Coronavirus – a Pronunciation Guide

Coronavirus /kəˈrəʊnəˌvʌɪrəs/ is the word on everybody’s lips at the moment. It’s an example in English pronunciation of how the vowel sound /ə/ appears on weak syllables that are spelt with any vowel:

Its full name is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 /sɪˈvɪə əˈkjuːt rɛsˈpɪrətri ˈsɪndrəʊm kəˈrəʊnəˌvʌɪrəs ˈtuː/. If you don’t have time to say that in every sentence, novel /ˈnɒv(ə)l/ coronavirus is considerably shorter; the word ‘novel’ meaning ‘new’ .

COVID-19 /ˌkəʊvɪd nʌɪnˈtiːn/ is the disease that develops from novel coronavirus, and it can cause deadly pneumonia /njuˈməʊniə/.

Novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March. Having started as an epidemic /ɛpɪˈdɛmɪk/ it spread all over the world creating new epicentres /ˈɛpisɛntəz/ of local contagion /kənˈteɪdʒən/. The initial outbreak /ˈaʊʔbreɪk/ was in Wuhan in China.

The virus is zoonotic meaning that it was passed from animal to human, though it is not yet clear how, or when this occurred. Some symptoms /ˈsɪmptəmz/ of COVID-19 are similar to flu /fluː/:

But many infected people seem to display no symptoms at all – they are asymptomatic /eɪˌsɪmptəˈmatɪk/.

The incubation period /ɪŋkjʊˈbeɪʃ(ə)n ˌpɪərɪəd/ of up to 14 days makes it difficult to diagnose /ˈdʌɪəgnəʊz/ early, and there is currently no vaccine /ˈvaksiːn/, so prevention is the most effective protection. Washing hands is something everybody should do regularly, though you definitely shouldn’t:

The elderly and immunocompromised /ɪˌmjuːnəʊˈkɒmprəmʌɪzd/ are particularly at risk from COVID-19 with higher death rates /ˈdɛθ ˌreɪts/ recorded for both groups.

Hospitals have struggled to find enough respirators /ˈrɛspɪreɪtəz/ to protect health workers, and ventilators /ˈvɛntɪleɪtəz/ to help sick patients breathe /briːð/.

Most news shows now feature an epidemiologist – an expert in the control and spread of disease /dɪˈziːz/ who also needs to be an expert in pronunciation to say their job title. Scientist /ˈsʌɪəntɪst/ is a more general, and easier to pronounce alternative.

Reaction by many countries to the rapidly spreading pathogen /ˈpaθədʒən/ has been in the form of compound words (2 words joined together) such as lockdown /ˈlɒkdaʊn/, self-isolation /ˌsɛlf ʌɪsəˈleɪʃ(ə)n/ and social distance /ˌsəʊʃ(ə)l ˈdɪstəns/.

We’ll end with two curious words of Latin origin that have formed part of many people’s daily lives recently. Both start with different pronunciations of the letters QU: quarantine is from the Italian word for ’40 days’, and queue is from the French word for ‘tail’.


This article uses English IPA symbols – learn each of them with pronunciation notesdiagrams and audio in Pronunciation Studio’s free Starter Pack.