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English Place Name Suffixes

[ssba] Ever confused about how to pronounce the endings in place names like MIDDLESBOROUGH? There’s a trick to pronouncing them – learn which weak form each suffix uses and then add it to the end of the root word. Here are 10 of the most common that should help you next time your in Canterbury, Leicester or Buckingham:

1. -bury

From Old English, meaning a ‘fortified enclosure’. You can skip the ‘u’ and just use the weak pronunciation /bri/:

Aylesbury, Canterbury, Glastonbury

2. -borough, brough, burgh

From the same origin as -bury. Although the spellings have diverged, these are all usually pronounced weakly as /brə/ (although the American pronunciation is different):

Peterborough, Middlesbrough, Edinburgh

3. -by

From Old Norse, meaning ‘settlement’ or ‘village’. Since this is at the end and weak, we don’t say /baɪ/, we say /bi/ weakly instead:

Grimsby, Derby, Rugby

4. -cester

From Latin, via Old English, meaning ‘camp’. You can usually (but not always) skip the ‘ce’ and just pronounce it /stə/:

Gloucester, Leicester, Worcester

5. -ford

A ‘ford’ is an Old English word for a shallow place in a river where you can cross easily. ‘Ford’ by itself is pronounced with a long vowel /fɔːd/, but when it is used as a suffix, we use the weak pronunciation /fəd/:

Bradford, Watford, Stafford

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6. -ham

This Old English word means ‘farm’ or ‘homestead’. Confusingly, the ‘h’ is usually silent and so the suffix is pronounced weakly as /əm/:

Tottenham, Buckingham, Durham

Some placenames use ‘ham’ after an ‘s’, in which case we say /ʃəm/:

Faversham, Lewisham, Horsham

7. -mouth

This ending literally refers to the mouth of a river, but as a suffix, we don’t use the strong pronunciation /maʊθ/, instead we use the weak pronunciation /məθ/:

Plymouth, Bournemouth, Portsmouth

8. -stead

From Old English, very simply meaning a ‘place’ or ‘enclosed pasture’. Usually pronounced weakly as /stɪd/:

Hampstead, Hemel Hempstead, Tunstead

9. -ton

This is a common suffix from Old English, meaning ‘enclosure’ or ‘estate’. We use the weak pronunciation /tən/ when it is incorporated into placenames:

Brighton, Everton, Darlington

10. -worth

You probably know this word by itself ‘worth’ /wɜːθ/, as in ‘I’m worth it!’; however, when tagged onto the end of a placename, we pronounce it weakly as /wəθ/. It comes from Old English and means ‘enclosure’:

Letchworth, Tamworth, Kenilworth

So next time you’re struggling to pronounce a placename at the train station, just try to make the suffix weak and that should probably do the trick!