Pronunciation Guide for English
This guide will help you to understand and use the pronunciation symbols found in this dictionary.
The British pronunciations given are those of younger speakers of General British. This includes RP (Received Pronunciation) and a range of similar accents which are not strongly regional. The American pronunciations chosen are also as far as possible the most general (not associated with any particular region). In dictionary entries, the British pronunciation is given first.
The symbol (r) indicates that British pronunciation will have /r/ only if a vowel sound follows directly at the beginning of the next word, as in far away; otherwise the /r/ is omitted. For American English, all the /r/ sounds should be pronounced.
/x/ represents a fricative sound as in /lɒx/ for Scottish loch, Irish lough.
Vowels and diphthongs
|ɒ||got||/ɡɒt/ (British English)|
|əʊ||go||/ɡəʊ/ (British English)|
|oʊ||go||/ɡoʊ/ (American English)|
|ɪə||near||/nɪə(r)/ (British English)|
|eə||hair||/heə(r)/ (British English)|
|ʊə||pure||/pjʊə(r)/ (British English)|
Nasalized vowels, marked with /～/, may be retained in certain words taken from French, as in penchant /ˈpɒ̃ʃɒ̃/ and coq au vin / ˌkɒk əʊ ˈvæ̃/.
The sounds /l/ and /n/ can often be “syllabic” – that is, they can form a syllable by themselves without a vowel. There is a syllabic / l/ in the usual pronunciation of middle / ˈmɪdl/, and a syllabic /n/ in sudden /ˈsʌdn/.
Weak vowels /i/ and /u/
The sounds represented by /iː/ and / ɪ/ must always be made different, as in heat /hiːt/ compared with hit /hɪt/. The symbol /i/ represents a vowel that can be sounded as either /iː/ or /ɪ/, or as a sound which is a compromise between them. In a word such as happy /ˈhæpi/, younger speakers use a quality more like /iː/, but short in duration. When /i/ is followed by /ə/ the sequence can also be pronounced / jə/. So the worddubious can be /ˈdjuːbiəs / or /ˈdjuːbjəs/. In the same way, the two vowels represented /uː/ and /ʊ/ must be kept distinct but /u/ represents a weak vowel that varies between them. If /u/ is followed directly by a consonant sound, it can also be pronounced as /ə/. So stimulate can be /ˈstɪmjuleɪt/ or /ˈstɪmjəleɪt/.
Weak forms and strong forms
Certain very common words, for example at, for, and can, have two pronunciations. We give the usual (weak) pronunciation first. The second pronunciation (strong) must be used if the word is stressed, and also generally when the word is at the end of a sentence. For example:
- Can /kən/ you help?
- I’ll help if I can /kæn/.
Tapping of / t /
In American English, if a /t/ sound is between two vowels, and the second vowel is not stressed, the /t / can be pronounced very quickly, and made voiced so that it is like a brief /d/ or the r-sound of certain languages. Technically, the sound is a “tap”, and can be symbolised by /t̬/. So Americans can pronounce potato as /pəˈteɪt̬oʊ/, tapping the second /t/ in the word (but not the first, because of the stress). British speakers don’t generally do this.
The conditions for tapping also arise very frequently when words are put together, as in not only, what I, etc. In this case it doesn’t matter whether the following vowel is stressed or not, and even British speakers can use taps in this situation, though they sound rather casual.
The glottal stop
In both British and American varieties of English, a /t/ which comes at the end of a word or syllable can often be pronounced as a glottal stop /ʔ/ (a silent gap produced by holding one’s breath briefly) instead of a /t/. For this to happen, the next sound must not be a vowel or a syllabic /l/.
So football can be /ˈfʊʔbɔːl/ instead of /ˈfʊtbɔːl/, and button can be /ˈbʌʔn/ instead of /ˈbʌtn/.
But a glottal stop would not be used for the /t/ sounds in bottle or better because of the sounds which come afterwards.