(GA), you
/aɪ/ i...e, ae, ai, aie, aille, ais, ay, aye, ei, eigh, eu, ey, eye, i, ia, ic, ie, ig, igh, ighe, is, oi, oy, ui, uy, uye, y, y...e, ye fine, maestro, krait, shanghaied, canaille (RP), aisle, kayak, aye, heist, height, deuddarn, heyduck, eye, mic, diaper, indict, tie, sign, high, sighed, isle, choir, coyote (GA), guide, buy, guyed, why, type, bye
/ɔɪ/ oi, oy, eu, oll, ooi, oye, ui, uoy, uoye, (awy) avoid, toy, lawyer, Freudian, cholla, rooibos, enjoyed, schuit, buoyant, buoye(RP), (lawyer)
/aʊ/ ou, ow, ao, aou, aow, aowe, au, aw, odh, ough, oughe, owe, iao, iau, (eo) out, now, manoao, caoutchouc, miaow, miaowed, gauss, Mawlid, bodhrán, bough, ploughed, vowed, jiao, chiaus, (Macleod)
  1. ^ a b Identical to previous vowel in non-rhotic dialects like RP.

See also


Notes

  1. ^ a b The vowel of the suffixes -⟨ed⟩ and -⟨es⟩ may belong to the phoneme of either /ɪ/ or /ə/ depending on dialect, and is a shorthand for "either /ɪ/ or /ə/". This usage of the symbol is borrowed from the Oxford English Dictionary.
  2. ^ Included in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1981

References

  1. ^ Venezky 1967.
  2. ^ Jared & Seidenberg 1991.
  3. ^ Van Assche, Duyck & Hartsuiker 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e Okrent 2021.
  5. ^ a b Khansir & Tajeri 2015.
  6. ^ "English language". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  7. ^ Rollings 2004, pp. 16–19.
  8. ^ Chomsky & Halle 1968.
  9. ^ Chomsky 1970.
  10. ^ Chomsky & Halle 1968, p. 54.
  11. ^ Chomsky 1970, p. 294.
  12. ^ Rollings 2004, p. 17.
  13. ^ Rollings 2004, pp. 17–19.
  14. ^ "Common French words also common in English". The Good Life France. 23 November 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  15. ^ Algeo 2008, p. 599.
  16. ^ Satran, Pamela Redmond (8 November 2010). "There's More Than One Right Way to Spell Some Names". HuffPost. Archived from the original on 3 February 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  17. ^ "Minuscule or miniscule?". Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  18. ^ "minuscule (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 11 April 2016.
  19. ^ Stamper 2017, pp. 38–39.
  20. ^ a b Wolman 2008.
  21. ^ a b c d Wells 2008.
  22. ^ Wells 2008, p. 232.
  23. ^ Wells 2008, p. 820.
  24. ^ Wells 2008, p. 196.
  25. ^ Wells 2008, p. 301.
  26. ^ Wells 2008, p. 176.

Bibliography

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