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10 Words with Alternative Pronunciations

Some words don’t like being boxed in by a single pronunciation. In class at Pronunciation Studio, we are often asked whether there is a more or less ‘correct’ version of words like OFTEN, GARAGE and SCHEDULE. The fact is that the idea of ‘correctness’ is often defined by popularity, so here are 10 words with alternative pronunciations, either will do nicely:

1. our

This can be pronounced /aʊə/, to rhyme with ‘hour’, or /ɑː/ like the strong form of ‘are’.

2. often

According to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, the commonest pronunciation of ‘often’ is with a silent ’t’, /ˈɒfən/, but you can also say it with the ’t’, /ˈɒftən/.

I often /ˈɒfən/ go for a walk by the sea.

I often /ˈɒftən/ go for a walk by the sea.

3. either, neither

Students very often ask which pronunciation is correct – /ˈiːðə/ or /ˈaɪðə/? /ˈniːðə/ or /ˈnaɪðə/? The answer is you can use whichever one you like better; there is no difference in the meaning.

You can take either /ˈiːðə/ the red or the blue pill, but neither /ˈniːðə/ one will bring you the truth.

You can take either /ˈaɪðə/ the red or the blue pill, but neither /ˈnaɪðə/ one will bring you the truth.

4. privacy

The more common pronunciation is to use the short vowel /ɪ/ in the first syllable, /ˈprɪvəsi/, but you can also use the diphthong /aɪ/ and say it as /ˈpraɪvəsi/.

The actress sued the magazine for breach of privacy /ˈprɪvəsi/.

The actress sued the magazine for breach of privacy /ˈpraɪvəsi/.

5. schedule

The more traditional British pronunciation uses a ‘sh’ sound at the beginning of this word, /ˈʃedʒuːɫ/, but the American ‘sk’ sound /ˈskedʒuːɫ/ is becoming more popular.

Hurry up, we’re really behind schedule /ˈʃedʒuːɫ/!

Hurry up, we’re really behind schedule /ˈskedʒuːɫ/!

6. garage

Words from other languages often cause pronunciation issues in English, such as the word ‘garage’. Some people pronounce it in a French way /gəˈrɑː(d)ʒ/, some in a French-English way /ˈgærɑː(d)ʒ/, and others in an English style /ˈgærɪdʒ/, where the ending rhymes with words like ‘village’ and ‘manage’. The last version is gaining in popularity over the French(ish) versions.

It might snow tonight, let’s park the car in the garage /ˈgærɪdʒ/.

It might snow tonight, let’s park the car in the garage /gəˈrɑːʒ/.

7. envelope

Another import from France is the word ‘envelope’, again the more English pronunciation /ˈenvələʊp/ is more common than the French-influenced /ˈɒnvələʊp/.

Write your name on the back of the /ˈenvələʊp/.

Write your name on the back of the /ˈɒnvələʊp/.

8. scone

A quick poll here at Pronunciation Studio revealed that we all say /skɒn/ rather than the posher-sounding /skəʊn/, but whichever way you choose to say them, you can enjoy them with clotted cream and jam!

Let’s make some scones /skɒnz/ for the charity cake sale.

Let’s make some scones /skəʊnz/ for the charity cake sale.

9. Celtic

In England and Wales it’s usually pronounced /ˈkeɫtɪk/, whereas in Scotland you’re more likely to hear /ˈseɫtɪk/ – the Scottish football team is known as /ˈseɫtɪk/.

The Celtic /ˈkeɫtɪk/ languages still survive in parts of the British Isles.

The Celtic /ˈseɫtɪk/ languages still survive in parts of the British Isles.

10. American stress differences

There are obviously many pronunciation differences between British and American accents – one interesting aspect is that some words take the stress on a different syllable depending on which accent is being used e.g. ˈadult (BrE) and aˈdult (AmE), ˈdebris (BrE) and deˈbris (AmE).

(BrE) Some ˈadult survivors were found under the ˈdebris.

(AmE) Some aˈdult survivors were found under the deˈbris.

By | 2017-01-23T11:20:01+00:00 July 15th, 2015|Pronunciation, Words|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. barbara July 21, 2015 at 10:35 am - Reply

    Very interesting

  2. Michael Chambers August 13, 2015 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the interesting article. Are you sure that Scottish people pronounce Celtic with a soft “c” (except for the name of the football team)? It doesn’t seem right to me, but I’m willing to be corrected.

    • Karen Cheung August 13, 2015 at 4:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Michael, I took this information from the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (2000 ed. hard copy, 2003 reprint) by Prof JC Wells, however the source for that particular fact isn’t listed. A quick Google search reveals, unsurprisingly, that everyone fights about it, so I’m sure there are Scots who use /s/ and Scot who use /k/! Perhaps best for me not to get too involved… thanks for your comment and please keep reading!

  3. Heath Terrey September 4, 2015 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    And I am among those who pronounce the first r in February, though farther forward in my mouth than the second, so not so predominantly. This awareness of placement of the sound probably comes from an excellent high school choir director who taught us how pronunciation of a word when sung may differ from the spoken word, and particularly in a large group as opposed to a solo.

  4. winnie whistler November 2, 2015 at 2:25 am - Reply

    I’d like to know why rpa which is spoken by only about 2% of the population, say long ‘a’in words like bath, but the vast majority say a short ‘a’ ? Surely the majority short ‘a’ speakers should have the right to say this is how the word is pronounced correctly. Or does the country above Peterborough not count. Winnie.

    • Karen Cheung November 5, 2015 at 1:18 am - Reply

      Hi Winnie, thanks for asking a very relevant question.

      For anyone who is interested, you can find out about the ‘long a’ vs. ‘short a’ in this Wikipedia article about the history of the TRAP-BATH split: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonological_history_of_English_short_A#Trap.E2.80.93bath_split

      Since our school is indeed south of Peterborough, we do usually teach ‘long a’ from a practical point of view. However, our students are of course aware that there are many different accents to be found across the UK! Interestingly, learning to pronounce words with a ‘short a’ instead of ‘long a’ would in fact make many spellings easier and more logical…

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