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Dictionary of the British English Spelling System

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Greg Brooks

10. The grapheme-phoneme correspondences of English, 2: Graphemes beginning with vowel letters

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10.1 The general picture: the regular pronunciations of English graphemes beginning with vowel letters

1All the introductory remarks in sections 9.1-3 also apply here, with one addition. Like Carney, Gontijo et al. (2003) analysed a variety of RP in which /ɪ/ does occur word-finally and is mainly spelt <y>, sometimes <i, ie>. As explained in sections 5.2, 5.4.3, 5.6.4 and 5.7.2, I disagree with this analysis, and instead, like Cruttenden (2014), posit that /ɪ/ does not occur word-finally. This meant that, in the phoneme-grapheme direction, I took issue with Carney’s percentages for correspondences for/ɪ, ɪə/, and for /iː/ dispensed with them completely. The mirror-image situation is that for <ie> (section 10.23) I was able to re-calculate Gontijo et al.’s percentages, but could not do so for <i, y> (sections 10.22, 10.40), which therefore have no percentages.

2This chapter contains 38 main entries, one for each of the 38 mainsystem graphemes beginning with a vowel letter. For those graphemes, the general picture can be summed up by saying that:

  • just 4 have only one pronunciation: <air eer igh ore> (except for one tiny exception under <ore>)

  • 18 have only one main-system pronunciation, but varying numbers of minor correspondences which are exceptions to the main system: <a. e ai are au aw ay ea ee e. e ere ie i. e ir o. e oi ou oy ur>

  • 3 have only two main-system pronunciations (and no minor ones), and those two pronunciations occur in circumstances which can be fairly closely defined: <ed ue u. e>

  • 6 have only two main-system pronunciations, which occur in circumstances which can be fairly closely defined (but varying numbers of minor correspondences): <ar ear ew oo or ow>

  • 7 are moderately to highly variable: <a e er i o u y>. It is uncomfortable that this category includes all six of the vowel letters as single-letter graphemes.

3And the lists just given still somewhat understate the case, since there are large numbers of Oddities – see Table 10.1.

4Table 10.1 is almost but not quite the mirror-image of Table 8.2 because:

  • graphemes which begin with vowel letters but consonant phonemes (e.g. <u> in union) are included here;

  • graphemes which begin with consonant letters but vowel phonemes (e.g. <ho> in honour) are not included here but in Table 9.4.

5For completeness, it should also be noted that many minor vowel graphemes have highly predictable pronunciations, e.g. <augh>. In fact, of the 105 graphemes beginning with vowel letters that are outside the main system, only 28 <ae ah al ao ais aye eau ei eigh eir eo eu eur ey ia is oa oar oe oir ois oor ough our ua ui ure yr> have more than one pronunciation. As with the minor consonant graphemes, in any attempt (not made here) to estimate the overall regularity of the system this would need to be taken into account; and again, many minor graphemes are so rare that they would not affect the regularity calculation unless they occur in high-frequency words.

TABLE 10.1: MAIN-SYSTEM GRAPHEMES BEGINNING WITH VOWEL LETTERS, BY MAIN-SYSTEM AND MINOR CORRESPONDENCES AND NUMBERS OF ODDITIES.

Main system

The rest

Grapheme

Basic phoneme

Other mainsystem correspondences

Exceptions to main system (minor correspondences)

Number of Oddities *which the grapheme ‘leads’

a

/æ/

/eɪ ɑː ɒ ɔː ə/

/e ɪ aɪ/

22

a. e

/eɪ/

/ɑː/

ai

/eɪ/

/æ e ɪ ə aɪ/

4

air

/eə/

1

ar

/ɑː/

/eə ɔː/

/ə/

are

/eə/

/ɑː/

3

au

/ɔː/

/ɒ aʊ eɪ əʊ ɑː/

3

aw

/ɔː/

/ɔɪ/

1

ay

/eɪ/

/e iː/

4

e

/e/

/iː ɪ ə/

/ɒ eɪ/

35

ea

/iː/

/e eɪ/

5

ear

/ɪə/

/eə/

/ɑː ɜː/

ed

/d/

/t/

ee

/iː/

/eɪ ɪ uː/

e. e

/iː/

/eɪ/

eer

/ɪə/

er

/ɜː/

/ɪə ə/

/ɑː eə eɪ/

2

ere

/ɪə/

/eə ɜː/

ew

/uː/

/juː/

/əʊ/

1

i

/ɪ/

/iː aɪ j/

/æ ɒ ə/

7

ie

/iː/

/e ɪ aɪ/

2

i. e

/aɪ/

/iː/

igh

/aɪ/

ir

/ɜː/

/ɪə aɪ aɪə/

2

o

/ɒ/

/ʌ uː əʊ ə/

/ɪ ʊ wʌ/

17

o. e

/əʊ/

/uː/

oi

/ɔɪ/

/ə wɑː/

6

oo

/ʊ/

/uː/

/ʌ əʊ/

3

or

/ɔː/

/ɜː/

/ʊ ə/

4

ore

/ɔː/

/əʊ/

ou

/aʊ/

/ɒ ʌ ʊ ə əʊ uː w/

18

ow

/aʊ/

/əʊ/

/ɒ ə/

1

oy

/ɔɪ/

/aɪ/

1

u

/ʌ/

/w ʊ uː juː/

/e ɪ ə jə/

8

ue

/uː/

/juː/

u. e

/uː/

/juː/

ur

/ɜː/

/ə ʊə jʊə/

5

y

/j aɪ/

/iː ɪ/

/ə/

7

Total

39

36

71

162

38

75

233

Grand total of correspondences: 308

* including 2- and 3-phoneme pronunciations which are not part of the main system.

10.2 Order of description

6In this chapter I deal in conventional alphabetical order with 33 of the 38 main-system graphemes of English which begin with vowel letters. The other main entries cover five of the six split digraphs. Three of these come immediately after the grapheme consisting of the same two letters not split, namely <e. e, i. e, u. e> after <ee, ie, ue> respectively. However, because <ae, oe> do not, in my analysis, belong to the main system and are dealt with under <a, o>, the sections dealing with <a. e, o. e> follow the sections dealing with <a, o>. The only split digraph which does not have a main entry is <y. e>, which is not part of the main system; it is dealt with under <y>, immediately after <ye>.

7In most of the 38 main entries in this chapter I list the items in this order:

  1. The basic phoneme. In my opinion, each of these graphemes has a basic phoneme, the one that seems most natural as its pronunciation.

  2. Any other phonemes which are frequent pronunciations of the grapheme.

  • These two categories constitute the main system for graphemephoneme correspondences for graphemes beginning with vowel letters. Correspondences in the main system are shown in 9-point type, the rest in smaller 7.5-point type.

  1. Exceptions to the main system, including any 2-or 3-phoneme correspondences for the main grapheme. The reason for listing exceptions to the main system separately from the Oddities is that this is the clearest way of showing where the main rules break down.

  2. Oddities, minor graphemes which begin with the letter(s) of the main grapheme and occur only in restricted sets of words.

  3. Any 2-and 3-phoneme graphemes which include, but do not have entirely the same spelling as, the main grapheme. Almost all of these are also Oddities, but a few belong to the main system and are included there.

8Most entries end with Notes; none have Tables, but <i> (section 10.22) has a flowchart.

9The only exceptions to this ordering are the four graphemes which have only one pronunciation each: <air, eer, igh, ore>. Under each of these there is usually just one heading, ‘Only phoneme’, and it is automatically part of the main system without having to be so labelled; however, the entries for <igh, ore> have Notes.

10.3 <a>

10N. B. <a. e, ai, air, ar, are, au, aw, ay> have separate entries.

11THE MAIN SYSTEM

12For all these categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/æ/

50%

e.g. cat, pasty /ˈpæstiː/ (‘pie’)

Other phonemes

/ə/

16%

e.g. about, dynamo, opera. Regular when unstressed in all positions, including a, an, but see Exceptions and Notes in this section and Notes in the next section for unstressed <a> pronounced /e, ɪ, ɒ, ɔː, aɪ, ɑː/. Also see Notes in next section for words with final <-ate> pronounced /ət/

/ɑː/

9%

e.g. blasé, father

/eɪ/

8%

e.g. agent, bacon, pasty /ˈpeɪstiː/ (‘whey-faced’)

/ɒ/

8%

e.g. squash, was, what. Regular after <qu, w>

/ɔː/

<1%

e.g. always, bald, tall, water. Regular in some circumstances

13THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<a>

/e/

1% only in:
-
any, ate pronounced /et/ (also pronounced /eɪt/), many, Thames, first <a> in secretaria-l/ t, second <a> in asphalt pronounced /ˈæ∫felt/ (also pronounced /ˈæsfælt/)
- a few words ending <-ary> with the stress two vowels before the <a>, e.g.
necessary, secretary pronounced /ˈnesəseriː, ˈsekrəteriː/(also pronounced /ˈnesəsriː, ˈsekrətriː/ with no vowel phoneme corresponding to the <a> - for the elided vowels in this and the next three paragraphs, see section 6.10) - a few adverbs ending <-arily>, e.g. militarily, necessarily, primarily, voluntarily pronounced /mɪlɪˈterɪliː, nesəˈserɪliː, praɪˈmerɪliː, vɒlənˈterɪliː/ with the <a> stressed (also pronounced /ˈmɪlɪtrəliː, ˈnesəsrəliː, ˈpraɪmrəliː, ˈvɒləntrəliː/ with stress shifted two vowels forward, again no vowel phoneme corresponding to the <a>, and the vowel before /liː/ changed from /ɪ/ to /ə/)
-
temporary pronounced /ˈtempəreriː/ (also pronounced /ˈtemprəriː/ with no vowel phoneme corresponding to the <o>)
-
temporarily pronounced /tempəˈrerɪliː/ (also pronounced either /tempəˈreərɪliː/ with <ar> pronounced /eə/ and the <r> also a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/ - for dualfunctioning see section 7.1 - or reduced to three syllables as /ˈtemprəliː/ with no vowel phonemes corresponding to the <o> or the <a> and the two /r/ phonemes reduced to one)

<a>

/ɪ/

1% only unstressed but in about 250 words ending in <-age>, which is mainly pronounced /ɪʤ/, e.g. village, plus furnace, menace, necklace, octave, orange, signature, surface, spinach pronounced /ˈspɪnɪʤ/ and second <a> in character, palace. For words where the ending <-age> is pronounced /eɪ, ɑːʒ/ see <a. e>, section 10.4

<a>

/aɪ/

only in majolica pronounced /maɪˈjɒlɪkə/ (also pronounced /məˈʤɒlɪkə/), naif, naïve, papaya

Oddities

<aa>

/ɑː/

only in baa, Baal, Graal, kraal, laager, naan, salaam

<aar>

/ɑː/

only in aardvark, aardwolf, bazaar, haar

<ach>

/ɒ/

only in yacht

<ae>

/iː/

is the usual correspondence, e.g. aegis, aeon, aesthetic, algae, alumnae, antennae, archaeology, Caesar(ian), caesura, mediaeval, pupae, vertebrae. For exceptions see next 3 rows

<ae>

/e/

only in haemorrhage, haemorrhoid

<ae>

/eɪ/

only in brae, Gaelic, maelstrom, reggae, sundae

<ae>

/aɪ/

only in maestro, minutiae

<aer>

/eə/

only in faerie and compounds of air spelt <aer>, e.g. aerial. The <r> is also a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dualfunctioning see section 7.1

<ah>

/ə/

only word-final and only in ayah, cheetah, fellah, haggadah, Hannah, hallelujah, loofah, messiah, moolah, mullah, mynah, pariah, purdah, (maha)rajah, Sarah, savannah, verandah, wallah and some other very rare words

<ah>

/ɑː/

only word-final and only in ah, bah, hookah, hoorah, kabbalah, Shah, whydah

<ah>

/eɪ/

only in dahlia

<al>

/ɑː/

only in calf, half; calve(s), halve(s), salve(s) (also pronounced /sælv (z)/); almond, almoner, alms, balm, calm, embalm, malmsey, napalm, palm, psalm, qualm

<al>

/ɔː/

only in balk, calk, chalk, stalk, talk, walk. See also <aul> under <au>, section 10.9

<al>

/æ/

only in salmon

<alf>

/eɪ/

only in halfpence, halfpenny

<anc>

/ə/

only in blancmange /bləˈmɒnʤ/

<ao>

/eɪ/

only in gaol

<ao>

/eə/

only in aorist

<aoh>

/əʊ/

only in pharaoh

<aow>

/aʊ/

only in miaow

<as>

/ɑː/

only in fracas

<at>

/ɑː/

only in eclat, entrechat, nougat

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

14NOTES

15For instances of <a> as an elided vowel see section 6.10.

16<a> is the least predictable of the single-letter vowel graphemes. Its default pronunciation as a single-letter grapheme is /æ/, which occurs in many uncategorisable circumstances, but here are a few categories for guidance:

  • regular before geminate and doubled consonant spellings, e.g. flabbergasted (first <a>), back, cackle, add, addled, badge, badger, chaffinch, gaff, gaggle, ammo, annual, banns, apple, Lapp, arrow, classic(al), lass, match, satchel, battle, matt, jazz, plus <cc> when the two letters are pronounced separately, e.g. accent. Extension: gaffe. Exceptions (in RP): chaff, distaff, staff and most words with final <-ass>, but this is a small set, namely brass, class, glass, grass, pass, with /ɑː/(and there are four sub-exceptions with regular /æ/: ass, bass (‘fish’), lass, mass and one, bizarrely, with /eɪ/: bass /beɪs/ ‘(player of) large stringed instrument’/‘(singer with) low-pitched voice’), most words with final <-all> (see below), e.g. all, with /ɔː/(sub-exceptions: mall, shall with regular /æ/), and several words with preceding <w>, namely swaddle, swallow, twaddle, waddle, waddy, waffle, wallet, wallop, wallow, wally, wannabe, warrant, warren, warrigal, warrior, wassail, wattle, plus quaff, quagga (also pronounced with /æ/), quarrel, quarry, scallop, squabble, all with /ɒ/

  • regular in other words where <a> is the only or last vowel letter and is followed by at least one consonant letter (i. e. those without a geminate or doubled consonant spelling), e.g. asphalt pronounced /ˈæsfælt/ (also pronounced /ˈæ∫felt/), bad, balderdash, bombast, cat, detract, gymnast, impact, lambast, pant. Exceptions: see those with /ɑː, ɔː/below

  • in some words with <a> as the penultimate vowel letter followed by two or more consonant letters (or <x> and word-final <e>), other than those with <-a. e> pronounced /eɪ, ɑː/ (see the next section) and the long list of those with /ɑː/(see below), e.g. axe, collapse, flange

  • as the vowel letter before a consonant letter or cluster and the endings <-ic(al)>, e.g. asthmatic, classic(al), drastic, dynastic, elastic, heraldic, mastic, peristaltic, plastic, spastic (only exception: aphasic, with /eɪ/). The stress always falls on the relevant <a> except in Árabic, lúnatic, which are different from almost all other words in <-aCic> both in having the stress on the vowel two before the <-ic> and in having the <a> before the <ic> ending pronounced /ə/. There are also two relevant words with variant pronunciations: (fly) agaric /əˈgærɪk (regular) or /ˈægərɪk/ (exception), chivalric /ʃɪˈvælrɪk/(regular) or/ˈʃɪvəlrɪk/(exception); on chivalric the Oxford English Dictionary says ‘The first pronunciation is that sanctioned by the poets’

  • in some other words when <a> is at least the penultimate vowel letter (or, if the word-final letter is <e>, at least the antepenultimate vowel letter) and is followed by more than one consonant letter, e.g. alto, altitude, altruism, bastion, chastise, formaldehyde, gasket, gather, mastiff, mastoid, pastel, pastern, pastille, pasty (‘pie’), satchel, and first <a> in advantageous, asthmatic, asphalt whether pronounced /ˈæsfælt /or/ ˈæ∫felt/, bastinado, cantata, cascara, fantasia, maltreat, mascara

  • in a further ragbag of non-final occurrences, e.g. acid, chariot, companion, habit, lavish, manioc, parish, patio, piano, placid, ration, vanish; (first <a>) avalanche, avocado, balaclava, basalt, caviar, marijuana, national, panorama, (ir) rational, valiant; (first and second <a>’s) alpaca; (second <a>) battalion.

17The task then is to define the circumstances in which <a> has other pronunciations. These can be summarised as follows.

18For <a> pronounced /ɑː/in RP (where it is much more frequent than in most other accents of English) Carney (1994: 291-4) gives a set of five rules, all of which have special conditions and exceptions. Instead, here is a set of categories with lists of examples (but with exceptions only for one category; for others they would be too numerous to list):

  • word-finally: only in bra, ma, pa, schwa, spa; grandma, grandpa, hoopla, mama, papa

  • often when <a> is the penultimate vowel letter and there is at least one earlier vowel letter in the word separated from it by at least one consonant letter and the relevant <a> is followed by a single consonant letter followed by word-final <a, i, o>: armada, avocado, balaclava, banana, bastinado, cantata, cascara, cassava, cicada, cinerama, cyclorama, desiderata, desperado, farrago, Gestapo, gymkhana, iguana, incommunicado, karate, legato, liana, literati, marijuana, mascara, meccano, pajama, palaver, panorama, pastrami, pyjama, safari, salami, schemata, sonata, soprano, staccato, stigmata, sultana, svengali, tiara, toccata, tomato, tsunami, virago. Extensions (1) with ‘pronounced’ final <e>: biennale, blase, finale, karate, macrame (contrast sesame, with /ə/); (2) a few words with no earlier vowel letter: drama, gala, guano, guava (in these two words <u> is a consonant letter), khaki, lager, lama, lava, llama, nazi, plaza, pro rata, saga, strata. Exceptions: alpaca, piano with /æ/; dado, data, halo, lumbago, potato, sago, tornado, volcano with /eɪ/

  • often before two consonant letters in words where <a> is the only vowel letter or the word-final letter is <e>: chaff, staff; aft, craft, graft, haft, raft, shaft; hajj; chance, dance, glance, lance, prance, trance; blanch, branch, ranch; can’t, chant, grant, plant, shan’t, slant; graph; ask, bask, cask, flask, mask, task; clasp, gasp, grasp, hasp, rasp; basque, casque, masque; brass, class, glass, grass, pass; blast, cast, caste, fast, last, mast, vast; bath, lath (also pronounced with /æ/), path, plus tranche with three consonant letters; probably none of these words would be pronounced with /ɑː/in any accent other than RP

  • in all the unsuffixed compounds of graph: auto/cardio/choreo /di/ encephalo /epi/ mimeo /para/ photo /quad/ tele/tri-graph, where – graph is always unstressed; again, probably none of these words would be pronounced with /ɑː/in any accent other than RP

  • often before two or three consonant letters in words not covered in previous categories: macabre; debacle; cadre, padre; distaff, giraffe; abaft, after, rafter; example, sample; advance, chancel, chancery, enhance; avalanche, revanchis-m/t; command, commando, countermand, demand, remand, slander; rascal (first <a>); answer; basket, bergomask, casket; aghast, caster, castle, castor, contrast (verb and noun), disaster, fasten, flabbergasted (second <a>), ghastly, master, nasty, pasta (also pronounced with /æ/), pasteurised, pastime, pastor, pasture, plaster; father, lather (also pronounced with /æ/), rather; latte. Unstressed only in distaff, avalanche, contrast (/ˈkɒntrɑːst/, noun), flabbergasted. In this category, the first 4 words would probably be pronounced with /ɑː/in all accents, the rest only in RP

  • otherwise only in amen pronounced /ɑːˈmen/(also pronounced /eɪˈmen/), banal (second <a>), corral, praline, raj.

19(For <a. e> pronounced /ɑː/see the next section).

20<a> is pronounced /ɒ/ mainly after <qu, w> and only in the following groups of words:

  • after <qu>, e.g. quad and all its derivatives, quadrille, quaff, quag (mire) (also pronounced /ˈkwæg (-)/), quagga (also pronounced /ˈkwægə/), qualify and all its derivatives and associates, (e) quality, quandary, quant and all its derivatives, quarantine, quarrel, quarry, quash, quatrain, squab (ble), squad and derivatives, squal-id/or, squander, squash, squat. Unstressed only in quadrille. Only exception, strictly speaking: squall, with /ɔː/. However, there are also fairly large sets of apparent exceptions which contain the <ar> digraph or the <are> trigraph - see sections 10.7-8

  • after <w>, e.g. swab, swaddle, swallow, swamp, swan, swap, swash (buckling), swastika, swat, swatch, twaddle, wad, waddle, waddy, wadi, waffle, waft pronounced /wɒft/ (also pronounced /wɔːft/), wallet, wallop, wallow, wally, walrus pronounced /ˈwɒlrəs/(also pronounced /ˈwɔːlrəs/), wampum, wan, wand, wander, wannabe, want, wanton, warrant, warren, warrigal, warrior, was, wash, wasp, wassail, wast, watch, watt, wattle; in all these words the <a> is stressed. Only exceptions, strictly speaking: walk (where <al> is in any case a digraph), wall, water, all with /ɔː/ - but see again the last sentence of the previous paragraph

  • otherwise, only in ambience, bandeau, bouffant, chanterelle, confidant (e), debutante, fiance (e), flambe, flambeau, insouciance, mange-tout, moustache (now mostly pronounced with /ɑː/in RP), nuance, scallop, séance, wrath pronounced /rɒθ/ (also pronounced /rɔːθ/), what, first <a> in jalap, stalwart, second <a> in blancmange, diamante; unstressed only in bouffant, confidant (e), debutante, insouciance, nuance, seance.

21For a teaching rule based on the words with <qu, w, wh> followed by <a> see section 11.5.

22<a> is pronounced /ɔː/:

  1. in <al-> word-initially when it is a prefix reduced from all: albeit, almighty, almost, already, although, altogether, always and even in the mistaken spelling * alright. All unstressed except almost, always

  2. before <ld, lt>: alder, alderman, bald, balderdash, baldric, scald, thraldom (also spelt thralldom); altar, alter, alternate (both pronunciations and meanings – see the next section), although (again), altogether (again), balti, basalt, cobalt, exalt, falter, halt, halter, malt, paltry, salt; unstressed only in alternate pronounced /ɔːlˈtɜːnət/(‘every other’), although, altogether, basalt, cobalt. Exceptions: formaldehyde, heraldic, alto, altitude, altruism, maltreat, peristaltic with /æ/; asphalt whether pronounced /ˈæsfælt /or/ ˈæ∫felt/; contralto with /ɑː/; emerald, herald, ribald, loyalty, penalty, royalty, subaltern with /ə/

  3. before word-final <-ll>: all, ball, call, fall, gall, hall, pall, small, squall, (in) stall, tall, thrall, wall (but mall, shall have /æ/; hallo, though the <a> is not word-final, is the only other example of <a> before <ll> pronounced /æ/ (sometimes: the pronunciation of this word varies between/hæˈləʊ, heˈləʊ / and/ həˈləʊ/); and in installation the shifting of the stress because of the suffix reduces the <a> to /ə/, which is also the pronunciation of unstressed <a> before <ll> in, e.g., balloon). The <-all> pronounced /ɔːl/group is one of only five cases where the pronunciation of a phonogram/rime is more predictable as a unit than from the correspondences of the separate graphemes, and there are enough instances to make the rule worth teaching; see section A. 7 in Appendix A

  4. otherwise only in appal (second <a>), balsam (first <a>), falcon, enthral, instalment, palfrey, water; also waft, walrus, wrath pronounced /wɔːft, ˈwɔːlrəs, rɔːθ/(also pronounced /wɒft, ˈwɒlrəs, rɒθ/); in all these words the relevant <a> is stressed.

23See also <al> pronounced /ɔː/in the Oddities above, and <aul> under <au>, section 10.9.

24<a> (as distinct from <a. e> – see next section) is pronounced /eɪ/ in just one word where it is the only vowel letter, namely bass /beɪs/ ‘(player of) large stringed instrument’/‘(singer with) low-pitched voice’), and in four categories of longer words where a rule can be stated, plus a ragbag category where any rules would be too complex to be worth stating. <a> is pronounced /eɪ/ in:

251) large numbers of words where <-e> has been deleted before a suffix beginning with a vowel letter, e.g. creation, navigating – see sections 6.3 and especially 6.4. Exception: orator /ˈɒrətə/, where stress has shifted from orate/ɔːˈreɪt/

262) large numbers of words where <a> is followed by a single consonant letter other than <r> and then by:

  • any of <ea, eou, ia, io, iou, iu> followed word-finally by a single consonant letter or none, e.g. azalea; advantageous, cretaceous, herbaceous, instantaneous, subcutaneous; alias, facial, fantasia, regalia, labial, mania (c), palatial, racial; contagion, equation, evasion, invasion, occasion and hundreds more ending in <-asion>, nation and thousands more ending in <-ation>, radio, ratio; pugnacious; gymnasium, stadium, uranium

  • <-ien-ce/t>, e.g. patience; gradient, patient, salient. Extension with two intervening consonant letters: ancient.

27Exceptions: battalion, caviar, chariot, companion, manioc, patio, ration, valiant, plus national, which is a derivative of a word which obeys the rule, and (ir) rational, which are derivatives of a word which does not; all these words have /æ/.

28In all these words (including the exceptions) the stress falls on the relevant <a>

293) a small group of words (and derivatives) where <a> is followed by a consonant letter and then <le, re>, e.g. (dis/en-) able, cable, fable, gable, sable, (un) stable, table; cradle, ladle; maple, staple; sabre; acre, nacre (but not cadre, padre, which have/ɑː/). Again, in all these words (including the exceptions) the stress falls on the <a>

304) almost all words in the ending <-ator>. Only exceptions: conservator, conspirator, orator, predator, senator, which all have <a> pronounced /ə/ and stress on the vowel before that. All other words ending in <-ator> have the stress on the <a> if they have only one earlier vowel letter, e.g. creátor, curátor, dictátor, spectátor, otherwise on the vowel two before the <a>, e.g. admínistrator, ágitator, áviator, cálculator, cómmentator, ínsulator

315) in the following uncategorisable words: aorta, apron, bacon, basal, bathos, blatant, blazon, cadence, canine, capon, chao-s/tic, fatal, favour, flavour, fragran-ce/t, kaolin, labour, lady, latent, mason, matron, nadir, nasal, natron, naval, pagan, papal, pastry, patent (‘obvious’; the word of the same spelling meaning ‘registered design’ can be pronounced with /eɪ/ or /æ/), pathos, patron, planar, saline, savour, scalar, status, tapir, vacant, vagrant, vapour, wastrel; (first <a>) papacy, vacancy, vagary, vagrancy, wastrel; also creative, dative, native – in all other adjectives ending <-ative> the <a> is unstressed and pronounced /ə/. The <a> is stressed in all these words except aórta, chaótic.

32<a> is pronounced /ə/ only when unstressed. Even though this is the predominant pronunciation in unstressed syllables (which in any case cannot be deduced from the written forms of words – see section A. 10 in Appendix A), virtually the only rule that can be given for where /ə/ occurs is that given in the second paragraph of these examples:

  • word-initially: abaft, about, advance, aghast, ago, appal, arrange, askance, askew, awry, azalea

  • medially in the endings <-able (in words where there is at least one earlier vowel letter),-al,-ance,-ancy,-ant,-ative,-iary>, e.g. biddable, liable, syllable, valuable; actual, facial, fatal, labial, nasal, national, naval, normal, palatial, papal, (ir) rational, visual; blatant, fragran-ce/t, vacan-cy/t, vagran-cy/t, valiant; causative, laxative, palliative (only exceptions: creative, dative, native – see just above); apiary, auxiliary, aviary, breviary, domiciliary, intermediary, pecuniary, stipendiary, subsidiary, topiary

  • medially in some words ending in <-ate> - see next section

  • medially also in thousands of unclassifiable words, e.g. archipelago, balloon, breakfast, buffalo, conservator, conspirator, dynamo, emerald, herald, loyalty, lunatic, orator, papa, penalty, predator, ribald, royalty, senator, subaltern; first <a> in battalion, blancmange, encephalogram, instantaneous, palatial; second <a> in alias, Arabic, avalanche, balaclava, ballast, balsam, damask, pagan, papacy, paragraph, vagary

  • word-finally: aorta, armada, aroma, azalea, balaclava, banana, bravura, cantata, cascara, cassava, cicada, cinerama, cyclorama, data, desiderata, drama, fantasia, gala, guava, gymkhana, hosta, iguana, lama, lava, liana, llama, marijuana, mania, mascara, opera, pajama, panorama, pasta, plaza, pro rata, pyjama, regalia, saga, schemata, sonata, stigmata, strata, sultana, tiara, toccata.

10.4 <a.e>

33Occurs only where the <e> is word-final.

34See Notes for all categories and for how this split digraph is defined, and see section 11.4 for a teaching rule relevant to all split digraphs except <y. e>.

35THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/eɪ/

68%

regular in words where <a> is the only vowel letter other than the word-final <e>), e.g. make, take; in longer words, only in compounds plus assuage, engage, rampage

Other phoneme

/ɑː/

32%

only in about 40 mostly French loanwords, e.g. charade, mirage

36THE REST

Exceptions to main system

strictly speaking, none, but see Notes

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

37NOTES

38The split digraph <a. e> is defined as covering words where word-final <e> is separated from the <a> by one consonant letter other than <r, w, x, y> and the <a> is not preceded by a vowel letter and the digraph is pronounced either /eɪ/ or/ɑː/. The definition covers both words where the intervening consonant letter is an independent grapheme and words where the <e> is also part of a consonant digraph <ce, ge, ve> - see sections 3.7.4, 3.7.6-7 and 3.8.4, and section 7.1 for dual-functioning.

39The familiar /eɪ/ pronunciation occurs in many hundreds of words and does not need further illustration. The /ɑː/ pronunciation occurs only in about 40 (mostly French) loanwords; those which fit the main definition just given (for extensions see below) are aubade, ballade, charade, chorale, façade, grave (/grɑːv/, ‘French accent’), locale, morale, pavane, promenade (noun, ‘seafront path’; the verb with the same spelling, ‘walk at leisure’, is pronounced with /eɪ/), rationale, rodomontade, roulade, soutane, strafe, suave (where the <u> is a consonant letter), timbale, vase, plus a set of words ending in <-age> pronounced /ɑːʒ/, namely badinage, barrage, camouflage, collage, corsage, decalage, décolletage, dressage, entourage, espionage, fuselage, garage pronounced /ˈgærɑːʒ/, massage, menage, mirage, montage, triage, sabotage.

40The definition needs the following extensions:

  • eight words in which two consonant letters forming a consonant digraph separate <a. e>: ache, bathe, champagne, lathe, unscathed (the free form * scathe meaning ‘to harm’ does not occur, but underlies both unscathed and scathing), swathe with /eɪ/, gouache, moustache with /ɑː/(contrast attache, where the <a> is pronounced /æ/ and the <e> is a separate grapheme pronounced /eɪ/ and is increasingly written within English text as <é>; also contrast cache, panache, where the <a> is again pronounced /æ/, and <che> is a trigraph pronounced /ʃ/)

  • five words in which <gu, qu> forming consonant digraphs separate <a. e>: opaque, plague, vague with /eɪ/, claque, plaque with /ɑː/

  • eight words ending in <-ange> pronounced /eɪnʤ/ (i. e. <n, g> do not form a digraph): arrange, (ex) change, grange, mange, range, (e) strange (contrast the only other three words ending <-ange>, all with <e> as part of digraph <ge> pronounced /ʤ/ and <a> as a separate grapheme with varying pronunciations: blancmange with /ɒ/, flange with /æ/, orange with /ɪ/). Note that in the words with <-ange> pronounced /eɪnʤ/ the <e> is not only part of digraph a. e> but also forms part of digraph <ge> pronounced /ʤ/ - for dual-functioning see section 7.1

  • seven words ending in <-aste> pronounced /eɪst/: baste, chaste, haste, lambaste, paste, taste, waste, and one with <-aste> pronounced /ɑːst/: caste.

41For an attempt to justify this definition despite its circularity and fuzzy edges see Appendix A, section A. 6.

42In all cases where the <e> is not the last letter in the stem word, <a, e> with an intervening letter(s) are separate graphemes. This is also true of all words with <a> and word-final <e> separated by more than one consonant letter or by a consonant digraph, except the 29 words listed above.

43Where <a> and word-final <e> are separated by just one consonant letter and the <a> is preceded by a consonant letter, the position is more complicated. Many such words look as if the <a, e> should constitute a split digraph – but they do not, according to my definition, because the vowel phoneme preceding the stem/final consonant phoneme is neither /eɪ/ nor/ɑː/. However, guidance is still needed on when words of this sort do not have either of the split digraph pronunciations, especially since there are pairs of words with identical spelling of which one does have <a.e> pronounced /eɪ/ and the other does not.

44There are two groups of words in which unstressed <a> before stemfinal <te> is not part of a digraph <a.e> pronounced /eɪ/ and is instead pronounced /ə/:

  • at least 60 words (all nouns/adjectives) where this is the only pronunciation, e.g. accurate, adequate, agate, appellate, celibate, chocolate, climate, collegiate, conglomerate, (in) considerate, consulate, consummate, delicate, desperate, (in) determinate, directorate, disconsolate, doctorate, electorate, episcopate, extortionate, fortunate, illegitimate, immaculate, immediate, inanimate, incarnate, in (sub) ordinate, inspectorate, intricate, inviolate, (bacca) laureate, legate, (il) literate, magistrate, novitiate, obdurate, palate, particulate, (com/dis) passionate, private, profligate, proletariate, (dis) proportionate, protectorate, proximate, roseate, senate, surrogate, (in) temperate, triumvirate, ultimate, (in) vertebrate

  • a further set of about 30 nouns/adjectives with final <-ate> pronounced /ət/ where the verbs with the same spelling have <-ate> pronounced /eɪt/, e.g. advocate, affiliate, aggregate, alternate (here with also a difference in stress and vowel pattern: noun/ adjective pronounced /ɔːlˈtɜːnət/, verb pronounced /ˈɔːltəneɪt/), animate, appropriate, approximate, articulate, associate, certificate, coordinate, curate (here with also a difference in meaning and stress: noun (‘junior cleric’) pronounced /ˈkjʊərət/, verb (‘mount an exhibition’) pronounced /kjʊəˈreɪt/), degenerate, delegate, deliberate (here with also a difference in syllable structure: adjective/dɪˈlɪbrət/with three syllables and an elided vowel – see section 6.10; verb/dɪˈlɪbəreɪt/with four syllables), designate, desolate, duplicate, elaborate, estimate, expatriate, graduate, initiate, intimate, legitimate, moderate, pontificate (here with unrelated (?) meanings: noun (‘pope’s reign’) pronounced /pɒnˈtɪfɪkət/, verb (‘speak pompously’) pronounced /pɒnˈtɪfɪkeɪt/), predicate, separate (here too with a difference in syllable structure: adjective/ˈseprət/with two syllables and an elided vowel – see section 6.10; verb/ˈsepəreɪt/with three syllables), subordinate, syndicate, triplicate

45There is no rule by which the words with <-ate> pronounced /ət/ can be distinguished from those with <-ate> pronounced /eɪt/ - they just have to be learnt. Where <-ate> is pronounced /ət/ the <e> is phonographically redundant.

46There are hundreds of English words ending <-age>. In words where <a> is the only vowel letter) and their derivatives, e.g. enrage, interstage, plus assuage, engage, rampage, <a. e> is a digraph with the regular pronunciation /eɪ/. But in longer stem words (except the three just listed) <-age> is pronounced either/ɑːʒ /or/ ɪʤ/:

  • for the 18 words with /ɑːʒ/(therefore containing the minority digraph pronunciation), see the the list above

  • by far the most frequent pronunciation of stem-final <-age> in words with at least one earlier vowel letter before the <a>, e.g. garage pronounced /ˈgærɪʤ/, image, mortgage, village and about 250 other words) is therefore /ɪʤ/. Here <a, e> do not form a digraph; <a> is a single-letter grapheme pronounced (peculiarly) /ɪ/ – see the previous section – and the <e> forms a digraph with the <g>. Again, there is no rule by which the other two groups of longer words ending <-age> (stressed pronounced /eɪʤ/, stressed or unstressed pronounced /ɑːʒ/) can be distinguished from this group – they just have to be learnt.

47An oddity here is the word garage with its two pronunciations (in RP), the more French-like /ˈgærɑːʒ/ and anglicised /ˈgærɪʤ/ (see section A. 6 in Appendix A).

48Then there are just 14 words with <a> preceded by a consonant letter and separated from word-final <e> by one consonant letter in which the <e> is a separate grapheme pronounced /iː /or/ eɪ/or sometimes either, namely six French loanwords increasingly spelt in English text with French <é>: blase, cafe, canape, glace, macrame, pate (‘paste’), plus agape (/ʴægǝpeɪ/, ‘love feast’(from Greek), as opposed to /ǝʴgeɪp/, ‘open-mouthed’), biennale, curare, finale, kamikaze, karate, sesame, tamale.

49The only other exceptions to the rule that <-a. e> (with one intervening consonant letter) is a digraph are: ate, which is often pronounced /et/ rather than /eɪt/, have whether pronounced /hæv/ (stressed) or /əv/ (unstressed), and furnace, menace, necklace, palace, pinnace, preface, solace, surface, terrace, carafe, gunwale, carcase, purchase, octave with <-ace,-afe,-ale,-ase,-ave> pronounced variously/ɪs, æf, əl, əs, ɪv/.

10.5 <ai>

50N. B. <air> has a separate entry. For the dual percentages see Notes.

51THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/eɪ/

43%/79%

e.g. paint

52THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ai>

/e/

46%/ <1% only in bouillabaisse, said, saith and (usually, nowadays) again(st). See Notes

<ai>

/ɪ/

8%/14% only in bargain, captain, chamberlain, chaplain, fountain, mountain, porcelain

<ai>

/ə/

4%/7% only in certain, chieftain, coxswain, curtain, mainsail (second <ai>), topsail, villain

<ai>

/æ/

<1% only in Laing, plaid, plait

<ai>

/aɪ/

<1% only in ailuro-phile/phobe, assegai, balalaika, banzai, bonsai, caravanserai, Kaiser, naiad, samurai, shanghai

Oddities

<aigh>

/eɪ/

only in straight

<ais>

/aɪ/

only in aisle

<ais>

/eɪ/

only in palais

<ait>

/eɪ/

only in distrait, parfait, and trait pronounced /treɪ/ (also pronounced /treɪt/)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

53NOTES

54Where two percentages are shown above, the first is that given by Gontijo et al. Among these, the percentage for <ai> pronounced /e/ has been completely distorted by the high frequency of again, said. I have therefore not promoted this correspondence to the main system, but I have re-calculated all the percentages for this grapheme omitting those two words. Where they differ from the originals, the revised percentages are shown second.

55<a, i> are separate graphemes (with automatic intervening /j/-glide) in algebraic, apotropaic, archaic, dais, formulaic, laity, mosaic, prosaic, etc.

10.6 <air>

56THE MAIN SYSTEM

Only phoneme

/eə/

100%

e.g. pair. Always stressed except in corsair (usually), millionairess (always), mohair (always)

57THE REST

pronounced

Oddity

<aire>

/eə/

only word-final and only in a few polysyllabic words of mainly French origin, namely affaire, commissionaire, concessionaire, doctrinaire, laissez-faire, legionnaire, millionaire, questionnaire, secretaire, solitaire. /r/-linking occurs in millionairess – see section 3.6

10.7 <ar>

58N. B. <are> has a separate entry.

59THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɑː/

78%

regular in words where <a> is the only vowel letter except those listed in first paragraph of Exceptions; in longer words, regular before a consonant letter when stressed, e.g. farther (exceptions: see both paragraphs of Exceptions); also word-finally when stressed, e.g. ajar, cigar, guitar, hussar

Other phonemes

/ɔː/

8%

only in athwart, award, dwar-f/ves, quark pronounced /kwɔːk/ (also pronounced /kwɑːk/), quart (an/er/ et/ic/ ile/z), reward, sward, swarf, swarm, swart, swarthy, thwart, towards, untoward, war, warble, ward, warden, warfarin, warlock, warm, warn, warp, wart, whar-f/ves

/eə/

<1%

initially, only in area, Aries; never word-final. Regular medially before a vowel letter other than word-final <e>, especially where <-e> has been deleted before a suffix beginning with a vowel letter, e.g. caring, but there are also independent examples, e.g. parent - see Note. Before a consonant letter, only in scarce, scarcity

60THE REST

pronounced

Exception to main system

<ar>

/ə/

14% does not occur initially; medially, regular in the suffixes /-wəd(z)/ spelt <-ward(s)>, e.g. afterwards, backward(s), downward(s), forward(s), forward, inward, leeward, onward, outward, windward (exceptions: towards, untoward – see last but one paragraph); wordfinally, regular when unstressed, e.g. altar, peculiar, sugar (exceptions: antimacassar, ashlar, attar, avatar, cougar, dinar, lazar, samovar, sitar). Otherwise only medial and only in an unpredictable ragbag of words, e.g. anarchy, awkward, bastard, billiards, bombardier, bulwark, coward, custard, dotard, gabardine, halyard, innards, lanyard, monarch, mustard, scabbard, stalwart, steward, vineyard, wizard

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

61NOTE

62<ar> is always a digraph in the following circumstances (some of which overlap):

  • word-finally, e.g. car, cigar, war;

  • in words where <a> is the only vowel letter other than word-final <e>), e.g. car, cart, scarce;

  • when the next letter is a consonant, e.g. cart, carton, scarce, scarcity;

  • when the <e> of word-final <-are> has been deleted before a suffix beginning with a vowel letter, e.g. caring (though in these cases the <r> also functions as a grapheme in its own right – see section 7.1). But where the next letter is a vowel that is not part of a suffix, <ar> appears to be a digraph only in adversarial, Aquarius, area, Aries, barium, commissariat, garish, gregarious, hilarious, malaria (l), multifarious, nefarious, parent, precarious, proletariat, Sagittarius, variegated, various, vary, and a fairly large set of nouns/adjectives in <-arian>, e.g. agrarian, barbarian (2 nd <ar>), centenarian and other age terms, egalitarian, grammarian, librarian, proletarian, utilitarian, vegetarian. In all these cases the <r> is both part of the digraph <ar> pronounced /eə/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. Otherwise <a, r> are separate graphemes, e.g. Arab, lariat, larynx, pharynx, scarab, scarify, variety.

63A few words have alternative pronunciations where one requires analysing <ar> as a digraph but the other does not, e.g. secretariat, where the first <a> and second <r> can be pronounced either /eər/ (with <ar> as a digraph and the <r> also a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/) or /er/ (with the two letters functioning separately).

10.8 <are>

64THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/eə/

100%

only word-final, e.g. care, pare

65THE REST

pronounced

Exception to main system

<are>

/ɑː/

<1% only in are when stressed (/ə/ when unstressed)

Oddities

<arr>

/ɑː/

only in bizarrery, carr, charr, parr

<arre>

/ɑː/

only in barre, bizarre (but /r/-linking occurs in bizarrery - see section 3.6)

<arrh>

/ɑː/

only in catarrh (but /r/-linking occurs in catarrhal – see section 3.6)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

66NOTE

67The only case where final <a, r, e> belong to separate graphemes is in Hare Krishna.

10.9 <au>

68See Notes for dual percentages.

69THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɔː/

46%/80%

e.g. aura, sauce, autumn, cause; word-final only in landau, Nassau

70THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<au>

/ɒ/

43%/1% only in Aussie, Australia, Austria, because (also increasingly pronounced, unusually, with stressed /ə/), cauliflower, laurel, Laurence, sausage, plus a few words also pronounced with /ɔː/: auction, austere, caustic, claustrophobia/c, hydraulic, (bacca) laureate. See Notes

<au>

/ɑː/

10%/17% only in aunt, draught, laugh(ter)

<au>

/əʊ/

1% only in a few more recent French loanwords, namely chauffeu-r/se, chauvinis-m/t, gauche, hauteur, mauve, saute, taupe

<au>

/aʊ/

<1% only in ablaut, Faustian, gaucho, gauleiter, glaucoma (also pronounced with /ɔː/), sauerkraut (twice), umlaut and the Greek letter name tau; also in aural when pronounced /ˈaʊrəl/ to distinguish it from oral /ˈɔːrəl/

<au>

/eɪ/

only in gauge

Oddities

<augh>

/ɔː/

only in aught, caught, daughter, distraught, fraught, haughty, (Mc)Naught(on), naught, naughty, onslaught, slaughter, taught (and contrast draught, laugh(ter) where <au, gh> are separate graphemes)

<aul>

/ɔː/

only in baulk, caulk, haulm. See also <al> under <a>, section 10.3

<aur>

/ɔː/

only in bucentaur, centaur, dinosaur (and the names of various dinosaur species, e.g. pterosaur), minotaur

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

71NOTES

72If we follow Crystal (2012: 131-2), ‘more recent’ in terms of loanwords from French means after the Great Vowel Shift, which was complete by about AD 1600.

73Where two percentages are shown above, the first is that given by Gontijo et al. (2003). Among these, the high percentage for /ɒ/ is almost entirely due to because. In this case, specifically because they show the number of occurrences of because in their database, Gontijo et al. provide enough information to re-calculate all the percentages for this grapheme omitting because. Where they differ from the originals, the revised percentages are shown second.

74There appear to be no cases where <a, u> are separate graphemes.

75For <au> as an elided vowel spelling in restaurant see section 6.10.

10.10 <aw>

76THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɔː/

100%

e.g. awful, crawl, dawdle, paw

77THE REST

pronounced

Exception to main system

<aw>

/ɔɪ/

<1% only in lawyer, sawyer

Oddity

<awe>

/ɔː/

only in awe and derivatives which retain <e>

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

78NOTE

79Where the next letter is a vowel (other than in a suffix) or a consonant digraph, <a, w> belong to separate graphemes, e.g. in awake, award, aware, awry, awhile, caraway, megawatt.

10.11 <ay>

80THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/eɪ/

91%

e.g. day. See Note

81THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ay>

/iː/

8% only finally and only in quay and compounds of day: birthday, holiday, Sunday, yesterday, etc., except heyday, midday, nowadays, today, workaday, which retain /eɪ/, as does holidaying

<ay>

/e/

<1% only in says

Oddities

<aye>

/eɪ/

only in aye - the usual pronunciation for the meaning ‘always, still’

<aye>

/aɪ/

only in aye, aye-aye. Aye is always pronounced /aɪ/ when it means ‘yes’, sometimes also when it means ‘always, still’

<ayer>

/eə/

only in prayer pronounced /preə/ (‘religious formula’; also pronounced /ˈpreɪjə/, ‘one who prays’)

<ayor>

/eə/

only in mayor and derivitives (but there is /r/-linking in mayoral, mayoress – see section 3.6)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

10.12 <e>

82N. B. <ea, ear, ed, ee, e. e, eer, er, ere, ew> have separate entries.

83THE MAIN SYSTEM

84For all these categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/e/

47%

e.g. bed, invent. Regular when it is the only or last vowel letter and is followed by at least one consonant letter, in earlier positions before consonant clusters, in stressed <ex->, and before <-Cic(al)>

Other phonemes

/ɪ/

39%

mainly when unstressed, e.g. corset; when stressed, only in England, English, pretty and Cecily pronounced /ˈsɪsɪliː/ and therefore as a homophone of Sicily (Cecily is also pronounced /ˈsesɪliː/). Regular in some suffixes

/iː/

8%

e.g. be, decent, ether, psyche. Regular with <e>-deletion, word-finally, and before or in certain endings

/ə/

5%

regular when unstressed, e.g. the (unstressed and before a consonant phoneme), artery

85THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

1% in total

<e>

/ɒ/

in about 22 more recent French loanwords, e.g. (the relevant <e>’s are in caps) ambiEnce, cliEntele, denouemEnt, détEnte, divertissemEnt, Embonpoint, Embouchure, En (suite), Enceinte pronounced /ɒnˈsænt/ (also pronounced /enˈseɪnt/), Enclave pronounced /ˈɒŋkleɪv/ (more often pronounced /ˈeŋkleɪv/), Encore, Ennui, EnsEmble, EntEnte, Entourage, Entracte, Entrepreneur, Entree, Envelope pronounced /ˈɒnvələʊp/ (also pronounced /ˈenvələʊp/), gEnre, rapprochemEnt, rEntier

<e>

/eɪ/

in words where <e> is the only vowel letter, only in thegn. Otherwise only in about 65 more recent loanwords mainly from French where French spelling has <é>, namely (in non-final positions) debris, debut, decor, eclair, ecru, elan, ingenu, precis; first <e> in debacle, debutante, decalage, decolletage, denouement, detente, elite, ingenue, menage, regime, seance, (Greek) heter-/hom-ogeneity pronounced /hetər-/hɒm-əʊʤɪˈneɪjɪtiː/ (usually pronounced /hetər-/hɒm-əʊʤɪˈniːjɪtiː/), (Hawaian) ukulele and (Turkish) meze; (word-finally) (French) abbe, attache, blase, cafe (also pronounced with /iː/), canape (also pronounced with /iː/, hence the invitation I once received to a party with ‘wine and canopies’), cliche, communique, conge, consomme, diamante, fiance, flambe, frappe, glace, habitue, macrame, manque, outre, pate (‘paste’), retrousse, risque, rose (‘pink wine’), roue, saute, soigne, souffle, touche, (Amerindian/Spanish) abalone, (Greek) agape (/ʴægǝpeɪ/, ‘love feast’), (Italian) biennale, finale, (Spanish/Nahuatl) guacamole, (Japanese) anime, kamikaze and (Mexican Spanish) tamale; final <e> in (French) emigre, expose (‘report of scandal’), naivete, protege, recherche, resume (‘c.v.’), retroussé, (KiSwahili/Spanish) dengue and (Turkish) meze.
There is an increasing tendency to spell the French loanwords in this list, within English text, with <é>

Oddities

<e’er>

/eə/

only in e’er, ne’er, where’er and a few other archaic contracted forms. See section A. 9 in Appendix A

For ‘<i> before <e> except after <c>’ see section 6.1

<ei>

/iː/

69% of pronunciations for <ei> only medial and only in caffeine, casein, ceiling, codeine, conceit, conceive, counterfeit pronounced /ˈkaʊntəfiːt/ (also pronounced /ˈkaʊntəfɪt/), cuneiform, deceit, deceive, heinous pronounced /ˈhiːnəs/ (also pronounced /ˈheiːnəs/), inveigle, perceive, plebeian, protein, receipt, receive, seize

<ei>

/aɪ/

23% of pronunciations for <ei> only in deictic, deixis, eider(down), eidetic, eirenic, either, Fahrenheit, feisty, gneiss, heist, kaleidoscope, meiosis, neither, poltergeist, seismic and derivatives, stein

<ei>

/ə/

7% of pronunciations for <ei> only in foreign (which must therefore have been very frequent in Gontijo et al.’s (2003) database)

All other pronunciations of <ei> amount to <1% in total

<ei>

/eɪ/

only in about 15 words, namely abseil, apartheid, beige, deign, feign, feint, heinous pronounced /ˈheɪnəs/ (also pronounced /ˈhiːnəs/), lei (only example in word-final position), obeisance, reign, rein, reindeer, seine, sheikh, skein, surveillance, veil, vein

<ei>

/ɪ/

only in counterfeit pronounced /ˈkaʊntəfɪt/ (also pronounced /ˈkaʊntəfiːt/), forfeit, sovereign, surfeit

<ei>

/e/

only in heifer, leisure, seigneur

<ei>

/æ/

only in reveille

<eigh>

/eɪ/

89% of pronunciations for <eigh> only in eight, freight, heigh, inveigh, neigh, neighbour, sleigh, weigh, weight

<eigh>

/aɪ/

11% of pronunciations for <eigh> only in height, sleight

<eir>

/eə/

only in their(s) and therefore virtually 100%

<eir>

/ɪə/

only in weir, weird

<eo>

/ə/

only in bludgeon, curmudgeon, dudgeon, dungeon, gudgeon, luncheon, puncheon, (e)scutcheon, smidgeon, sturgeon, surgeon, truncheon, widgeon

<eo>

/e/

only in Geoff(rey), jeopardy, Leonard, leopard

<eo>

/iː/

only in feoffee, feoffment, people

<eo>

/əʊ/

only in Yeo, yeoman, Yeovil

<es>

/eɪ/

only in demesne

<et>

/eɪ/

only word-final and only in about 20 more recent French loanwords, namely ballet, beret, bidet, bouquet, buffet (‘food’), cabaret, cabriolet, cachet, cassoulet, chalet, crochet, croquet, duvet, gilet, gourmet, parquet, piquet, ricochet, sachet, so(u)briquet, sorbet, tourniquet, valet pronounced /ˈvæleɪ/ (also pronounced /ˈvælɪt/). /t/ surfaces in balletic, parquetry, valeting – see section 7.2. In these and all other cases <e, t> are separate graphemes – for examples see Notes

<eu>

/uː/

only in rheum(ati-c/sm), sleuth, plus adieu, lieu (also pronounced /luː/), purlieu if pronounced with /-juː/, in which case <i> is pronounced /j/

<eu>

/ɜː/

only in chauffeuse, coiffeuse, masseuse, milieu

<eu>

/ə/

only in pasteurise pronounced /ˈpaːsʧəraɪz/ (also pronounced /ˈpaːstjəraɪz/

<eur>

/ɜː/

non-finally, only in secateurs; otherwise only word-final and only in about 12 more recent loanwords of French origin, e.g. chauffeur (if stressed on <eur>), coiffeur, connoisseur, entrepreneur, hauteur, masseur, poseur, provocateur, raconteur, repetiteur, restaurateur, seigneur and a few other rare words

<eur>

/ə/

only in amateur, chauffeur (if stressed on <au>), grandeur. /r/-linking occurs in amateurish – see section 3.6

<eur>

/ʊə/

only in pleurisy; the <r> is also pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. See section 5.6.5 for the increasing replacement of /ʊə/ by/ɔː/

<ey>

/iː/

except in geyser pronounced /ˈgiːzə/, only final and only in abbey, alley, attorney, baloney, barley, blarney, blimey, cagey, chimney, chutney, cockney, comfrey, coney, donkey, dopey, flunkey, fogey, galley, gooey, hackney, hockey, homey, honey, jersey, jockey, journey, key, kidney, lackey, malarkey, matey, medley, money, monkey, motley, nosey, palfrey, parley, parsley, pokey, pulley, storey, tourney, turkey, valley, volley

<ey>

/eɪ/

never initial; medially, only in abeyance, heyday; word-finally, only in bey, convey, fey, grey, hey, lamprey, obey, osprey, prey, purvey, survey, they, whey

<ey>

/aɪ/

only in geyser pronounced /ˈgaɪzə/ (usually pronounced /ˈgiːzə/)

<eye>

/aɪ/

only in eye

<eyr>

/ɪə/

only in eyrie; the <r> is also pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1

<ey’re>

/eə/

only in they’re. See section A. 9 in Appendix A

<e’re>

/ɪə/

only in we’re. See section A. 9 in Appendix A

<ez>

/eɪ/

only in laissez-faire, pince-nez, rendezvous

2-phoneme graphemes

<eu>

as 2-phoneme sequence /juː/

only in various words and names of Greek origin, e.g. eucalyptus, eucharist, eudaemonic, eugenic, eulogy, eunuch, euphemism, euphorbia, euphoria, eurhythmic, euthanasia, leukaemia, neural, neurone, neurosis, Odysseus, Pentateuch, Perseus, pneumatic, pneumonia and other words derived from Greek πνευ̑μα pneuma (‘breath’) or πνεύμων pneumon (‘lung’), pseud(o) and all its derivatives, therapeutic, Theseus, zeugma, plus (non-Greek) deuce, euchre, Eustachian, feu, feud(al), neuter, neutr-al/on, teutonic and some other very rare words

<eu>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jə/

only in aneurism, pasteurise pronounced /ˈpaːstjəraɪz/ (also pronounced /ˈpaːsʧəraɪz/)

<eur>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jʊə/

only in eureka, Europe and derivatives (where the <r> is also pronounced /r/ - for dualfunctioning see section 7.1) and liqueur pronounced /lɪˈkjʊə/

86NOTES

87If we follow Crystal (2012: 131-2), ‘more recent’ in terms of loanwords from French means after the Great Vowel Shift, which was complete by about AD 1600.

88Except in the cases noted in the Oddities, in <eo, et, ez> the <e> is a separate grapheme – cf. especially someone.

89<e, i> are separate graphemes pronounced /iː, ɪ/ (with an intervening /j/-glide) in albeit, atheis-m/t(ic), dei-fy /sm/ st, hetero/homo-geneity, nucleic, pantheism, reify, reinforce, reinstate.

90<e, u> are separate graphemes pronounced /iː, ə/ (again with an intervening /j/-glide) in coleus, linoleum, mausoleum, museum, nucleus, petroleum.

91For many examples of medial <e, o> as separate graphemes see below.

92Percentages for <eo, eu, eur, ey> are not worth giving because so few words are involved.

93For instances of <e> as an elided vowel see section 6.10.

94The default pronunciation of <e> as a single-letter grapheme is /e/, but here are some categories for guidance:

  • regular before geminate and doubled consonant spellings, e.g. ebb, beck, speckled, cheddar, hedge (r), ineffable, egg, trekkie, bell, bellow, biennial, berry, blessed /ˈblesɪd/, stress, wretch (ed), sett, settle, embezzle. Extension: all the words ending <-ette>. Only exception: retch pronounced /riːʧ/

  • regular in other words where <e> is the only vowel letter and is followed by at least one consonant letter, e.g. bed, phlegm, trek. See section 11.3 for a teaching rule relevant to.. VC monosyllables

  • regular before consonant clusters in words with at least one earlier vowel letter separated from the relevant <e> by at least one consonant letter, e.g. accept, bedeck, except, inflect, reject, present (verb), prevent, repent, subject /səbˈʤekt/(verb, with stress on <e>; the noun is pronounced /ˈsʌbʤɪkt/). Extension: 3 words with <eCe> where <e. e> is not pronounced /iː, eɪ/(for words where <e. e> is so pronounced see section 10.17): allege, clientele, cortege

  • mostly when <e> is followed by more than one consonant letter and there is at least one later vowel letter, e.g. better, bevvy, enter, freckle, pendulum, phlegmatic, splendid, terrible, terrify

  • when followed by a single consonant letter and the endings <-ic(al)>, e.g. academic, arithmétic (adjective), arithmetical, ascetic, athletic, atmospheric, genetic, heretical, parenthetical, pathetic. Extension: ethic-al/s. Only exceptions: acetic (which is thus differentiated from ascetic), emic, graphemic, phonemic, scenic, with /iː/, aríthmetic (noun), chóleric, climácteric, héretic, with the relevant <e> pronounced /ə/. The stress always falls on the syllable spelt with the relevant <e> except in the four words just shown with different stresses

  • in a few words (some very frequent) before <ver>, e.g. beverage, clever, ever, every, never, reverend, several. However, the exceptions are more numerous: cantilever, fever, lever (age) with /iː/; persevere, revere, revers-e/al, severe with /ɪ/

  • in a further ragbag of non-final occurrences, e.g. first <e> in celery, deference, element, emery, excellent, exile, exit, levee, machete, penance, preference, present (noun, adjective), president, reference, relevant, separate, seven, tether; second <e> in decrepit, presidential, replenish; third <e> in deferential, preferential, referential; also bevy, credit, debit, discretion, edit, fetish, heron, inherit, intrepid, lemon, leper, levy, medal, melon, merit, metal, pedal, pedant, perish, relish, special, tenant, tenon, tepid, very, xenon.

95The task then is to define the circumstances in which <e> has other pronunciations. These can be summarised as follows.

96Word-final <e> is mainly ‘silent’, i. e. part of a digraph (split or not), trigraph or four-letter grapheme. It is ‘pronounced’:

  • as /eɪ/, only in the 42 words listed under the exception ‘<e> pronounced /eɪ/ ’ above

  • as /iː/ in be, he, me, she, the (when stressed), we, ye; aborigine, acme, acne, adobe, agave, anemone, apostrophe, bocce, catastrophe, coyote, dilettante, epitome, extempore, facsimile, (bona) fide, forte, furore, hebe, hyperbole, karate, machete, menarche, minke, nepenthe, oche, posse, psyche, recce, recipe, reveille, sesame, simile, stele, strophe, tagliatelle, tsetse, ukulele, vigilante.

97Non-final <e> is pronounced /iː/ in:

981) hundreds of words where the final <e> of <e. e> has been deleted before a suffix beginning with a vowel letter, e.g. competing, schematic – see sections 6.3 and especially 6.4

992) a number of words where <e> is followed by a single consonant letter other than <r> and then by

  • any of <eo, ia, io, iou, iu> followed word-finally by a single consonant letter or none, e.g. chameleon (first <e>), meteor (first <e>); sepia; comedian, congenial, genial, Grecian, remedial (second <e>); cohesion, completion, lesion and many more words ending in <-esion,-etion>, senior; egregious (second <e>), facetious, ingenious, specious, tedious; genius, magnesium, medium, tedium

  • <-ien-ce /cy/ t>, e.g. obedience, expediency (second <e>), leniency, convenient, expedient, ingredient.

100In all these words (and the first two exceptions listed next) the <e> in question is stressed. Exceptions: discretion, special with /e/, dandelion, denial with /ɪ/, elegiac with second <e> pronounced /ə/.

1013) a very few words when unstressed before word-final <o(n/r)>: galleon, Odeon, video, second <e> in chameleon, melodeon, meteor (all with automatic intervening /j/-glide)

1024) the ending <-eous> pronounced /iːjəs/, e.g. aqueous, beauteous, courteous, (sub) cutaneous, erroneous, gaseous pronounced /ˈgæsiːjəs/, hideous, instantaneous, nauseous pronounced /ˈnɔːziːjəs/, simultaneous and about 70 other words. But N. B. there are many words ending in <-eous> where the <e> is part of a digraph with the preceding letter, e.g. advantageous, gaseous pronounced /ˈgeɪ∫əs/, gorgeous, nauseous pronounced /ˈnɔːʒəs/, righteous, siliceous and a set of words in <-aceous> pronounced /ˈeɪʃəs/, e.g. cretaceous, curvaceous, herbaceous, sebaceous and about 100 others, mostly scientific and all very rare

1035) a number of words when stressed before a single consonant letter and word-final <a, o>, e.g. beta, edema, ego pronounced /ˈiːgəʊ/(also pronounced /ˈegəʊ/), emphysema, eta, hyena, magneto, schema, theta, torpedo, tuxedo, verbena, veto, etc.

1046) plurals of a few nouns with singular ending <-is> pronounced /ɪs/ and plural ending <-es> pronounced /iːz/, e.g. (Greek) analyses (/əˈnælɪsiːz/, the singular verb of the same spelling being pronounced /ˈænəlaɪzɪz/), apotheoses, axes, bases (/ˈæksiːz, ˈbeɪsiːz/, plurals of axis, basis; axes, bases as the plurals of axe, base are pronounced (regularly)/ˈæksɪz, ˈbeɪsɪz/), crises, diagnoses, emphases, exegeses, nemeses, oases, periphrases, synopses, (anti /hypo/ meta/syn-) theses, (Latin) amanuenses, testes, plus (Greek singulars) diabetes, herpes, litotes, pyrites, (a stray Greek plural with singular in <-s>) Cyclopes, and (other Latin plurals) appendices, cicatrices, faeces, interstices, mores, Pisces

1057) the stressed prefixes <de-, e-, pre-, re-> pronounced /diː-, iː-, priː-, riː-/in, e.g., dethrone, egress, preschool, rephrase

1068) alveolar, apotheosis, camellia, cathedral, cedar, choreograph, demon, ethos, femur, genus, harem, legal, lemur, leotard, lethal, mimeograph, negus, neon, osteopath, pecan, penal, penis, peony, pleonasm, rebus, regal, renal, retch (pronounced /riːʧ/(also pronounced /reʧ/), secant, theory, thesis (but not its compounds), venal, venial, etc., (first <e> in) abbreviate, appreciable, cotoneaster /kəˈtəʊniːjæstə/, creosote, decent, diabetes, egret, ether, febrile, feline, geodetic, heliotrope, immediate, inebriated, leonine, mediocre, meter, metre, recent, regent, etc.

107Carney would place all the words in categories 3 and 4, and those in category 8 where <e> is followed by a vowel grapheme pronounced /ə/, under /ɪə/.

108The only words in which <e> is pronounced /ɪ/ in stressed syllables are England, English, pretty and Cecily pronounced /ˈsɪsɪliː/ and therefore as a homophone of Sicily (Cecily is also pronounced /ˈsesɪliː/). Categories where /ɪ/ is the regular pronunciation of unstressed <e> are:

  • the unstressed prefixes <be-, de-, e-, ex-, pre-, re-> pronounced /bɪ, dɪ, ɪ, ɪks/ɪgz, prɪ, rɪ/in, e.g., before, beholden, decline, deliver, effective, efficient, extreme, examine, precede, predict, regale, reject

  • some occurrences of the ending <-ed> - see section 10.15

  • the endings <-efy,-efied> pronounced /ɪfaɪ (d)/, which occur in just four words: liquefy, putrefy, rarefied, stupefy

  • the ending <-ety> pronounced /ɪtiː/in anxiety, dubiety, entirety, gaiety, moiety, naivety, nicety, notoriety, (im) piety, (im) propriety, sobriety, society, surety, variety

  • the noun plural and third person singular present tense verb endings spelt <-es> and pronounced /ɪz/ after <c, ch, g, s, sh, z> pronounced variously/s, z, ∫, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ/ - see the entries for those consonants in sections 3.6.6, 3.6.8, 3.7.3, 3.7.4, 3.6.2, 3.6.4 respectively. Exceptions: plurals of (Greek) nouns, etc., listed above

  • the unstressed noun/adjective endings <-ess,-less,-let,-ness> pronounced /ɪs, lɪs, lɪt, nɪs/, e.g. goddess, listless, booklet, madness

  • the superlative adjective ending <-est>, e.g. biggest, grandest

  • the archaic second and third person singular verb endings <-est,-eth>, e.g. gavest, goeth

  • mainly before final <t>, e.g. in ashet, brisket, budget, buffet (‘strike’), corset, dulcet, facet, fillet, gannet, gullet, nugget, plummet, punnet, russet, secret, tuffet, valet (also pronounced with /eɪ/ and no /t/) and about 150 other words. For final <et> pronounced /eɪ/ see the Oddities.

109There is also a ragbag of other words with non-final <e> pronounced /ɪ/, e.g. allegation, employ, forest, hallelujah, integral (when pronounced /ˈɪntɪgrəl/; also pronounced /ɪnˈtegrəl/), kitchen, mannequin, regalia, subject (noun/ˈsʌbʤɪkt/, with stress on <u>; the verb is pronounced /səbˈʤekt/), vinegar, women; first <e> in anecdote, antelope, barometer and all the instruments ending in <-ometer> (but not kilometer or other compounds of meter), celebrity, consecrate, diocese, eccentric, ellipse, elope, enamel, integrate, negate, neglect, sequential; second <e> in elegant, elephant, peregrine, and many others.

110Examples of non-final <e> pronounced /ə/ include every unstressed final <-en> (e.g. alien) except in women (/ˈwɪmɪn/), plus artery, bolero (/ʽbɒlərəʊ/, ‘garment’), soviet, first <e> in coterie; second <e> in elevate, the first <e> in the ending <-ence> in, e.g., audience, conscience, convenience, ebullience, experience, omniscience, obedience, prurience, resilience, salience, science; the <e> in the endings <-ency,-ent> in, e.g., expediency, leniency; absent, (in) clement, convenient, ebullient, expedient, incipient, lenient, orient (noun), omniscient, obedient, prescient, present (noun/adjective), prurient, resident, resilient, salient, sentient, subservient, transient; also, in nouns ending <-ment>, e.g. complement, compliment, document, element (note the second <e> too), experiment, ferment, fragment, implement, increment, instrument – on this last group see also section 6.8.

10.13 <ea>

111N. B. <ear> has a separate entry.

112THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/iː/

73%

e.g. beach

113THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ea>

/e/

21% In about 60 words, namely: Beaconsfield; treacher-ous/y; bread, breadth, dead, dread, (a)head, lead (the metal, plus derivatives leading, leaded), meadow, read (past tense and participle), Reading (Berkshire, in first map (1611) spelt Redding), (al)ready, spread, (in)stead, steadfast, steady, thread, tread(le); deaf; breakfast; dealt, health, jealous, realm, stealth, wealth, zealous, zealot; dreamt, seamstress; cleanly (adjective, plus derivative cleanliness), cleanse, leant, meant; leapt, weapon; (a)breast; peasant, pheasant, pleasant; measure, pleasure, treasure; sweat, threat(en); breath, death; feather, heather, leather, weather; endeavour, heaven, heavy, leaven and other derivatives not listed

<ea>

/eɪ/

6% only in break, great, steak, yea, Yeat(e)s

Oddities

<eah>

/eə/

only in yeah

<eau>

/ɒ/

only in bureaucracy, bureaucratise

<eau>

/ə/

only in bureaucrat(ic)

<eau>

/əʊ/

only word-final and only in bandeau, beau, bureau, chateau, flambeau, gateau, plateau, portmanteau, rondeau, tableau, trousseau and a few other very rare words. For the plurals of these words see /z/, section 3.6.7, and <x>, section 9.42

2-phoneme grapheme

<eau>

as 2-phoneme sequence /juː/

only in beauty and derivatives

114NOTES

115The roughly 20 words listed above with <ead> pronounced /ed/ contrast with about 6 pronounced /iːd/: bead, knead, lead (verb), mead, plead, read (present tense). The <-ead> pronounced /ed/ group is one of only five cases where the pronunciation of a phonogram/rime is more predictable as a unit than from the correspondences of the separate graphemes, and there are enough instances to make the rule worth teaching; see section A. 7 in Appendix A.

116<e, a> are separate graphemes pronounced /iː, ɪ/ only in lineage; /iː, ə/ in area, azalea, cereal, cornea, creativity, European, fealty, idea, Jacobean, (bacca) laureate, miscreant, nausea, panacea, theatre, urea; /iː, æ/ in beatitude, caveat, cotoneaster, deactivate, genealogy, meander, oleander, preamble, react, realign; /iː, eɪ/ in create, creation, delineate, nauseate, reagent. In all these cases there is an automatic intervening /j/-glide.

117<e, a> are/belong to separate graphemes also in a set of words in which <e> has not been deleted before suffixes beginning with a vowel letter, in order to mark <c, g> as pronounced /s, ʤ/ and not /k, g/, e.g. noticeable, changeable – for more detail see section 6.4.

10.14 <ear>

118THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɪə/

67%

medially only in afeard, arrears, beard, and (with <r> also a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/ - for dual-functioning see section 7.1) bleary, weary; otherwise only wordfinal and only in appear, arrear, blear, clear, dear, drear, ear, fear, gear, hear, near, rear, sear, shear, smear, spear, tear (‘moisture from eye’), year

Other phoneme

/eə/

1%

only word-final and only in (for(e)-) bear, pear, swear, tear (‘rip’), wear

119THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ear>

/ɜː/

29% never word-final, and only in dearth, earl, early, earn, earnest, earth, heard, hearse, learn, pearl, rehearse, (re)search, yearn

<ear>

/ɑː/

4% only in hearken (also spelt, more regularly, harken), heart, hearth

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

120NOTES

121All the words with final <ear> allow /r/-linking – see section 3.6.

122Despite the percentage for <ear> pronounced /ɜː/I have not promoted this correspondence to the main system because it occurs in so few words (though some have very high frequency).

123<e, ar> are separate graphemes pronounced /iː, ə/ in cochlear, linear, nuclear;/iː, ɑː/in rearm; (with <a, r> as separate graphemes) /iː, ə, r/ in rearrange. In all these cases there is an automatic intervening /j/-glide.

10.15 <ed>

124THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/d/

62%

in past tense and participle endings of regular verbs whose stems end in a vowel letter or in a consonant letter other than <d>

Other phoneme

/t/

38%

in past tense and participle endings of regular verbs whose stems end in a consonant letter other than <t>

125THE REST

126(None).

127NOTES

128Where the stem of a regular verb ends in <(d)d, (t)t> pronounced /d, t/ the <-ed> ending is pronounced /ɪd/, e.g. added, decided, matted, ousted. This also applies in:

  • a few adjectives which are derived from or resemble past participles but have /ɪd/ rather than the expected /d, t/, but often with a different meaning, e.g. accursed, aged (/ˈeɪʤɪd/ ‘elderly’ vs /eɪʤd/ ‘having… years’), beloved (/bɪˈlʌvɪd/’ the loved one’ vs/bɪˈlʌvd/ ‘adored’), blessed (/ˈblesɪd/ ‘holy’ vs /blest/ ‘consecrated’), cragged, crooked (/ˈkrʊkɪd/ ‘untrustworthy’ vs /krʊkt/ ‘at an angle’), Crutched (Friars), cursed (/ˈkɜːsɪd/ ‘damnable’ vs/kɜːst/ ‘swore badly/put a hex on’), cussed (/ˈkʌsɪd/ ‘stubborn’ vs /kʌst/ ‘swore mildly’), deuced, dogged (/ˈdɒgɪd/ ‘persistent’ vs /dɒgd/ ‘followed’), fixed (/ˈfɪksɪd/ ‘persistent’ vs /fikst/ ‘mended’), horned (owl), jagged (/ˈʤægɪd/ ‘with sharp points’ vs /ʤægd/ past tense of jag), learned (/ˈlɜːnɪd/ ‘wise’ vs/lɜːnd/regular past tense of learn), (bow /one/ three-) legged, naked, ragged (/ˈrægɪd/ ‘torn, exhausted’vs /rægd/ past tense of rag), rugged, sacred, supposed (/səˈpəʊzɪd/ ‘apparent’vs (/səˈpəʊzd/past tense of suppose), wicked, wretched. In (ac) cursed, blessed, crooked, Crutched, cussed, deuced, fixed, wretched, not only does the /ɪ/ surface (see section 7.2) but the /t/ voices to /d/

  • the past participle verb ending <-ed> pronounced /ɪd/ before adverbial <-ly>, e.g. advisedly, allegedly, assuredly, barefacedly, composedly, confusedly, deservedly, determinedly, fixedly, markedly, relaxedly, (un) reservedly, supposedly, unabashedly, unashamedly, undisguisedly, unrestrainedly. Again, in barefacedly, fixedly, markedly, relaxedly, not only does the /ɪ/ surface (see section 7.2) but the /t/ voices to /d/

  • the <ed> element in a very few nouns in <-ness> formed from past participles, e.g. determinedness, preparedness. In preparedness not only does the /ɪ/ surface (see section 7.2) but also /r/-linking occurs (see section 3.6) and the <r> is both part of the grapheme <are> pronounced /eə/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1.

129Given the phonological contexts, <ed> is 100% predictable.

130Outside the verb endings listed, <e, d> are always separate graphemes, e.g. in bed, biped, bred, led, quadruped, shed.

10.16 <ee>

131N. B. <e. e, eer> have separate entries.

132THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/iː/

100%

e.g. beech, free, seen

133THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<1% in total

<ee>

/eɪ/

only word-final and only in about 13 words where French spelling has <ée>, namely corvee, dragee (‘sugar-coated sweet ‘pronounced /ˈdrɑːʒeɪ/; also pronounced /ˈdreɪʤiː/), entree, epee, fiancee, levee (‘reception or assembly’, also pronounced with /iː/), matinee, melee, nee, negligee, puree, soiree, toupee. There is a growing tendency to spell these words in English with <ée>

<ee>

/ɪ/

only in been when unstressed, breeches, cheerio /bɪn, ˈbrɪʧɪz, ʧɪriːˈjəʊ/

<ee>

/uː/

only in leeward pronounced /ˈluːwəd/ (also pronounced /ˈliːwəd/)

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

134NOTE

135<e, e> are separate graphemes only in a few unusual suffixed forms, e.g. freer, freest, weer, weest (comparative and superlative forms of the adjectives free, wee), freest, freeth, seest, seeth (/ˈfriːjɪst, ˈfriːjɪθ, ˈsiːjɪst, ˈsiːjɪθ/, archaic second and third person singular present tense forms of the verbs free, see), sightseer /ˈsaɪtsiːjə/ (for more detail see section 6.4). There might then be a barely perceptible difference in pronunciation between two words spelt seer: disyllabic/ˈsiːjə/ ‘person who sees’vs monosyllabic /sɪə/ ‘person with second sight’.

10.17 <e. e>

136Occurs only where the <e> is word-final.

137See Note for all categories and for how this split digraph is defined, and see section 11.4 for a teaching rule relevant to all split digraphs except <y. e>.

138THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/iː/

100%

e.g. effete, grapheme, phoneme, scene, swede

Other phoneme

/eɪ/

<1%

only in crepe, fete, renege, suede, Therese /kreɪp, feɪt, rɪˈneɪg, sweɪd, təˈreɪz/

139THE REST

Exceptions to main system

strictly speaking, none, but see Note

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

140NOTE

141The split digraph <e.e> is defined as covering words where the word-final <e> is separated from the leading <e> by one consonant letter other than <r, w, x, y> and the leading <e> is not preceded by a vowel letter and the digraph is pronounced either/iː /or/ eɪ/. Unlike <a. e>, no extensions are needed. The definition covers both words where the intervening consonant letter is an independent grapheme and words where the <e> is also part of a digraph <ce, ge, ve> - see sections 3.7.4, 3.7.6-7 and 3.8.4, and section 7.1 for dual-functioning. Exceptions where the leading <e> is a separate grapheme and the word-final <e> only forms a digraph with the intervening consonant letter: allege, annexe, clientele, cortege with the penultimate <e> pronounced /e/ (cf. also creche), college, privilege, sacrilege, sortilege with the penultimate <e> pronounced /ɪ/. There are very few English words ending <-ege>, and the five just mentioned are most of them, apart from a few very obscure and obsolete terms, and protegé, which is increasingly spelt like that, with a French acute accent and the final <e> always pronounced separately:/ˈprɒtəʒeɪ/. The only other words in which <e, e> separated by a single consonant letter are separate graphemes appear to be hebe, machete, naivete, stele, ukulele. See also section A. 6 in Appendix A.

10.18 <eer>

142THE MAIN SYSTEM

Only phoneme

/ɪə/

100%

except in eerie, where <r> is also pronounced /r/ (for dual-functioning see section 7.1), only word-final, e.g. beer. Many words with this ending allow /r/-linking – see section 3.6

143NOTE

144The only words in which <e, er> are separate graphemes appear to be freer, weer (comparatives of free, wee).

10.19 <er>

145N. B. <ere> has a separate entry.

146THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɜː/

24%

regular medially when stressed before a consonant letter, e.g. berth, exert, herd; also word-finally when stressed, e.g. aver, defer, deter, her, infer, inter, prefer, refer, transfer

Other phonemes

/ə/

65%

regular word-finally when unstressed, e.g. other, patter; also in prefixes hyper-, inter-, per-, super-when not stressed on <er>

/ɪə/

<1%

never word-final; initially, only in era; regular medially before a vowel letter when stressed, e.g. anterior, arterial, bacteria, cafeteria, criteri-a/on, deteriorate, diphtheria, experience, funereal, hero, imperial, inferior, material, mysterious, period, posterior, series, superior, ulterior, wisteria. In all these words the <r> is both part of the digraph <er> pronounced /ɪə/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/ - for dual-functioning see section 7.1 – and the <er> is stressed. Also see Notes

147THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<er>

/eə/

9% only in bolero (‘dance’), concierge, recherche, scherzo, sombrero. In bolero, sombrero the <r> is both part of <er> spelling /eə/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. This is also true of a few suffixed forms of words in the next section with <-ere> pronounced /eə/, e.g. compering. For dual-functioning see section 7.1

<er>

/eɪ/

1% only word-final and only in a few French loanwords, namely atelier, croupier, dossier pronounced /ˈdɒsiːjeɪ/ (also pronounced /ˈdɒsiːjə/), foyer pronounced /ˈfwaɪjeɪ, ˈfɔɪjeɪ/ (also pronounced /ˈfɔɪjə/), metier, rentier

<er>

/ɑː/

<1% only in Berkeley, Berkshire, Cherwell, clerk, derby, Ker pronounced /kɑː/ (also pronounced /kɜː/), sergeant

Oddities

<err>

/ɜː/

in stem words only in err, but frequent in consonant-doubling before suffixes, e.g. preferred. All other occurrences of <e, rr> consist of two graphemes pronounced /e, r/, e. g, terrible, terrier

<erre>

/eə/

only in parterre

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

148NOTES

149Words ending <er> and the prefixes hyper-, inter-, per-, super-permit /r/-linking (see section 3.6) before following words/stems beginning with a vowel phoneme, e.g. dearer and dearer /ˈdɪərərənˈdɪərə/, hyperactive, interactive, peroxide, supererogatory.

150In the case of medial <er> pronounced /ɪə/ plus /r/-linking there are also a few instances arising from suffixation of words belonging to the next section, e.g. adherents, coherence, interfering, interferon, perseverance. However, in other suffixed forms from words in the next section the pronunciation of the <e> changes and, although /r/-linking occurs, the <r> is a single-function grapheme pronounced /r/, e.g. spherical, atmospheric, austerity, reverence, severity, (in) sincerity; this is also true of errant, derived from err.

10.20 <ere>

151For absence of percentages see Note.

152THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɪə/

regular word-finally, e.g. here, mere, sere, sphere; ad/co-here, atmosphere, austere, belvedere, cashmere, interfere, persevere, revere, severe, (in) sincere. In hereon /r/-linking – see section 3.6 – occurs without <e>-deletion (which would produce heron)

153THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ere>

/eə/

only word-final and only in ere, there, where and a few polysyllabic words of French origin, namely ampere, brassiere, cafetiere, commere, compere, confrere, misere, premiere. /r/-linking – see section 3.6 - occurs in compering, wherever, etc.; also in thereupon without <e>-deletion

<ere>

/ɜː/

only in were when stressed

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

154NOTE

155Gontijo et al. (2003) do not recognize /ɜː/ as a pronunciation of <ere>; presumably the version of RP they were using has were pronounced /weə/ and/or they analysed all its occurrences as unstressed /wə/. Because of this it was not possible to calculate percentages for <ere>.

10.21 <ew>

156THE MAIN SYSTEM

157For both categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/uː/

15%

e.g. crew, shrewd, strewn, view, yew

Frequent 2-phoneme sequence

/juː/

84%

e.g. few, nephew, new, newt, steward

158THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ew>

/əʊ/

1% only in sew, sewn, Shrewsbury plus shew(ed), shewn (archaic spellings of show(ed), shown)

Oddities

(none)

Other 2-phoneme grapheme

<ewe>

as 2-phoneme sequence /juː/

only in ewe, Ewell, Ewelme

159NOTES

160<ew> pronounced /juː/ occurs medially only in newel, Newton, pewter, steward; otherwise, only where there is no futher vowel letter and only in (closed) hewn, lewd, mews, newt, thews; (open) clerihew, curfew, curlew, few, hew, knew, mew, mildew, nephew, new, pew, phew, sinew, skew, smew, spew, stew; also dew if pronounced /djuː/ rather than /ʤuː/. Except in these words and the few Oddities <ew> is always pronounced /uː/ - the high frequency of few, knew, new is presumably responsible for the few words with /juː/ having a much higher percentage of correspondences than those with /uː/. There seem to be no cases where <e, w> are separate graphemes.

161N. B. For vocalic graphemes beginning with (‘silent’) <h> see section 9.17.

10.22 <i>

162N. B. <ie, i. e, igh, ir> have separate entries.

163THE MAIN SYSTEM

164For all these categories and the absence of percentages see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/ɪ/

regular in initial position, e.g. in, is, it, and in medial position before a consonant letter (except where <e>-deletion has occurred), e.g. his, live (verb), sit, this, with. See section 11.3 for a teaching rule relevant to ..VC monosyllables

Other phonemes

/iː/

regular word-finally, e.g. kiwi, safari, spaghetti; frequent medially (with /j/-glide), e.g. ambience, alien, hernia, medial(ly)

/aɪ/

regular medially where <e>-deletion has occurred, e.g. writing, and (with /j/-glide) where <i> is the first vowel letter in the word and is followed by another vowel letter, e.g. bias

/j/

only medially before a vowel letter, e.g. adieu, behaviour, lieu, purlieu, saviour, union, (inter)view

165THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<i>

/æ/

only in absinthe, impasse, ingenu(e), lingerie pronounced /ˈlænʒəriː/ (also pronounced /ˈlɒnʤəreɪ/), pince-nez, timbale, timbre

<i>

/ɒ/

only in lingerie pronounced /ˈlɒnʤəreɪ/(also pronounced /ˈlænʒəriː/)

<i>

/ə/

in a large set of adjectives/adverbs ending in <-ibl-e/y> pronounced /-əbəl,-əbliː/, e.g. possibl-e/y, all of which can also be pronounced with /ɪ/. Also in a few adverbs ending <-arily> when not stressed on the <a>, which becomes elided (see section 6.10), so that the <i> in <-ily> is pronounced /ə/, e.g. necessarily, voluntarily pronounced /ˈnesəsrəliː, ˈvɒləntrəliː/ (also pronounced /nesəˈserɪliː, vɒlənˈterɪliː/ with <i> pronounced /ɪ/ and the preceding <a> stressed and pronounced /e/). Otherwise perhaps only in Missouri (second <i>)

Oddities

<ia>

/ɪ/

only in carriage, marriage

<ia>

/ə/

only in fuchsia, miniature, parliament, pharmacopoeia. In words like crucial, initial I count the <i> as part of a digraph with the preceding consonant letter – see <ci, ti> in sections 9.10 and 9.36

<ia>

/aɪ/

only in diamond

<io>

/ə/

only in cushion, fashion, marchioness, stanchion. In words like nation, lesion, vision, lotion, fusion I count the <i> as part of a digraph with the preceding consonant letter – see <si, ti> in sections 9.31 and 9.36. In all other cases <i, o> are separate single-letter graphemes – see many examples in the Notes

<is>

/aɪ/

only in island, isle (t), lisle, viscount

<is>

/iː/

only in chassis, commis (chef), coulis, debris, precis, verdigris pronounced /ˈvɜːdɪgriː/ (also pronounced /ˈvɜːdɪgriːs/), vis-à-vis (last <is>)

<it>

/iː/

only in esprit, petit mal, wagon-lit

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

166NOTES

167Gontijo et al. (2003) analyse a great many occurrences of medial <i> before another vowel letter as being pronounced /ɪ/, whereas I analyse them as being pronounced /iː/+ /j/-glide. Re-allocation proved impossible, hence the absence of percentages.

168Except in the cases noted in the Oddities, in <ia, io, is, it> the <i> is the whole or part of a separate grapheme. In particular, for <i, a> see below.

169For instances of <i> as an elided vowel see section 6.10.

170The regular pronunciations of <i> as a single-letter grapheme are complicated, and best set out in a flowchart – see Figure 10.1 and the following numbered paragraphs keyed to it.

FIGURE 10.1: FLOWCHART TO DETERMINE THE REGULAR PRONUNCIATIONS OF <i> AS A SINGLE-LETTER GRAPHEME

FIGURE 10.1: FLOWCHART TO DETERMINE THE REGULAR PRONUNCIATIONS OF &lt;i&gt; AS A SINGLE-LETTER GRAPHEME

171So the regular pronunciations of <i> as a single-letter grapheme are:

1721) In initial position: /ɪ/, e.g. iguana, ill, incognito, Indian, indigo, inn, innocent, irritate, is, it. Exceptions, almost all with /aɪ/: iambic, Iberian, ibex, ibis, ichor, icicle, icon, idea, identical, identity, ideology, idle, idol, iodine, ion, Ionic, iota, irate, iris, Irish, iron-y/ic, isinglass, isobar, isogloss, isosceles and other compounds of (Greek) iso-(‘equal’), isolate (from Italian isola from Latin insula ‘island’), item, itinerary, ivory, ivy. Only other exceptions: impasse, ingenu (e), with /æ/

1732) Medially where <i> is the first vowel letter in the word and is followed by another vowel letter: /aɪ/ (plus /j/-glide) in a large set of words, e.g. bias, biology and several other compounds beginning <bio->, briar, client, diabolic and several other compounds beginning <dia->, friable, friar (y), giant, hiatus, liable, liar, lion, phial, pioneer, pliant, pliers, riot, sciatica, science, striation, triad, trial, triumph, viaduct, vial, violin, etc. Exceptions (all with /iː/plus /j/-glide): clientele, fiancé (e), fiasco, fiord, kiosk, liais-e/on, liana, miasma, pianist, piano (/piːˈjænəʊ/, with 3 syllables; in rapid speech also pronounced /ˈpjænəʊ/with <i> pronounced as consonant /j/ and 2 syllables – cf. category (3) below), piastre, trio, viola

1743-4) Medially where <i> is followed by another vowel letter but is not the first vowel letter in the word, it can be pronounced as a consonant or a vowel:

1753) The consonantal pronunciation of <i> as /j/ occurs only medially before a vowel letter or digraph mostly pronounced /ə/ and almost always after the vowel bearing main stress:

  • in two groups of words: a group ending <-iary>: apiary, auxiliary, aviary, breviary, domiciliary, incendiary, intermediary, pecuniary, stipendiary, subsidiary, topiary (no exceptions, but this is a small set), and a group ending <-ion>: battalion, billion, bunion, champion, companion, dominion, million, minion, onion, opinion, pavilion, pinion, union (lots of exceptions – see category 4 below);

  • otherwise only in: behaviour, brilliancy, colliery, junior, saviour, senior, spaniel, plus (before a full vowel) milieu and, in rapid speech, brilliant, envious before /ə/ and (before a full vowel and, exceptionally, with the stress on the vowel after the <i>) pronunciation. In words like brilliant, envious, million, pronunciation (and cf. piano above), there is overlap with the next category because such words can be pronounced with consonant /j/ or vowel /iː/ plus /j/-glide, e.g. million as/ˈmɪljən/(2 syllables) or/ˈmɪliːjən/(3 syllables). Acoustically, the difference is very slight

1764) The regular vocalic pronunciation of <i> as a single-letter grapheme in medial position (but not as the first vowel letter in the word – see (2) above) when followed by a vowel letter is /iː/ plus /j/-glide, e.g.

  • before <a, e, o, ou, u> pronounced /ə/ (Carney would place these words under /ɪə/): ammonia, anaemia, bacteria, begonia, camellia, chamydia, (en) cyclopaedia, hernia, hysteria, media, myopia, salvia, sepia, utopia; amiable, dutiable, enviable, variable; myriad; aerial, congenial, jovial, managerial, material, memorial, radial, remedial, serial and about 450 others ending in <-ial>; barbarian, comedian, grammarian, guardian, pedestrian, ruffian, thespian and about 200 others ending in <-ian>; dalliance, luxuriance, radiance, variance; radiant, suppliant, variant; alias; alien; audience, convenience, ebullience, expedience, experience, obedience, prurience, salience; expediency, leniency; convenient, ebullient, expedient, lenient, obedient, orient (/ˈɔːriːjənt/noun), pinochle, prescient, prurient, salient, sentient, subservient, transient; soviet; twentieth, etc.; period, sociological, axiom; accordion, bastion, battalion, billion, bullion, carrion, centurion, clarion, collodion, criterion, ganglion, medallion, mullion, oblivion, scorpion, scullion, stallion (this group with <-ion> are rarely if ever pronounced with /j/, unlike similar words listed in (3) above); chariot, patriot; commodious, compendious, curious, dubious, felonious, glorious, melodious, obvious, odious, previous, scabious, serious, studious, tedious and about 100 others ending in <-ious>; atrium, bacterium, barium, compendium, gymnasium, medium, opium, potassium, radium, stadium, tedium and about 200 others ending in <-ium>; genius, radius; also second <i> in amphibious, bilious, billiards, brilliant, criteria, delirium, editorial, fastidious, hilarious, historian, histrionic, idiom, idiot, industrial, juvenilia, memorabilia, millennia, omniscience, omniscient, perfidious, perihelion, reptilian, resilience, resilient, trivia(l), vitriol, third <i> in incipient, initiate (noun), insidious, insignia, invidious, militaria;

  • before <a, ae, a. e, ai, ar, e, o> pronounced as full vowel phonemes: abbreviate, ap/de-preciate, associate, audio, calumniate, caviar, foliage, luxuriate, mediaeval, milliamp, negotiate, orient (/ɒriːˈjent/, verb), oubliette, patio, polio, radio, ratio, serviette, studio, verbiage; also first <i> in conscientious, orgiastic, partiality, psychiatric, speciality, second <i> in affiliate, bibliography, histrionic, inebriation, insomniac, officiate, superficiality, vitriolic, third <i> in initiate (verb). In almost all these words (the only exceptions among those listed are sociological, medi (a) eval, orient (verb), oubliette, serviette, bibliography, histrionic, inebriation, superficiality, vitriolic) the main stress falls on the vowel before the relevant <i>. The consonant letter before the relevant <i> is hardly ever <c, s, sc, t> because <ci, si, sci, ti> are almost always digraphs pronounced /ʃ/ or /ʒ/ (so the <i> is not pronounced separately) - see these graphemes’ entries in chapter 9, and see also category (6) below – but in a few words the <i> is pronounced separately as /iː/ plus /j/-glide; examples among the words listed are ap/de-preciate, associate, negotiate, patio, ratio, conscientious, partiality, speciality, initiate

177Exceptions with <i> not pronounced /iː/ (all with stressed <i> pronounced /aɪ/ plus /j/-glide): alliance, certifiable, defiant, denial, elegiac, leviathan, verifiable; anxiety, dubiety, notoriety, (im)piety, (im)propriety, sobriety, society, variety

1785-6) Medially where <i> is followed by a consonant letter:

1795) It is pronounced /aɪ/ in thousands of words where the final <e> of <i. e> has been deleted before a suffix beginning with a vowel letter – see sections 6.3 and especially 6.4, e.g. bridal, cited, primal, riding, spinal, tribal, writing. See also most exceptions to next category

1806) Otherwise, mainly /ɪ/, e.g. blink, divide (first <i>), piffle. This is especially true:

  • before geminate and doubled consonant spellings, e.g. pick, pickle, biddie, bridge, midget, difficult, higgledy-piggledy, pillow, cinnamon, tipple, mirror, kiss, missal, hitch, pitcher, little, skittle, skivvy, drizzle, fizz. Extensions: all the words ending <-ville> and a few other words, e.g. big, brink, province, wind ‘stiff breeze’(but see the group with /aɪ/ and those spelt <-ibl-e/y> below, plus other exceptions within the lists below)

  • in the endings <-ic(al),-ify>, e.g. critic (al), parasitic, beautify

  • before a single consonant letter follwed by the endings <-ic(al)>, e.g. critic(al), parasitic. In all such words except impólitic, impóliticly (‘injudiciously’), pólitic(s), póliticly (‘judiciously’), the stress falls on the relevant <i>, but polítical follows the rule (more on this in the last paragraph of these Notes)

  • before the ending <-ly> in adverbs formed from adjectives in <-y>, e.g. happily. Note that addition of the suffix changes the stem-final vowel from /iː/ (in my analysis) to /ɪ/

  • before the endings <-cial,-cian,-cious,-ssion,-tion,-tious>, e.g. beneficial, official, electrician, magician, auspicious, delicious, fission, mission, coition, fruition, fictitious, propitious, plus initial, provincial, siliceous, suspicion. In all these words the stress falls on the <i> before the ending.

181Exceptions:

  • with /æ/: absinthe, lingerie pronounced /ˈlænʒəriː/(also pronounced /ˈlɒnʤəreɪ/), meringue, pince-nez, timbale, timbre

  • with /ə/: a large set of adjectives/adverbs ending in <-ibl-e/y> pronounced /əbəl, əbliː/, e.g. possibl-e/y, all of which can also be pronounced with /ɪ/. Also in a few adverbs ending <-arily> when not stressed on the syllable spelt with <a>, which becomes elided (see section 6.10), so that the <i> in <-ily> is pronounced /ə/, e.g. necessarily, voluntarily pronounced /ˈnesəsrəliː, ˈvɒləntrəliː/ (also pronounced /nesəˈserɪliː, vɒlənˈterɪliː/ with <i> pronounced /ɪ/ and stress on the preceding syllable spelt with <a> which is pronounced /e/)

  • with /iː/: albino, ambergris, amino, ballerina, batik, casino, chic, cliché, concertina, diva, farina, frisson, gilet, kilo, lido, litre, maraschino, marina, massif, merino, modiste, mosquito, motif, ocarina, piquan-t/cy, scarlatina, semolina, visa; first <i> in graffiti, kiwi, martini, migraine, milieu, second <i> in aperitif, bikini, incognito, libido

  • with /aɪ/ in a number of words before a single consonant letter and word-final <a, o>, e.g. angina, giro, impetigo, lino, mica, proviso, rhino, saliva, silo, vagina, viva (voce) (‘oral exam’); otherwise only in mic /maɪk/. In all these words the syllable spelt with <i> is stressed

  • with /aɪ/ in a number of words where <i> is the only or last vowel letter and is followed by more than one consonant letter: child, Christ, indict, mild, ninth, paradigm, pint, whilst, wild and the <-ign,-ind> groups: align, assign, benign, consign, design, malign, resign, sign (sub-exception: ensign, with /ə/); behind, bind, blind, find, grind, hind, kind, (re)mind, rind, wind pronounced /waɪnd/ (‘turn’; contrast wind pronounced /wɪnd/ ‘stiff breeze’). The <-ind> pronounced /aɪnd/ group is one of only five cases where the pronunciation of a phonogram/rime is more predictable as a unit than from the correspondences of the separate graphemes, and there are enough instances to make the rule worth teaching; see section A. 7 in Appendix A

  • with /aɪ/ in an unpredictable ragbag of other words, e.g. binary, bison, finance, final, first <i> in finite (but none of its derivatives), library, licence, license, micron, migrant, minus, paradigmatic, piracy pronounced /ˈpaɪrəsiː/ (also pronounced /ˈpɪrəsiː/), primacy, primary, primate, primus, rival, silent, sinus, siphon, sisal, strident, tiger, trident, vibrant, vital

1827) The regular pronunciation of <i> as a single-letter grapheme in final position in words with at least one earlier vowel letter is /iː/, e.g. anti, bikini, graffiti, khaki, kiwi, muesli, spaghetti, svengali, wiki. Exceptions (all with /aɪ/): alibi, alkali, (anno) domini, (a) fortiori/posteriori/priori, (lapis) lazuli, quasi, rabbi and some Latin plurals, e.g. alumni, bacilli, cacti, foci, fundi (/ˈfʌndaɪ/, plural of fundus ‘inner corner of organ’; contrast fundi pronounced /ˈfʊndiː/, either South and East African English for ‘expert/skilled person’, or a member of the fundamentalist, uncompromising wing of the German Green Party), fungi, gladioli, and lots of Latin biological terms with anglicised pronunciations, e.g. leylandii, plus Greek bronchi, chi, phi, pi, psi, xi.

183There appear to be only nine words with <i> as the only vowel letter, and in word-final position; most have /aɪ/, namely the greeting Hi!, the pronoun I, and the Greek letter names (as pronounced in English) chi, phi, pi, psi, xi, but even this tiny set has two exceptions with /iː/: the musical term mi, and ski.

184Almost all words ending/ɪk (əl/s) spelt <-ic(al/s)> have stress on the preceding syllable. Exceptions: Árabic, aríthmetic (noun), ársenic (noun, if pronounced /ˈɑːsənɪk/with three syllables), bíopic (pronounced /ˈbaɪjəʊpɪk/ by those who recognise its origin as an abbreviation of ‘biographical picture’, = film), cátholic (if pronounced /ˈkæθəlɪk/, with three syllables), cérvical /ˈsɜːvɪkəl/(as in cérvical vertebrae, in the neck – but see below), chóleric, climácteric, héretic, impólitic(ly), lúnatic, pólitic(ly/s), rhétoric, túrmeric – but arithmétic (adjective), arithmétical, arsénic (/ɑːˈsenɪk/, adjective), herétical, polítical, rhetórical follow the rule; so does biópic (pronounced /baɪˈjɒpɪk/ (rhymes with myopic) by those who apply the general ‘stress the syllable before <ic>’ rule, thus proving its psychological reality).

185Arsenic (noun) and catholic pronounced with three syllables are exceptions, but both more often have the central written vowel elided (see section 6.10) and are pronounced /ˈɑːsnɪk, ˈkæθlɪk/, with two syllables. Phonologically, this makes them regular – they are stressed on the syllable preceding /ɪk/ spelt <ic>. However, in terms of predicting word stress from written forms, they are still exceptions – they are stressed on the syllable containing the second vowel letter before the <ic> instead of the first.

186Other words with two pronunciations, but differing in stress, are (fly) agaric /əˈgærɪk/ (regular) or /ˈægərɪk/ (exception), chivalric /ʃɪˈvælrɪk/(regular) or/ˈʃɪvəlrɪk/(exception); on chivalric the Oxford English Dictionary says ‘The first pronunciation is that sanctioned by the poets’. Extensions: Greek plurals such as erótica; the modern coinage emóticon. Also note the modern contrast in meaning between cervical /ˈsɜːvɪkəl/ in cérvical vertebrae (in the neck) and /sɜːˈvaɪkəl/ in cervícal cancer/smear (in the cervix/entrance to the womb).

187The vowel preceding <ic> always has a ‘short’ pronunciation (except in aphasic with /eɪ/, acetic, emic, graphemic, phonemic, scenic with /iː/, and biopic pronounced /ˈbaɪəʊpɪk/, chromic, phobic and all its compounds, with /əʊ/), as does the <i> in <ic>, except in cervical pronounced /sɜːˈvaɪkəl/.

10.23 <ie>

188N. B. <i.e> has a separate entry. On the percentages see Notes.

189THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/iː/

73%

e.g. brief, diesel, achieve, calorie

190THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ie>

/aɪ/

21% in a very small set of words in word-final position, namely die, fie, hie, lie, pie, tie, vie

<ie>

/e/

6% only in friend

<ie>

/ɪ/

<1% only in (hand/nec) kerchief, mischief, mischievous, sieve

Oddities

<ier>

/ɪə/

never initial; only in (medially) fierce, pierce, tierce; (word-finally) bandolier, bier, bombardier, brigadier, cashier, cavalier, chandelier, chevalier, clavier, corsetier, frontier, fusilier, gondolier, grenadier, halberdier, pier, tier, vizier and a few other very rare words. <ier> is always stressed, except that frontier is pronounced either /ˈfrʌntɪə/ or /frʌn’tɪə/. In all other words ending <ier> the <i> and the <er> are/belong to separate graphemes and belong to separate syllables – see Notes

<ieu>

/uː/

only in lieu pronounced /luː/ (also pronounced /ljuː/)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

191NOTES

192Even though Gontijo et al. (2003) analyse final <ie> in words where there is at least one earlier vowel letter as being pronounced /ɪ/ it was possible to re-allocate all such words to/iː/ and recalculate the percentages.

193<i, e> are/belong to separate graphemes in anxiety, convenient, leniency, science, twentieth and all other words with those endings, plus adieu, alien, client(ele), conscientious, diet, fiery, medieval, milieu, oubliette, quiet(us), serviette, spaniel, soviet, (inter/re-)view. All have an intervening /j/-glide except adieu, (inter/re-)view, spaniel, where the <i> spells /j/ after a preceding consonant anyway.

194<i, er> are, or belong to, separate graphemes in:

  • all three-syllable comparative adjectives in <-ier> pronounced /iːjə/formed from two-syllable adjectives ending in <-y>, e.g. easier, happier

  • barrier, espalier with /iːjə/, colliery with /je/, dossier with /iːjə/ or /iːjeɪ/, drier, flier, pliers with /aɪə/

  • a few words in which the <i> always or sometimes forms a digraph with the preceding consonant letter: crosier, hosier, osier, brazier, crozier, glazier sometimes pronounced with /ʒə/ (alternatively with /iːjə/); soldier with /ʤə/.

10.24 <i.e>

195Occurs only where <e> is word-final.

196See Notes for all categories and for how this split digraph is defined, and see section 11.4 for a teaching rule relevant to all split digraphs except <y. e>.

197THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/aɪ/

97%

e.g. bike, live (adjective), time

Other phoneme

/iː/

3%

only in about 88 mostly French loanwords, e.g. police, quiche

198THE REST

Exceptions to main system

strictly speaking, none, but see Notes

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

199NOTES

200The split digraph <i. e> is defined as covering words where the <e> is separated from the <i> by one consonant letter other than <r> and the <i> is not preceded by a vowel letter and the digraph is pronounced either /aɪ/ or /iː/. The definition covers both words where the intervening consonant letter is an independent grapheme and words where the <e> is also part of a split digraph <ce, ge, ve> - see sections 3.7.4, 3.7.6-7 and 3.8.4, and section 7.1 for dual-functioning. See also section A. 6 in Appendix A.

201The familiar /aɪ/ pronunciation occurs in many hundreds of words and does not need further illustration. The /iː/ pronunciation occurs only in about 88 (mostly French) loanwords; those which fit the main definition just given (for extensions see below) are: caprice, police; automobile, imbecile; centime, regime; beguine, benedictine (‘liqueur’), benzine, bombazine, brigantine, brilliantine, chlorine, citrine, cuisine, dentine, figurine, gabardine, guillotine, iodine, latrine, libertine, limousine, machine, magazine, margarine, marine, mezzanine, morphine, nectarine, nicotine, opaline, phosphine, plasticine, pristine, quarantine, quinine, ravine, routine, sardine, sistine, strychnine, submarine, tagine, tambourine, tangerine, terrine, tontine, trampoline, tyrosine, undine, vaccine, vitrine, wolverine; anise, cerise, chemise, expertise, valise; elite, marguerite, petite, suite; naive, recitative.

202Extensions:

  1. There are four words where <i. e> pronounced /aɪ/ is separated by two consonant letters forming a digraph: blithe, lithe, tithe, writhe;

  2. There are 18 words where <i. e> pronounced /iː/ is separated by two letters forming a consonant digraph: fiche, niche pronounced /niː∫/, pastiche, quiche; fatigue, intrigue; chenille; antique, boutique, clique, critique, mystique, oblique, physique, pique, technique, unique; pelisse;

  3. There are three words where <i. e> pronounced /iː/ is separated by <s, t> pronounced separately: artiste, dirigiste, modiste;

  4. There are two words where <i. e> pronounced /iː/ is separated by the three letters <squ> pronounced /sk/, with <qu> forming a consonant digraph: bisque, odalisque.

203Exceptions (all words with at least one earlier vowel letter, except give, live (verb)) where the <i> is a separate grapheme pronounced /ɪ/ and the <e> forms a digraph with the intervening consonant letter:

  • a set of words ending in <-ice> in which <-ce> is a digraph pronounced /s/: accomplice, apprentice, armistice, artifice, auspice, avarice, benefice, bodice, caddice, chalice, cicatrice (but the plural cicatrices is pronounced /sɪkəˈtraɪsiːz/, cockatrice, coppice, cornice, cowardice, crevice, dentifrice, edifice, hospice, jaundice, justice, lattice, malice, notice, novice, office, orifice, poultice, practice, precipice, prejudice, pumice, service, solstice, surplice. All words in <-ice> with no earlier vowel letter are pronounced with /aɪs/, as are advice, device, sacrifice, suffice – and see above for caprice, police

  • one word ending in <-ice> pronounced /ɪʃ/: liquorice (also pronounced with /s/)

  • one word ending in <-ife> pronounced /ɪf/: housewife (‘sewing kit’), pronounced /ˈhʌzɪf/

  • a set of words ending in <-ine> in which <-ne> is a digraph pronounced /n/: bowline, clandestine pronounced /klænˈdestɪn/(also pronounced /ˈklændəstaɪn/, in which case <i. e> is a split digraph), compline, crinoline, (pre) destine, determine, discipline, doctrine, engine, ermine, examine, famine, feminine, genuine, heroine, illumine, imagine, intestine, jasmine, marline, masculine, medicine, peregrine, saccharine, sanguine, urine, vaseline

  • five words ending in <-ise> in which <-se> is a digraph pronounced /s/: mortise, practise, premise, promise, treatise

  • several words in <-ite> in which <-te> is a digraph pronounced /t/: composite, definite, exquisite, favourite, granite, hypocrite, infinite, opposite, perquisite, plebiscite, requisite

  • a large number of words ending in <-ive>, e.g. adjective, massive, all of which are pronounced with /ɪv/ except naive, recitative, which end in/iːv/ and therefore have the split digraph pronounced /iː/ and are so listed above; also give, live (verb) – most words in <-ive> with no earlier vowel letter have /aɪv/, e.g. chive, dive, five, jive, live (adjective), shrive, strive, swive, thrive, wive.

204There are very few English words ending in <-ige>. The only two to which the regular pronunciation /aɪʤ/ applies are (dis) oblige (both stressed on the <i> before <ge>). Otherwise there are only the two exceptions vestige, with unstressed /ɪʤ/, and prestige, with stressed/iːʒ/.

205The only words in which a final <e> after <i>+ consonant is pronounced separately appear to be anime (from Japanese), (bona) fide (Latin) and campanile (from Italian).

10.25 <igh>

206THE MAIN SYSTEM

Only phoneme

/aɪ/

100%

e.g. sigh, sight. Always follows a consonant letter, and is therefore never word-initial

207NOTES

208In my analysis, there are no cases where <i, gh> are separate graphemes.

209Provided that analysis is accepted, this is one of the very few rules without exceptions in the whole system. However, as far as I can ascertain (even digging around for rare and archaic words), there seem to be just 26 stem words in the entire language containing this grapheme: high, nigh, sigh, thigh; bight, blight, bright, fight, flight, fright, hight, knight, light, might, night, plight, right, sight, slight, tight, wight, wright; alight (in its ‘descend from vehicle’ sense; in its ‘on fire’ sense it is derived from light (a fire)), delight; Blighty, sprightly – some of which are of very high frequency – plus many derivatives. Perhaps the shortage of such words is why the rule is 100% reliable.

210Clymer (1963/1996) cited two different supposed pronunciation rules that are relevant here:

21111. When the letter i is followed by the letters gh, the i usually stands for its long sound and the gh is silent.

21225. When ght is seen in a word, gh is silent.

213He said rule 25 has 100% ‘utility’ (= reliability) and rule 11 only 71%.

214Rule 25 really is 100% accurate in its own terms because it covers not only the 21 words listed above containing <ight> but also the only word containing <aight>: straight, and the only five words with <eight>: eight, freight, height, sleight, weight. However, the rule is unhelpful because (a) telling learners that some letters are ‘silent’ may be confusing (for more on that see section A. 5 in Appendix A); (b) it seems to me much more logical to analyse the <gh> in all the relevant words as part of a vowel grapheme with the preceding vowel letter(s); (c) as it stands, the rule does not specify the pronunciation of the preceding vowel grapheme.

215Rule 11 is also unhelpful on grounds (a) and (b). Also, as several commentators have pointed out, it fails to reach 100% reliability only because it is underspecified. If formulated as ‘After a consonant letter, <igh> is always pronounced /aɪ/ ’, it is 100% reliable and well worth teaching. The restriction ‘after a consonant letter’ is to exclude the six words with <aight/eight> listed in the previous paragraph, plus six with just <eigh>: heigh, inveigh, neigh, neighbour, sleigh, weigh.

216For more about Clymer’s rules see chapter 11.

10.26 <ir>

217THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɜː/

100%

e.g. fir

218THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<1% in total

<ir>

/ɪə/

only in emir, fakir, nadir pronounced /ˈneɪdɪə, næˈdɪə/(also pronounced /ˈneɪdə/), kir, kirsch, souvenir, tapir

<ir>

/aɪ/

only in iron /ˈaɪən/

<ir>

as 2-phoneme sequence /aɪə/

only medially but always stressed and mainly where <-e> has been deleted from words in the following paragraph, e.g. aspiring, desirous, expiry, spiral, tiring, but there are a few independent examples, e.g. biro, giro, pirate, virus. In all cases the <r> is both part of <ir> and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. In deliri-ous/um, by contrast, <i, r> are separate graphemes, the <i> is pronounced /ɪ/, and the <r> has only one function and is (of course) pronounced /r/

Oddities

<ire>

as 2-phoneme sequence /aɪə/

only word-finally and only in ac/in/ re-quire, admire, a/con/in/per/re/ tran-spire, attire, desire, dire, empire, entire, expire, fire, hire, (be/quag-) mire, quire, saltire, samphire, sapphire, satire, shire, sire, spire, e)squire, tire, umpire, vampire, wire. Many of these words allow /r/-linking, e.g. aspiring, spiral – see previous paragraph and section 3.6

<irr>

/ɜː/

only in chirr, shirr, whirr and suffixed forms of verbs in <-ir>, e.g. stirring; otherwise <i, rr> are separate graphemes, e.g. in irrigate, irritant. In (e.g.) stirring, whirring there is /r/-linking (see section 3.5) and <rr> is both part of <irr> and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1

Other 2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

219N. B. For word-final <l, le, m, n> involved in 2-phoneme sequences with /ə/ see sections 9.20-23.

10.27 <o>

220N. B. <o. e, oi, oo, or, ore, ou, ow, oy> have separate entries.

221THE MAIN SYSTEM

222For all these categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/ɒ/

41%

predominant in words with no other vowel letter, e.g. box, from, of, on, not, sock

Other phonemes

/uː/

18%

only in zoology (first <o>) and derivatives and 10 other stem words – see Notes; several are very frequent

/əʊ/

16%

e.g. go, lotion, most, ocean, roving. Regular where <e>-deletion has occurred, before some word-final consonant clusters, before some endings, word-finally, and in <-osis>

/ə/

14%

e.g. bishop, Briton, oblige, union

/ʌ/

9%

only in a restricted set of words, e.g. above, come, done, monk

223THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

2% in total

<o>

/ɪ/

only in pigeon (taking <ge> as pronounced /ʤ/; compare pidgin), women

<o>

/ʊ/

only in bosom (1st <o>), wol-f/ves, wolfram, wolverine, Wolverhampton (1st <o>), woman

<o>

as 2-phoneme sequence /wʌ/

only in once, one

Oddities

<oa>

/əʊ/

only in (initially) oaf, oak, oast, oat, oath; (medially) approach, bloat, boast, boat, broach, cloak, coach, coal, coast, coat, coax, croak, encroach, float, foal, foam, gloaming, gloat, goad, goal, goat, groan, groat, hoax, loach, load, loaf, loam, loan, loath, loathe, moan, moat, poach, reproach, roach, road, roam, roan, roast, shoal, soak, soap, stoat, throat, toad, toast, woad; (finally) cocoa, whoa

<oa>

/ɔː/

only in abroad, broad(en)

<oar>

/ɔː/

only in boar, board, coarse, hoar, hoard, hoarse, oar, roar, soar

<oar>

/ə/

only in cupboard, larboard, starboard

<oat>

/əʊ/

only in boatswain pronounced /ˈbəʊsən/ (also pronounced /ˈbəʊtsweɪn/)

<oe>

/iː/

only in amenorrhoea, amoeba, apnoea, coelacanth, coelenterate, coeliac, coelom, coenobite, coenocyte, diarrhoea, dyspnoea, foetal, foetid, foetus, gonorrhoea, logorrhoea, oedema, oenology, oesophagus, oestrogen, oestrus, pharmacopoeia, phoenix, pyorrhoea, subpoena. Many of these words have alternative spellings in <e>, especially in US spelling

<oe>

/əʊ/

except in throes, only word-final and only in aloe, doe, floe, foe, hoe, oboe, roe, schmoe, sloe, toe, woe

<oe>

/uː/

only in canoe, hoopoe, shoe

<oe>

/ʌ/

only in does(n’t)

<oer>

/ɔː, ʊə/

only in Boer pronounced /bɔː, bʊə/

<oeu>

/uː/

only in manoeuvre

<oh>

/əʊ/

only in doh, kohl, Oh, ohm, soh

<ol>

/əʊ/

only in folk, Holborn, holm, yolk and oldfashioned pronunciation of golf as /gəʊf/

<olo>

/ɜː/

only in colonel

<os>

/əʊ/

only in apropos

<ot>

/əʊ/

only in argot, depot, entrepot, haricot, jabot, matelot, potpourri, sabot, tarot, tricot. /t/ surfaces in sabotage, saboteur – see section 7.2

Other 2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

224NOTES

225<o, a> (with intervening /w/ -glide) belong to separate graphemes in coagulate, coalesce, coalition, coaxial, Croatia, hypoallergenic, oasis, protozoa, etc. For cases where <o, e> belong to separate graphemes see coerce, etc., below.

226<ol, olo, os, ot> are single graphemes only in the Oddities listed.

227For instances of <o> as an elided vowel see section 6.10.

228The default pronunciation of <o> as a single-letter grapheme is /ɒ/, but here are some categories for guidance:

  • regular in words with no other vowel letter, e.g. bob, boll (also pronounced with /əʊ/), box, cod, crotch, dog, doll, from, knoll, lock, long, loll, loss, moll, odd, of, off, on, plonk, poll (‘parrot’), troll, shop, yon. Extensions: begone, gone. Exceptions: boll (sometimes), droll, poll (‘head, vote’), roll, scroll, stroll, toll with /əʊ/, wolf with /ʊ/. See section 11.3 for a teaching rule relevant to.. VC monosyllables

  • in a few words where <o> is the last vowel letter, e.g. alcohol, belong, compost, methanol, micron, parasol, phenol, protocol

  • regular before geminate and doubled consonant spellings (in addition to relevant words in the previous category), e.g. bobbin, cockle, locket, coddle, codger, lodge, coffee, toggle, atoll, dollop, holly, jolly, lolly, polly, topple, lorry, across, blossom, crotchet, bottle, s (c) hemozzle, first <o> in follow, connotation. Extensions: garrotte, gavotte

  • mostly before consonant clusters (in addition to relevant words in previous caregories), e.g. confident, costume, doldrums, donkey, obstinate, ostensible, posterior, tonsils, but there are quite a few exceptions – see later categories

  • before a single consonant letter followed by the endings <-ic(al)>, e.g. atomic, boric, carbolic, chaotic, exotic, frolic, harmonic, logic (al), phonic (s), tonic, topic (al). This includes all the words ending <-ological>, e.g. biological, sociological. Exceptions: biopic pronounced /ˈbaɪjəʊpɪk/, chromic, phobic and all its compounds, with /əʊ/

  • in final <-ogue>, e.g. analogue, catalogue, dialogue, plus baroque

  • as the first <o> in the suffix <-ology> pronounced /ˈɒləʤiː/, e.g. biology, chronology, etc.

  • in a few other non-final occurrences, e.g. admonish, bother, demolish, grovel, homage, hovel, hover, moderate, modest, moral, novel, novice, olive, polish, poverty, project (noun), proper, provenance, proverb, robin, scholar, sovereign, first <o> in gondola, provocation.

229The task then is to try to define when <o> has other pronunciations.

230<o> is pronounced /wʌ/ only in once, one.

231No rules can be given for when <o> is pronounced /ʌ/, except that in stem words it never occurs word-finally, and initially it occurs only in onion, other, oven, so here is a list of its medial occurrences: above, accomplice, accomplish, amok, become, borough, brother, Cadogan, colour, colander (also pronounced with /ɒ/), Colombia (seond <o>), come, comfort (able), comfrey, comfy, company, (en)compass, conjure (‘do magic tricks’), constable, coven, covenant, (dis /re/ un-) cover, covert pronounced /ˈkʌvɜːt/ (also pronounced /ˈkʊəvɜːt/), covet (ous), covey, coz, cozen, done, dost, doth, dove, dozen, dromedary, front, frontier, glove, govern, honey, London (first <o>), lovage, love, Lovell, Monday, monetary, money, monger and its compounds, mongrel, monk, monkey, Monroe, Montgomery (twice), month, mother, none, nothing, plover, shove, shovel, slovenly, smother, sojourn (also pronounced with /ɒ/), some, somersault, son, sponge, thorough, ton, tonne, tongue, twopence, twopenny, windhover, won, wonder, worrit, worry. Some words which used to have /ʌ/ in RP now have /ɒ/ instead, e.g. combat, comrade, conduit, Coventry.

232Similarly, no rules can be given for when <o> is pronounced /uː/, but it occurs only for the first <o> of zoology and derivatives with initial <zoo-> (Greek, ‘living thing’) spelling two syllables pronounced /zuːˈwɒ/ if the second syllable is stressed, otherwise /zuːwə/, and 10 other stem words: caisson pronounced /kəˈsuːn/, canton (‘provide accommodation’, pronounced /kænˈtuːn/), catacomb, do, lasso, to, tomb, two, who, womb, plus derivatives including cantonment, lassoing, whom, and a few from words in which <o. e> is a split digraph pronounced /uː/, e.g. approval, movie, removal, and the proper nouns Aloysius /æluːˈwɪʃəs/, Romania, Wrotham /ˈruːtəm/.

233<o> is pronounced /əʊ/:

  • in hundreds of words where final <e> has been deleted, e.g. dosage, dotage, global, modal, polar, rosy, roving, tonal

  • regularly in word-final position, e.g. albino, amino, audio, calico, casino, fiasco, fro, gecko, giro, go, incognito, indigo, impetigo, kilo, libido, lido, lino, kimono, manifesto, maraschino, merino, no, patio, piano, piccolo, polio, portico, potato, proviso, radio, ratio, rhino, scherzo, silo, studio, trio, tobacco, tomato, tremolo, video (for exceptions with /uː/ see above)

  • often before a consonant cluster, e.g. behold, bold, cold, cuckold, (blind/mani-) fold, gold, hold, marigold, old, scaffold, scold, sold, threshold, told, wold; bolt, colt, dolt, jolt, revolt, volt; don’t, wont, won’t; almost, ghost, host, most, post; solder, soldier; bolster, holster; molten. Wordfinal <-old> pronounced /əʊld/ group is one of only five cases where the pronunciation of a phonogram/rime is more predictable as a unit than from the correspondences of the separate graphemes, and there are enough instances to make the rule worth teaching; see section A. 7 in Appendix A. Exceptions: belong, font, cost, frost, lost and most words where <o> is not the last vowel letter, e.g. costume, foster, hostage, hostile, all with /ɒ/, scaffolding with /ə/, front and others listed above with /ʌ/, catacomb, tomb, womb with /uː/

  • in eight words before final <-ll>: boll (also pronounced with /ɒ/), droll, plimsoll, poll (‘head, vote’), roll, scroll, stroll, toll (contrast atoll, doll, knoll, loll, poll (‘parrot’), troll, all with /ɒ/), and in four words before final <-l>: control, enrol, extol, patrol (in these four words the syllable spelt with the relevant <o> is stressed)

  • in a few other words with no other vowel letter: both, comb, gross, loth, quoth, sloth, troth

  • in all the words in <-osis>, e.g. diagnosis, neurosis

  • before a consonant letter other than <r> and word-final <a, o>, e.g. aroma, diploma, iota, kimono, sofa (in all these words the syllable spelt with the relevant <o> is stressed)

  • (with intervening /w/-glide) in a few words before <e>: coeducational, coerce, coexist, hydroelectric, phloem, poem, poetic – but most examples of <oe> constitute a single grapheme; see the Oddities

  • before endings <-ia(ge /l/ n),-ion,-ious,-ium>: ammonia, apologia, begonia, magnolia, foliage, ceremonial, colonial, social, custodian; corrosion, erosion, ex/im-plosion; devotion, lotion, (com/e/loco/pro-)motion, notion, potion; acrimonious, atrocious, ceremonious, copious, euphonious, felonious, ferocious, harmonious, parsimonious, precocious, sanctimonious; chromium, opium, pandemonium, sodium, symposium (in all these words the syllable spelt with the relevant <o> is stressed)

  • in a ragbag of other words, e.g. bogus, bohemian, bonus, bosun, brochure, bromide, cobra, cocoa, codeine, cogent, cohort, colon, crocus, focal, focus, grotesque, local, locus, lotus, molar, moment, (e)motive, nomad, notary, oval, potent, proton, robust, rodeo, rodent, romance, rosary, rotary, rotund, slogan, solar, sonar, total, betroth, vocal, votary, votive, yodel, yokel.

234/ə/ is the regular pronunciation of unstressed <o> in initial and medial positions. Word-initially, however, the pronunciation of <o> as /ə/ occurs only in the Latin prefix <ob-> and its derivatives, e.g. in oblige, obscene, obscure, observe, obsess, obtain, occasion, occur, offend, official. Medially, <o> is pronounced /ə/ in:

  • the prefixes <con-(and related forms), pro-, to-> pronounced /kən (etc.), prə, tə/, e.g. collect, collide, command, commit (tee), confess, connect, connive, connubial, consent, continue, contingency, contrast (verb, pronounced /kənˈtrɑːst/), corrode, corrupt; procure, produce, profane, profess(or), prolong; today, together, tomorrow

  • the end of the word-elements <bio-, chloro-, micro-, mono-, phono-, photo-, saxo-> when unstressed

  • the very large set of words with word-final <-ion>, e.g. coercion, vision, mission, nation, accordion, aphelion, bastion, battalion, billion, bullion, carrion, centurion, champion, clarion, collodion, companion, criterion, dominion, ganglion, ion, lion, medallion, million, mullion, minion, oblivion, onion, opinion, pavilion, perihelion, pinion, rebellion,

  • scullion, stallion, union and even anion, ion, cation (no exceptions)

  • the (much smaller) set of words with word-final <-eon>, namely bludgeon, chameleon, curmudgeon, dudgeon, dungeon, galleon, gudgeon, melodeon, Odeon, smidgeon, sturgeon, surgeon, widgeon. Only exception: pigeon, with /ɪ/

  • another small set before word-final <m, n>: axiom, bosom, bottom, custom; Briton, button, carton, cotton, iron, matron, pardon, siphon/syphon, summon, wanton. Exception: icon, with /ɒ/

  • a further small set where it occurs between a vowel letter and a single word-final consonant letter, e.g. chariot, halcyon, idiot, idol, patriot, period, vitriol

  • the noun-forming ending <-dom> pronounced /dəm/, e.g. kingdom, wisdom

  • the adjectival ending <-some> pronounced /səm/, e.g. handsome, and a few other words with the same-sounding ending; besom, blossom, buxom, hansom, lissom, ransom, transom

  • the noun endings <-ock,-od,-op> pronounced /ək, əd, əp/, e.g. bollock, bullock, buttock, hassock, hillock, mattock, pillock, rowlock; method, synod; bishop, gallop, wallop

  • the second <o> in the suffix <-ology> pronounced /ˈɒləʤiː/, e.g. biology, chronology, etc.

  • the first <o> in the suffix <-ological> pronounced /əˈlɒʤɪkəl/, e.g. biological, sociological, etc.

  • a ragbag of words including abdomen, acrobat, agony, almoner, amphora, anemone, aphrodisiac, automobile (twice), carol, cellophane, cenotaph, cupola, custody, daffodil, ebony, espionage, exodus, geographic, iodine, irony, isobar, isogloss, isolate, ivory, kaolin, lobelia, mandolin, mimeograph, mutton, parabola, parody, pergola, petrol, piston, plethora, police, purpose, ricochet, second, sobriety, society, theocratic, violate, violin; first <o> in bolero (/bəʽleərəʊ/, ‘dance’), creosote, piccolo, proprietor, stereophonic, tobacco, tremolo; second <o> in broccoli, choreographic, colloquy, gondola, obloquy, rollocking.

10.28 <o.e>

235Occurs only where the <e> is word-final.

236See Notes for all categories and for how this split digraph is defined, and see section 11.4 for a teaching rule relevant to all split digraphs except <y. e>.

237THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/əʊ/

100%

e.g. bone, chromosome, remote, cologne

Other phoneme

/uː/

<1%

only in combe, lose, move, prove, whose /kuːm, luːz, muːv, pruːv, huːz/ and gamboge pronounced /gæmˈbuːʒ/, plus the derived forms ap/dis/im/re-prove, remove

238THE REST

Exceptions to main system

strictly speaking, none, but see Notes

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

239NOTES

240The split digraph <o.e> is defined as covering words where the <e> is separated from the <o> by one consonant letter other than <r, w> and the <o> is not preceded by a vowel letter and the digraph is pronounced /əʊ, uː/. The definition covers both words where the intervening consonant letter is an independent grapheme and words where the <e> is also part of a digraph <ce, ge (but see below), ve> - see sections 3.7.4, 3.7.6 and 3.8.4, and section 7.1 for dual-functioning.

241The only extension needed is to cover combe, with two intervening letters forming a consonant digraph.

242However, there are several words with <o, e> separated by a consonant letter(s) where the <o> is a separate grapheme and the <e> forms a di/trigraph with the consonant letter(s): barcarole, compote, cote, (be)gone, scone, shone with <o> pronounced /ɒ/, above, become, come, done, dove, glove, love, none, shove, some, tonne with /ʌ/, purpose, welcome and all the adjectives ending <-some> with /ə/. See also section A. 6 in Appendix A. There are very few English words ending <-oge>: Doge (‘former chief magistrate of Venice’), which seems to be the only one in which the regular pronunciation of <o. e> as /əʊ/ always applies; gamboge pronounced /gæmˈbəʊʒ, gæmˈbuːʒ/; and a few even more obscure words derived from Greek or French. In abalone, adobe, cicerone, coyote, expose (‘report of scandal’), guacamole, sylloge/ˈsɪləʤiː/<o, e> and the intervening consonant letter are all separate graphemes.

243How should opening be analysed if it is pronounced not /ˈəʊpənɪŋ/ (where the <e> is pronounced /ə/) but /ˈəʊpnɪŋ/, with no medial schwa? Presumably not as the only instance of a non-word-final split digraph (/əʊ/ spelt <o. e>), but as another instance of an elided vowel – see section 6.10.

10.29 <oi>

244THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɔɪ/

100%

e.g. boil

245THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<1% in total

<oi>

/ə/

only in connoisseur, porpoise, tortoise

<oi>

as 2-phoneme sequence /wɑː/

only in a few words more recently borrowed from French, e.g. bourgeoisie, coiffeur/se, coiffure, croissant, pointe, soiree, toilette

Oddity

<ois>

/iː/

only in chamois (the leather, pronounced /ˈ∫æmiː/ (also spelt shammy), as opposed to the animal from whose skin it is made, pronounced /ˈ∫æmwɑː/)

(Other) 2-and 3-phoneme graphemes

<oir>

as 2-phoneme sequence /ɔɪjə/

only in coir

<oir>

as 2-phoneme sequence/wɑː/

mainly word-final and only in a very few words more recently borrowed from French, namely abattoir, boudoir, memoir, reservoir, voussoir; non-finally, only in avoirdupois. /r/-linking occurs in memoirist, noirish – see section 3.6

<oir>

as 3-phoneme sequence /waɪə/

only in choir

<oire>

as 2-phoneme sequence /wɑː/

only word-finally and only in a very few words more recently borrowed from French, namely aide-memoire, conservatoire, escritoire, grimoire, repertoire

<ois>

as 2-phoneme sequence /wɑː/

only word-finally and only in a very few words more recently borrowed from French, namely avoirdupois, bourgeois (/z/ surfaces in bourgeoisie – see section 7.2), chamois (the animal, pronounced /ˈ∫æmwɑː/, as opposed to the leather made from its skin, pronounced /ˈ∫æmiː/, the latter also being spelt shammy), patois (contrast fatwa). Except in these words, <oi, s> are/belong to separate graphemes, e.g. in noise, noisy

246NOTE

247If we follow Crystal (2012: 131-2), ‘more recent’in terms of loanwords from French means after the Great Vowel Shift, which was complete by about AD 1600.

248<o, i> (with automatic intervening /w/-glide) are separate graphemes in coincide, coition, coitus, doing, echoic, echoing, egoism, Eloise, going, heroic, heroin(e), jingoism, Lois, oboist, soloist, stoic(al), toing and froing.

10.30 <oo>

249THE MAIN SYSTEM

250For both categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/ʊ/

51%

e.g. book, good

Other phoneme

/uː/

46%

e.g. ooze, afternoon, baboon, booze, mood, snooker, bamboo, zoo, vamoose

251THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<oo>

/ʌ/

3% only in blood, flood

<oo>

/əʊ/

<1% only in brooch

Oddities

<ooh>

/uː/

only in pooh

<oor>

/ʊə/

only in boor, spoor, and sometimes moor, Moor, poor. There is /r/-linking in, e.g., boorish – see section 3.6. See section 5.6.5 for the increasing replacement of /ʊə/ by /ɔː/

<oor>

/ɔː/

only in door, floor; also moor, Moor, poor if pronounced to rhyme with door, floor. There is /r/-linking in Moorish – see section 3.6

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

252NOTES

253As the television series for teaching children to read used to say, ‘Look out! OO is a double agent!’ (sorry, James). That is, in RP <oo> is pronounced both /ʊ/ and/uː/(never/juː/, however), the two pronunciations are fairly evenly balanced in frequency, and a few words can be pronounced with either phoneme, e.g. food /fʊd, fuːd/, hoodlum /ˈhʊdləm, ˈhuːdləm/, room /rʊm, ruːm/, woofer /ˈwʊfə, ˈwuːfə/ (and in some Scots accents there is no such distinction anyway).

254<oo> pronounced /ʊ/ occurs in only about 28 stem words, namely the four words just listed plus Chinook, forsook, foot, gooseberry /ˈgʊzbriː/, hoof (and its plural hooves), poof (ter), soot, woof ( /wʊf/ ‘barking’; contrast woof /wuːf/’weft’), wool, and most words ending in <d, k> with no earlier vowel letter: good, hood (plus its use as a suffix, e.g. childhood), stood, wood (and its derivative woodbine); book, brook, cook, crook, hook, look, nook, rook, shook, took (exceptions: brood, mood, rood, snood; gook, snook, spook, stook and the longer words bazooka, gobbledegook, snooker, all with /uː/).

255The set of 12 words just listed with <-ook> pronounced /ʊk/ (against six with /uːk/) is one of only five cases where the pronunciation of a phonogram/rime is more predictable as a unit than from the correspondences of the separate graphemes, and there are enough instances to make the rule worth teaching; see section A. 7 in Appendix A.

256In all words other than those pronounced with /ʊ/ and the three Oddities, <oo> is pronounced /uː/.

257<o, o> (always with intervening /w/-glide, but not always with helpful hyphen) are separate graphemes in co-op, cooperate, co-opt, coordinate, co-own, no-one, spermatozoon and other words ending in <-zoon> (‘living thing’), zoology.

10.31 <or>

258N. B. <ore> has a separate entry.

259THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɔː/

72%

regular before a consonant letter (except another <r>), except in the following group and as noted under Oddities; for word-final position see the Exceptions, and for occurrences before a vowel letter see Notes

Other phoneme

/ɜː/

11%

regular after initial <w, wh> and before a consonant letter: whortle(berry), word, work, world, worm, worse(n), worship, worst, wort, worth(y) (exceptions: worn with /ɔː/, worrit, worry with /ʌ/, worsted ‘cloth’ with /ʊ/); otherwise only in attorney

260THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<or>

/ə/

17% never initial; medially, regular in prefix <for-> pronounced /fə/, e.g. forbid, forget, forgive, forsake (but this is a very small set); otherwise rare medially, but cf. Deptford (and many other placenames with this element), Holborn, scissors, stubborn; regular wordfinally, e.g. error, horror, orator, sponsor; exceptions (all with /ɔː/): abhor, cantor, condor, corridor, cuspidor, décor, for (when stressed), grantor, humidor, ichor, lessor, matador, mentor, mortgagor, nor, or, praetor, quaestor, realtor, tor, toreador, vendor

<or>

/ʊ/

only in worsted (‘cloth’) pronounced /ˈwʊstɪd/ (when pronounced /ˈwɜːstɪd/ it means ‘defeated’)

Oddities

<orp>

/ɔː/

only in corps (plural), pronounced /kɔ: z/

<orps>

/ɔː/

only in corps (singular), pronounced /kɔː/

<orr>

/ɔː/

only in abhorred (in abhorrent, borrow, horrible, horrid, torrid <o, rr> are separate graphemes pronounced /ɒ, r/; and in worrit, worry <o, rr> are pronounced /ʌ, r)

<ort>

/ɔː/

only in mortgage, rapport. /t/ surfaces in rapporteur - see section 7.2

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

261NOTE

262Before a vowel letter, <or> is pronounced /ɔː/only in aurora, authorial, borax, chlorine, choral, chorus, corporeal, decorum, dictatorial, editorial, euphoria, flora (l), forum, glory, memorial, oracy, oral, oration, oratorio (second <or>), orient (noun, ‘The East’, pronounced /ˈɔːriːjənt/), quorum, variorum. In all these words, the <r> is both part of the digraph <or> pronounced /ɔː/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/ (for dual-functioning see section 7.1), and the <or> is stressed (except in oration /ɔːˈreɪʃən/). Where the <or> is stem-final and the ending is a suffix, /r/-linking also occurs (see section 3.6), namely in authorial, dictatorial, editorial, memorial. In all other cases before a vowel letter, <o, r> are separate graphemes, e.g. in corporation (second <or>), decorate, euphoric, florist, memory, orient (verb, ‘align correctly’, pronounced /ɒriːˈjent/), first <or> in orator, oratorio. For <or> as an elided vowel spelling in comfortable see section 6.10.

10.32 <ore>

263THE MAIN SYSTEM

Only phoneme (almost)

/ɔː/

100%

never initial; medially, only in compounds of fore-, of which there are 60 + (only exception: forecastle pronounced /ˈfəʊksəl/; also pronounced /ˈfɔːkɑːsəl/); regular word-finally, e.g. carnivore, wore

264NOTE

265In all other cases, <o, r, e> are separate graphemes, e.g. in anorexia, forest.

10.33 <ou>

266THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/aʊ/

48%

e.g. about, out, pout, rout

267THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ou>

/uː/

29% only in accoutrement, acoustic, ampoule, barouche, bayou, bijou, bivouac, boudoir, boulevard, bouquet, boutique, canteloupe, caribou, carousel, cartouche, cougar, coulomb, coulter, coupe, coupon, (un)couth, croup, croupier, crouton, douche, embouchure, frou-frou, ghoul, goujon, goulash, group, insouciance, joule, louvre, marabou, moussaka, mousse, oubliette, outré, ouzo, pirouette, recoup, rouble, rouge, roulette, route, routine, silhouette, sou, soubrette, soufflé, soup, souvenir, toucan, toupee, troubadour, troupe, trousseau, vermouth pronounced /vəˈmuːθ/ (also pronounced /ˈvɜːməθ/), voussoir, you

<ou>

/ə/

15% regular in the adjectival ending <-ous> pronounced /əs/, e.g. anxious, famous. Otherwise only in camouflage, limousine, moustache, tambourine, vermouth pronounced /ˈvɜːməθ/ (also pronounced /vəˈmuːθ/)

<ou>

/ʌ/

6% only in chough, Colclough pronounced /ˈkəʊlklʌf/ (also pronounced /ˈkəʊkliː/), country, couple, couplet, courage, cousin, double, doublet, doubloon, enough, flourish, *hiccough (properly spelt hiccup), housewife (‘sewing kit’, pronounced /ˈhʌzɪf/), nourish, rough, slough (‘shed skin’), sough, souther-n/ly, touch, tough, trouble, young

<ou>

/əʊ/

1% only in boulder, bouquet pronounced /bəʊˈkeɪ/ (also pronounced /buːˈkeɪ/), mould(er/y), moult(ed/ing), poultice, poultry, shoulder, smoulder, soul

<ou>

/ɒ/

only in cough, hough, trough

<ou>

/ʊ/

only in courier, pouffe pronounced /pʊf/ (also pronounced /puːf/)

<ou>

/w/

only in ouija

Oddities

<oue>

/uː/

only in denouement, moue On all the <ough> categories see Notes

<ough>

/ɔː/

42% of pronunciations of <ough> only in bought, brought, fought, nought, ought, (be-)sought, thought, wrought

<ough>

/uː/

27% of pronunciations of <ough> only in brougham, through

<ough>

/əʊ/

24% of pronunciations of <ough> only in dough, furlough, (al)though

<ough>

/aʊ/

3% of pronunciations of <ough> only in bough, doughty, drought, plough, slough (‘muddy place’)

<ough>

/ə/

2% of pronunciations of <ough> only in borough, thorough

<ough>

/iː/

only in Colclough pronounced /ˈkəʊkliː/ (also pronounced /ˈkəʊlklʌf/)

<oul>

/ʊ/

only in could, should, would (contrast mould /məʊld/ - another point in favour of the US spelling mold)

<oup>

/uː/

only in coup

<our>

/ɔː/

67% of pronunciations of <our> only in court(esan), course, four, mourn, pour, source, your(s)

<our>

/ə/

25% of pronunciations of <our> regular word-finally, e.g. arbour, ardour, armour, behaviour, candour, clamour, clangour, colour, endeavour, favour, fervour, flavour, glamour, harbour, honour, humour, labour, neighbour, odour, parlour, rancour, rigour, rumour, saviour, splendour, succour, tumour, valour, vapour, vigour. In many of these words US spelling has <or>. For exceptions see next three paragraphs and the 2-phoneme sequence

<our>

/ɜː/

7% of pronunciations of <our> only medial, and only in adjourn, bourbon (/ˈbɜːbən/ ‘whiskey’), courteous, courtesy, journal, journey, scourge, sojourn and tourney pronounced /ˈtɜːniː/ (also pronounced /ˈtʊəniː/)

<our>

/ʊə/

1% of pronunciations of <our> only in amour, bourbon (/ˈbʊəbɒn/ ‘biscuit’), bourgeois(ie), bourse, contour, detour, dour pronounced /dʊə/ (also pronounced /ˈdaʊwə/), entourage, gourd, gourmand, gourmet, houri, mourn (e.g. in mourning pronounced /ˈmʊənɪŋ/ to distinguish it carefully from morning pronounced /ˈmɔːnɪŋ/), potpourri (if we take the second <r> as spelling /r/), tour, tournament, tourney pronounced /ˈtʊəniː/(also pronounced /ˈtɜːniː/), tourniquet, troubadour, velour. There is /r/-linking in, e.g., touring – see section 3.6, and in entourage, houri the <r> is both part of grapheme <our> and a grapheme in its own right spelling /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. See section 5.6.5 for the increasing replacement of /ʊə/ by /ɔː/

<ou’re>

/ɔː/

only in you’re. See section A. 9 in Appendix A

<ous>

/uː/

only in rendezvous

<out>

/uː/

only in mange-tout, ragout, surtout

<oux>

/uː/

only in billet-doux, roux

2-phoneme grapheme

<our>

as 2-phoneme sequence /aʊwə/

in devour, flour, lour, our, ours, scour, sour and dour pronounced /ˈdaʊwə/ (also pronounced /dʊə/)

268NOTES

269<ou, r> are separate graphemes in courage, flourish, nourish. For <ou> as an elided vowel spelling in favourable, honourable see section 6.10.

270The six categories of <ough> listed above are those where it is a fourletter grapheme pronounced as a single phoneme, and the percentages given are for those circumstances. In other cases <ou, gh> are separate graphemes with separate pronunciations. For completeness the six 2-phoneme pronunciations of <ough> are listed here in the same manner as single-phoneme pronunciations:

<ough> pronounced /ɒf/ only in cough, trough
<ough> pronounced /ɒk/ only in hough
<ough> pronounced /ɒx/ only in (Irish) lough/ lɒx /
<ough> pronounced /ʌf/ only in
chough, Colclough pronounced
/ˈkəʊlklʌf/,
enough, slough (‘shed skin’), sough, tough
<ough> pronounced /ʌp/ only in the (mis) spelling of hiccup as * hiccough
<ough> pronounced /əx/ only in McCullough pronounced /məˈkʌləx/

271Thus the 33 words containing <ough> have 12 pronunciations between them. The only semblance of a rule is that most of the words containing <-ought> (bought, brought, fought, nought, ought, sought, thought, wrought) are pronounced /ɔːt/, the only two exceptions being doughty, drought with /aʊt/. Note that two of the 2-phoneme pronuncations ( /ɒx/ in lough, /əx/ in McCullough) do not occur in English stem words, and are therefore included here only for interest – they do not appear in my main lists of correspondences. See also Notes to section 9.15.

10.34 <ow>

272THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/aʊ/

45%

e.g. allow, brown, cow, coward, how, owl

Other phoneme

/əʊ/

44%

regular word-finally after <l, r>. See Note

273THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ow>

/ɒ/

10% only in (ac) knowledge, rowlock

<ow>

/ə/

<1% only in Meadowhall (locally, in Sheffield), sorrowful

Oddity

<owe>

/əʊ/

only in owe

2-phoneme graphemes

(none)

274NOTES

275/əʊ/ is the regular pronunciation word-finally after <l, r>: bellow, below, billow, blow, bungalow, callow, fallow, fellow, flow, follow, furbelow, glow, hallow, hollow, low, mallow, mellow, pillow, sallow, shallow, slow, swallow, tallow, wallow, whitlow, willow, yellow; arrow, barrow, borrow, burrow, crow, escrow, farrow, furrow, grow, harrow, marrow, morrow, narrow, row /rəʊ/ (‘line, use oars’), sorrow, sparrow, throw, yarrow (only exceptions: allow /əˈlaʊ/, plow; brow, prow, row /raʊ/ ‘squabble’), trow).

276Otherwise /əʊ/ occurs only in: (word-finally) bestow, bow (goes with arrow; contrast bow /baʊ/ ‘incline deferentially’), elbow, know, meadow, minnow, mow, shadow, show, snow, sow (‘plant seed’; contrast sow /saʊ/ ‘female pig’), stow, tow, widow, window, winnow; (medially) bowl, own and the irregular past participles blown, grown, thrown, which derive from verbs listed above, plus flown, known, mown, shown.

277All other occurrences of <ow> (bar the exceptions) are pronounced /aʊ/.

10.35 <oy>

278THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɔɪ/

100%

e.g. boy

279THE REST

pronounced

Exception to main system

<oy>

/aɪ/

only in coyote. The <y> is both part of <oy> and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /j/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1

Oddities

(none)

2-phoneme grapheme

<oy>

as 2-phoneme sequence /waɪ/

only in foyer pronounced /ˈfwaɪjeɪ/ (also pronounced /ˈfɔɪjeɪ, ˈfɔɪjə/), voyeur

280NOTE

281In medial examples of <oy> pronounced /ɔɪ/ before a vowel letter, namely in arroyo, employee, foyer pronounced /ˈfɔɪjeɪ, ˈfɔɪjə/, loyal, royal, soya, voyage and, I suppose, coy-er/est, comparative and superlative of coy, the <y> is both part of <oy> spelling /ɔɪ/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /j/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1.

10.36 <u>

282N. B. <ue, u. e, ur> have separate entries.

283THE MAIN SYSTEM

284On all these categories except /w/ see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/ʌ/

44%

e.g. but, up; regular in prefix un-

Other phonemes

/ʊ/

6%

in RP, only in 50 + stem words, but many are very frequent; regular in suffix <-ful>

/uː/

3%

e.g. ruby

/w/

<1%

regular after <q> pronounced /k/ (for exceptions, see under <cqu, qu, que> in sections 9.7, 9.27); also found in a few words after <c, g, s, ss, z>, namely cuirass, cuisine, cuisse; anguish, distinguish, extinguish, guacamole, guano, guava, iguana pronounced /ɪˈgwɑːnə/, language, languish, linguist, penguin, sanguine, segue, unguent; persuade, pueblo, puissan-ce/t, pursuivant, suave, suede, suite; assuage, dissuade; Venezuela and some very rare words; otherwise perhaps only in ennui, etui /ɒnˈwiː, eˈtwiː/

Frequent 2-phoneme sequence

/juː/

22%

e.g. pupil, union; word-final only in coypu, menu, ormolu

285THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<u>

/ə/

10% regular when unstressed. See Notes

<u>

/ɪ/

2% only in busy, business, lettuce, minute (noun /ˈmɪnɪt/, ‘60 seconds’), missus

<u>

/e/

<1% only in burial, bury

<u>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jə/

14% in some words when unstressed See Notes

Oddities

<ua>

/ə/

in nouns, only in actuary, estuary, mortuary, obituary, sanctuary, statuary, voluptuary, when pronounced with /ʧəriː/ rather than /ʧʊəriː/ (see also under /ʧ/, section 3.7.2), plus casualty /ˈkæʒəltiː/, February /ˈfebrəriː/, victuals /ˈvɪtəlz/; also often in rapid pronunciation of adjectives like actual (see /ʧ/, section 3.7.2), sexual and especially adverbs derived from them. See Notes

<ui>

/uː/

only in bruise, bruit, cruise, fruit, juice, recruit, sluice, suit. See Notes

<ui>

/aɪ/

only in duiker, Ruislip

<uu>

/uː/

only in muumuu (twice)

Other 2-phoneme graphemes

<ua>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jə/

only in January, valuable

<ui>

as 2-phoneme sequence /juː/

only in nuisance, pursuit

<ut>

as 2-phoneme sequence /juː/

only in debut. /t/ surfaces in debutante – see section 7.2

<uu>

as 2-phoneme sequence/juː/

only in vacuum pronounced /ˈvækjuːm/

286NOTES

287The consonantal pronunciation of <u> as /w/ is dealt with above. It is curious that the consonantal and vocalic pronunciations of <u> never occur adjacently, i. e. there are no instances of <uu> pronounced /wʌ wʊ wuː wə wɪ we/ or any of those with a /j/ glide between the two phonemes. This is despite the fact that at least one Latin word with such a sequence (equus /ˈekwus/, ‘horse’) has various English derivatives – but they all have /e/ spelt <e> after /w/ spelt <u>. Where sequences such as /wʌ/ occur in English the /w/ is always spelt <w> and the vowel is rarely spelt <u> - the only words beginning <wu> appear to be wunderkind, wuss with <u> pronounced /ʊ/, and Wurlitzer with <ur> pronounced /ɜː/.

288For instances of <u> as an elided vowel see section 6.10.

289Except in the 10 words listed under Oddities, <u, i> always are/belong to separate graphemes, e.g. in several words listed under <u> pronounced /uː, juː/below, including in particularcircuitous, fruition (with intervening /w/ -glide), plus words where <u> is part of a diagraph with the preceding consonant letter: biscuit, build, cataloguing and a few more words with potential <e>-deletion from <-gue> before <-ing>, circuit, guide, guild, guilder, guile, guillemot, guillotine, guilt, guinea, (dis)guise, guitar, suite.

290In RP (as distinct from local accents of the north of England, in which /ʊ/ is much more frequent), <u> is pronounced /ʊ/ in only about 57 stem words: ambush, Buddha, buffet /ˈbʊfeɪ/(‘food’), bulbul (twice), bull, bullace, bullet, bulletin, Bullingdon, bullion, bullock, bully, bulrush (first <u>), bulwark (also pronounced with /ʌ/), bush, bushel, butch, butcher, cuckoo, (mea) culpa, cushion, cushty, cushy, ebullient (also pronounced with /ʌ/), fulcrum (both <u>’s), full, fulmar, fundi (/ˈfʊndiː/ South and East African English for ‘expert /skilled person’/ in Britain, a member of the fundamentalist, uncompromising wing of the German Green Party), gerenuk, kaput, kibbutz, kukri, lungi, lutz, mullah, mush (/mʊʃ/, slang for ‘friend’), muslim, Musulman (twice), umlaut (first <u>), Zumba, pud, pudding, pull, pullet, pulpit, push, puss, put, putsch, schuss, s(c)htum, shufti, sputnik, sugar, suk, Sunni, thurible, thurifer, thruppence, tuk-tuk (twice), plus derivatives including Buddhism, bullock, fulfil, fully, ful(l)ness, fulsome, and in the adjective/noun suffix <-ful> - there are at least 150 words so formed, e.g. beautiful, handful. Unstressed in that suffix but stressed in all other cases except ambush, fulcrum (second <u>), fulfil, gerenuk, tuk-tuk (second <u>).

291In RP (as distinct from local accents of the north of England, in which /ʌ/ does not occur) <u> is pronounced /ʌ/:

  • regularly before geminate and doubled consonant spellings, e.g. bubble, bucket, duck, muddle, rudd, cudgel, judge, bluff, buffalo, muggle, gull, ullage, unnecessary, supper, curry, cussed (‘stubborn’), fuss, hutch, (e)scutcheon, butter, putt, puzzle. Exceptions: bull, bullet, Bullingdon, bullion, bullock, butch, butcher, cuckoo, ebullient (also pronounced with /ʌ/), full, fully, mullah, pudding, pull, both pronunciations of stumm, puss, putsch, thruppence, with /ʊ/

  • regularly in other words where it is the only vowel letter and nonfinal, e.g. bulk, brush, crux, dumb, dung, flux, hulk, just, mud, mush (‘squashy mess/command to husky’), plump, sculpt, sulk, up. See section 11.3 for a teaching rule relevant to.. VC monosyllables. Exceptions: bush, mush (‘friend’), pud, push with /ʊ/, ruth, truth with /uː/ (for brusque see under <u. e>, section 10.38)

  • in the prefix <sub-> when stressed, e.g. in subject (noun, pronounced /ˈsʌbʤɪkt/), sublimate, subterfuge, etc.

  • regularly where it is the last vowel letter in the word and non-final and stressed, e.g. abrupt, adjust, annul, begun, robust, rotund. Only exception: impugn, with /juː/

  • mostly otherwise before two or more consonant letters or <x> where there is at least one later vowel letter, e.g. blunder, butler, divulge, dungeon, fundi (/ˈfʌndaɪ/, plural of fundus ‘inner corner of organ’), hundred, husband, inculcate, indulge, indulgence, presumption, promulgate, sunder, truncate, truncheon, tuxedo, ulterior. Exceptions: duplicate, duplicity, fuchsia, hubris, lubricate, lucrative, lucre, nutritious, putrid, rubric and the prefix <supra->, with /(j)uː/

  • in a ragbag of other stem words, e.g. bunion, ketchup, punish, study, triumph, viaduct

  • in the native English prefix <un-> meaning ‘not’.

292Unlike the other vowel letters as single-letter graphemes, <u> is not pronounced short, i. e. /ʌ/, before a consonant and word-final <-ic(al)>. Instead it is pronounced /(j)uː/, e.g. cubic, music, punic, runic, tunic - see below.

293A test for distinguishing the (Germanic) prefix <un-> ‘not’ pronounced /ʌn/ from the (Latin) initial element <un(i)-> ‘one’ pronounced /juːn(iː)/ which seems mainly reliable is this: Remove <un>. If what remains is a word, it is <un-> pronounced /ʌn/; if what remains is not a word, it is <un(i)-> pronounced /juːn(iː)/. For example, uninformed has /ʌn/; uniformed has /juːniː/. There appear to be only two words for which this does not work: union, unit, but neither is likely to be misunderstood, there being no words *un-ion ‘not an ion’, *un-it ‘not an it’. However, based on un(-)ion is one of the longest homographs in English: unionised, which is either union-ised ‘belonging to a trade union’ or un-ionised ‘not converted into ions’.

294<u> is pronounced /uː/:

  • word-finally, only in ecru, flu, guru, impromptu, juju, plus gnu if <gn> is analysed as pronounced /nj/

  • in words where it is the only vowel letter and is followed by a consonant letter: only in ruth, truth

  • in suffixed forms of stem words in <-u. e> pronounced /uː/ after <e>-deletion (sometimes with change of stem-final consonant), e.g. brutal, crudity, inclusive, intrusion, reclusive, runic, secluded, trucial, plus truly – in all these cases, the preceding letter is <l> or <r>

  • in a small set of other words where there is at least one later vowel letter, mostly after <l, r>, e.g. (af)fluent, alluvial, bruin, cruel, fluid, fluorescent, frugal, fruition, gluten, inscrutable, lucrative, lucre, ludicrous, luna-cy/tic, lunar, lupus, prudent, rubric, ruby, ruin, runic, scruple, scrutiny, solution, truant, plus judicial, judo, jujitsu, suicide, superior; also in casual, sexual, usual, visual pronounced /ˈkæʒuːwəl, ˈsekʃuːwəl, ˈjuːʒuːwəl, ˈvɪʒuːwəl/. Where the letter following <u> is a vowel, the pronunciation has an intervening /w/-glide.

295Wijk (1960: 15) points out that /uː/ is regular after /ʤ, r, ʃ, j/ (mainly spelt <j, r, ch/sh, y> and after /l/ spelt <l> after another consonant, both when <u> is a single-letter grapheme and in <u. e>. I would add that in current RP /uː/ is also regular after <d, t> pronounced /ʤ, ʧ/, e.g. in arduous, assiduous, deciduous, dual, ducal, duel, duet, duly, duty, gradual, graduate, individual, residual; tuba, tuber, tulip, tumour, tumult(uous), tumulus, tuna, tunic, tureen, tutor; attitude, multitude, solitude; costume; fortune, importune, opportune; virtuoso; contemptuous, fatuous, impetuous, incestuous, perpetuate; spirituous, sumptuous, tempestuous, tortuous, tumultuous, unctuous, virtuous, voluptuous; obtuse; de/in/pro/re/sub-stitution. accentual, actual, conceptual, contractual, effectual, eventual, factual, habitual, intellectual, mutual, perpetual, punctual, ritual, spiritual, textual, virtual; actuary, estuary, mortuary, obituary, sanctuary, statuary, voluptuary. Again, where the letter following <u> is a vowel, the pronunciation has an intervening /w/-glide.

296<u> is pronounced /juː/:

  • word-finally, only in coypu, menu, ormolu, parvenu, plus gnu if <gn> is analysed as pronounced /n/

  • in words where it is the only vowel letter and is followed by a consonant letter: only in impugn

  • mostly before a consonant letter and word-final <-ic(al)>, e.g. cubic, music, punic, tunic (exception: runic)

  • in suffixed forms of stem words in <-u. e> pronounced /juː/after <e>-deletion (sometimes with change of stem-final consonant), e.g. accusation, allusion, at /con/ dis/re-tribution, collusion, communal, community, computation, con/in-stitution, consuming, delusion, disputacious, enthusiasm, elocution, evolution, execution, funeral, (con/dif/in/pro/trans-) fusion, (dis)illusion, nudity, persecution, pollution, prosecution, reducible, reputation, revolution, usage

  • in a large set of other words where there is at least one later vowel letter, e.g. annual, computer, continuity, cubicle, cubit, duplicate, duplicity, fuchsia, fuel, genuine, hubris, human, humus, impecunious, ingenuity, lubricate, (pel)lucid, mucus, mutate, numerous, nutritious, peculiar, puny, putrid, student, stupid, tenuous, the prefix <supra-> and many words with the (Latin) initial element <un(i)-> (‘one’), e.g. unanimous, unicorn, union, unison, unit, universe. See above on distinguishing words with <un(i)-> from those with <un-> pronounced /ʌn/, the native English prefix meaning ‘not’. Where the letter following <u> is a vowel, the pronunciation has an intervening /w/-glide.

297<u> is pronounced /ə/:

  • in a set of words containing <du, tu> pronounced /ʤə, ʧə/ when the <u> is the penultimate vowel grapheme in the word and unstressed, and separated from the next vowel letter by a single consonant letter, and the main stress is on the preceding syllable: (in)credulous, educate, glandular, modular, nodular, pendulum, sedulous; century, congratulate, fistula, fortunate, naturist, petulant/ce, postulant, postulate, saturate, spatula, titular and derivatives, e.g. education, saturation (cf. words with /jə/, below)

  • in all occurrences of the endings <-ium,-ius> (with intervening /j/-glide), e.g. atrium, bacterium, compendium, delirium, geranium, gymnasium, medium, opium, potassium, radium, stadium, tedium and about 200 others ending in <-ium>; genius, radius

  • in all occurrences of the endings <-um,-us> without a preceding <i>, e.g. album, agendum, carborundum, colosseum, linoleum, lyceum, mausoleum, maximum, museum, petroleum, rectum, referendum; abacus, anus, bogus, bonus, cactus, campus, caucus, census, chorus, circus, citrus, corpus, crocus, discus, emeritus, exodus, focus, fungus, genus, hiatus, hippopotamus, isthmus, litmus, lotus, octopus, onus, nucleus, rhombus, stimulus, surplus, syllabus, Taurus, terminus, tinnitus, virus and hundreds more

  • in prefix <sub-> when unstressed, e.g. subdue, subject (verb, pronounced /səbˈʤekt/), sublime, submerge, submit, subside, subsist, substantial

  • otherwise in, e.g., cherub, catsup, chirrup, stirrup, syrup.

298Also, in the entry for <ur>, section 10.39, reference is made to the long list in section 5.4.7 of nouns ending in <-ture> pronounced /ʧə/. In adjectives derived from nouns in that list, e.g. adventurous /ədˈvenʧərəs/, natural /ˈnæʧərəl/), and especially in adverbs derived from those adjectives, e.g. adventurously, naturally, <u> may be pronounced /ə/ – or in rapid pronunciation the schwa may be absent (/ædˈvenʧrəs(liː), ˈnæʧrəl(iː)/), in which case the <u> is elided – see section 6.10. I think that the tendency for the vowel to disappear in rapid speech is stronger in the adverbs alluded to in this paragraph and listed in section 5.4.7 than in the adjectives.

299<u> is pronounced /jə/ in several words where it is the penultimate vowel grapheme and unstressed, and separated from the next vowel letter by a single consonant letter, and main stress is on the preceding syllable, e.g. amulet, angular /ˈæŋgjələ/, argument, calculate, chasuble, coagulate, contributor, corpuscular, distributor, emulate, fabulous, garrulous, immunise, inaugural, incubus, insula-r/te, jugular, manipulate, muscular, nebulous, particular, penury, popul(o)us, querulous, regula-r/te, scapula(r), scroful-a/ous, scrupulous, stimul-ant/ate/us, succubus, tremulous, truculent, vernacular; also in, e.g. glandular, spatula, if pronounced with /djə, tjə/ rather than /ʤə, ʧə/ (see list above); also in the two words copulation, population where it is the antepenultimate vowel grapheme (and unstressed) and main stress is on the following syllable.

10.37 <ue>

300N. B. <u. e> has a separate entry.

301Does not occur initially. Except in gruesome, muesli, Tuesday, only word-final.

302THE MAIN SYSTEM

303For both categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/uː/

41%

e.g. glue

Frequent 2-phoneme sequence

/juː/

59%

e.g. cue

304THE REST

305(None).

306NOTES

307This grapheme is not to be confused with word-final <-ue> in <gue, que>, where it is sometimes part of those graphemes – see sections 9.15, 9.27.

308/uː/ is regular after <l, r>, namely in blue, clue, flue, glue, slue; accrue, construe, gruesome, imbrue, rue, sprue, true, and predominates after <d, t> (where older pronunciations with /juː/are still sometimes heard): due, residue, subdue; statue, Tuesday pronounced /ˈʧuːzdiː/, virtue, plus issue, sue, tissue. Only definite exception: value, with /juː/.

309/juː/ is regular in almost all other cases, namely ague, argue, avenue, barbecue, continue, cue, curlicue, ensue, hue, imbue, pursue, queue, rescue, retinue, revenue, revue, value, venue. Exception: muesli.

310Except in gruesome, muesli, Tuesday, <u, e> are always separate graphemes in medial position, e.g. cruel /ˈkruːwəl/, duel /ˈʤuːwəl/ (homophonous with jewel), duet /ʤuːˈwet/ (words like these three have an intervening /w/-glide), suede /sweɪd/ (where <u> spells /w/ anyway). There is also one 2-grapheme exception in final position: segue /ˈsegweɪ/ (where <u> again spells /w/).

10.38 <u. e>

311Occurs only where the <e> is word-final.

312See Notes for both categories and for how this split digraph is defined, and see section 11.4 for a teaching rule relevant to all split digraphs except <y. e>.

313THE MAIN SYSTEM

314For both categories see Notes.

Basic phoneme

/uː/

11%

e.g. rude

Frequent 2-phoneme pronunciation

/juː/

89%

e.g. cute

315THE REST

316(None).

317NOTES

318The split digraph <u. e> is defined as covering words where the <e> is separated from the <u> by one consonant letter other than <r, x> and the <u> is not preceded by a vowel letter and the digraph is pronounced /uː /or/ juː/. The definition covers both words where the intervening consonant letter is an independent grapheme and words where the <e> is also part of a split digraph <ce, ge> - see sections 3.7.4, 3.7.6 and 3.8.4, and section 7.1 for dual-functioning.

319The only extensions needed are to cover five words with two intervening letters forming consonant digraphs: butte, fugue, peruque, ruche, tulle, plus brusque pronounced /bruːsk/(also pronounced /brʌsk/), with three intervening letters (including <qu> as a digraph) forming the consonant cluster /sk/. The only exceptions appear to be lettuce, minute (/ˈmɪnɪt/, ‘60 seconds’), with <u> pronounced /ɪ/ and <ce, te> forming digraphs pronounced /s, t/, and deluxe with <u> pronounced /ʌ/ and <xe> forming a 2-phoneme digraph pronounced /ks/. See also section A. 6 in Appendix A.

320/uː/is regular after <ch, j, l, r>, namely in (para) chute; June, jupe, jute; fluke, flume, flute, include and various other words in <-clude>, luge, lute, plume, recluse; abstruse, brume, brute, crude, intrude and various other words in <-trude>, peruque, peruse, prude, prune, ruche, rude, rule, rune, ruse, spruce, truce, and predominates after <d, t> (where older pronunciations with /juː/are still sometimes heard): duke, dune (homophonous with June), introduce, reduce, module, nodule; tube, tulle, tune. Exceptions: delude, mameluke, pollute, with /juː/.

321/juː/ is regular in almost all other cases, e.g. abuse, accuse, amuse, (at /con/ dis-) tribute, centrifuge, commune (noun and verb), compute, consume, delude, deluge, dispute, enthuse, globule, huge, minute /maɪˈnjuːt/ (‘tiny’), mule, mute, nude, perfume, pollute, refuge, repute, subterfuge, use (noun and verb).

322There are very few English words ending <-uge>: centrifuge, deluge, huge, refuge, subterfuge and a few more rarities, all with /juːʤ/, plus luge with /uːʒ/ (there are none with /uːʤ, juːʒ/).

323The only word in which a final <e> after <u>+ consonant is ‘pronounced’ rather than ‘silent’ appears to be resume (‘c.v.’).

10.39 <ur>

324THE MAIN SYSTEM

Basic phoneme

/ɜː/

70%

e.g. fur, occur, turn, urgent. See Notes

325THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<ur>

/ə/

30% never initial; word-finally, only in augur, femur, langur, lemur, murmur, sulphur; medially, regular in prefixes pur-, sur-when unstressed, e.g. purgation, purloin, purport, pursue, purvey; surmise, surmount, surpass, surprise, survey (verb), survive; otherwise only in a few words, e.g. auburn, expurgate, jodhpurs, liturgy, metallurgy, Saturday, saturnine. See Notes

<ur>

/ʊə/

<1% never word-final; initially, only in urtext; otherwise only medial and only in centurion, durable, (en)during, duress, injurious, juror, jury, prurient/ce, rural, usurious, plus luxuriance, luxuriant, luxuriate, luxurious (/lʌgˈʒʊəriːj-əns/ənt/eɪt/əs/), maturity, tureen and derived forms of some words ending in <-ure> pronounced /ʊə/ (see below) after <e>-deletion, e.g. insurance. In all these medial cases the <r> is both part of <ur> and a grapheme in its own right pronounced r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. See also Notes

<ur>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jʊə/

<1% never word-final; initially, only in urea and various words derived from it, e.g. urethra, urine, urology; otherwise only medial and only in bravura, curate (both the noun ‘junior cleric ‘pronounced /ˈkjʊərət/ and the verb ‘mount an exhibition’ pronounced /kjʊəˈreɪt/), curious, furore whether pronounced /fjʊəˈrɔːreɪ/ or /ˈfjʊərɔː/, furious, fury, lurid, mural, purify, purity, security, spurious and derived forms of some words ending in <-ure> pronounced /jʊə/ (see below) after <e>-deletion, e.g. manuring. In all these medial cases the <r> is both part of <ur> and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. See also Notes

Oddities

All word-final only in stem words

<ure>

/ə/

the regular pronunciation of <ure>, e.g. in lecture, nature and dozens of other words ending in unstressed <-ture> (for a long list see section 5.4.7), censure, conjure (‘do magic tricks’) pronounced /ˈkʌnʤə/, figure, injure, leisure, measure, perjure, pleasure, pressure, procedure, tonsure, treasure, verdure (cf. verger). For exceptions see the next paragraph and the 2-phoneme graphemes. Many of these words allow /r/-linking (see section 3.6), e.g. natural, pleasurable, procedural

<ure>

/ʊə/

only in abjure, adjure, assure, brochure, (also pronounced with final /ə/), conjure (‘summon with an oath’) pronounced /kənˈʤʊə/, cynosure, embouchure, ensure, insure, sure; also caricature, overture if <-ture> is pronounced /ʧʊə/ rather than /ʧə/, and words like endure, mature if <-dure,-ture> are pronounced /ʤʊə, ʧʊə/ (see two paragraphs below and sections 9.12 and 9.33). Many of these words allow /r/-linking (see section 3.6), e.g. assurance, maturity. See also Notes

<urr>

/ɜː/

only in burr, purr and suffixed forms of words ending in <-ur>, e.g. blurred, furry, demurring, occurred. /r/-linking occurs in furry, demurring – see section 3.6. <u, rr> are separate graphemes pronounced /ʌ, r/ in, e.g., demurral, furrier pronounced /ʼfʌriːjə/ ‘dealer in furs ’(contrast the word of the same spelling pronounced /ʼfɜːriːjə/ ‘more furry’), hurry, scurrilous, scurry, slurry

Other 2-phoneme pronunciations

<ure>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jə/

only in failure, tenure and azure pronounced /ˈæzjə, ˈeɪzjə/ (also pronounced /ˈæzjʊə, ˈeɪzjʊə, ˈæʒə, ˈeɪʒə/); also possibly in words like endure, mature if <-dure,-ture> are pronounced conservatively with /dj, tj/ not yet affricated to /ʤ, ʧ/ (see two paragraphs above and sections 9.12 and 9.33). See also Notes

<ure>

as 2-phoneme sequence /jʊə/

only in coiffure, cure, demure, immure, inure, lure, manure, photogravure, pure, secure, sinecure. See also Notes

326NOTES

327There are very few words with initial <ur->. Most are derivatives of urea, all with a following vowel letter and with <ur> pronounced /jʊə/ and <r> also pronounced /r/, i. e. dual-functioning (see section 7.1). There are only six words with a following consonant letter: urbane, urchin, urge, urgent, urn with regular /ɜː/ and urtext with /ʊə/. Except in urtext, urea and its derivatives, and the exceptions and the Oddity <urr> noted above, <ur> is always pronounced /ɜː/, and there appear to be no cases of <u, r> as separate graphemes.

328Despite the high percentage for <ur> pronounced /ə/ I have not counted it as part of the main system because of the rarity of its converse – see section 5.4.7.

329See section 5.6.5 for the increasing replacement of /(j)ʊə / by /(j)ɔː/.

10.40 <y>

330THE MAIN SYSTEM

331For all these categories and the absence of percentages see Notes, and for a teaching rule relevant to word-final <y> see section 11.6.

Basic word-initial phoneme

/j/

e.g. yellow, you, your; never occurs wordfinally; rare medially, where almost all occurrences are vocalic

Basic phoneme elsewhere

/aɪ/

regular word-finally where it is the only vowel letter, in the suffix <-fy>, and medially after <e>-deletion, e.g. fly, beautify, stylish

Other phonemes

/iː/

usual in prefix poly-and regular word-finally where there is at least one earlier vowel letter (except in the suffix <-fy>), e.g. polytechnic, city, happy

/ɪ/

never word-final; almost exclusively medial; occurs in many words of (mainly) Greek origin, e.g. bicycle, crystal; regular where it precedes a consonant letter and word-final <-ic(al>), and mainly before consonant clusters

332THE REST

pronounced

Exceptions to main system

<y>

/ə/

only in pyjamas

Oddities

<ye>

/aɪ/

only word-final, and only in (good)bye, dye, lye, rye, Skye, stye

<y. e>

/aɪ/

only where the <e> is word-final and only in: acolyte, analyse, anodyne, azyme, breathalyse, byte, catalyse, chyle, chyme, coenocyte, condyle, dialyse, dyke, dyne, electrolyse, electrolyte, enzyme, formaldehyde, gybe, gyve, hythe, hype, leucocyte, neophyte and at least 14 other words ending in <-phyte> pronounced /faɪt/, paralyse, phagocyte, proselyte, rhyme, scythe, spondyle, style and about 20 derivatives, troglodyte, syce, thyme, tyke, type and at least 20 derivatives; also alternative US spellings such as analyze. See Notes for how this split digraph is defined

<yr>

/ə/

only in martyr, satyr, zephyr

<yr>

/ɜː/

only in gyrfalcon, myrmidon, myrtle

<yrrh>

/ɜː/

only in myrrh

2-phoneme graphemes

<yr>

as 2-phoneme sequence /aɪə/

only medial and only in empyrean, gyroscope, papyrus, pyrites, pyromaniac, thyroid, tyrant, tyro, tyrosine. In all cases the <r> is both part of the digraph <yr> pronounced /aɪə/ and a grapheme in its own right pronounced /r/. For dual-functioning see section 7.1. Words in which <y, r> are separate graphemes include dithyramb(ic), myriad, porphyr-y/ia, syringa, syringe, syrup, tyranny, all with the relevant <y> pronounced /ɪ/

<yre>

as 2-phoneme sequence /aɪə/

only word-final and only in byre, gyre, lyre, pyre, tyre. Some of these allow /r/-linking – see section 3.6 – e.g. pyromaniac and (with change of vowel and <r> spelling only /r/) lyrical

333NOTES

334Gontijo et al. (2003) (like Carney – see section 5.4.3) analyse word-final <y> (except where it is the only vowel letter and in <-fy>) as pronounced /ɪ/. Because I instead analyse it as pronounced /iː/ and can not separate their final <y> pronounced /ɪ/ from medial <y> pronounced /ɪ/ I am unable to use their percentages for any of the correspondences of <y>.

335Initial <y> is always pronounced /j/ before a vowel letter. Cases of initial <y> followed by a consonant letter are very rare, but in all of them <y> is pronounced /ɪ/, namely the archaic word yclept (‘named’), the type of boat called yngling, and the names of the plant and essential oil ylang-ylang (also spelt ilang-ilang) and of the elements ytterbium, yttrium and the names Yvette, Yvonne.

336Conversely, there are cases of medial <y> which are consonantal and are pronounced /j/. In a few, the <y> is solely a single-letter grapheme: banyan /ˈbænjæn/, beyond, biryani, bowyer /ˈbəʊjə/, canyon /ˈkænjən/, halyard, lanyard, vineyard, yoyo. In rather more the <y> functions both as a single-letter grapheme pronounced /j/ and as part of digraphs (for dualfunctioning see section 7.1) with various pronunciations:

  • eɪ/in abeyance, bayonet, cayenne, layer, layette, mayonnaise, prayer pronounced /ˈpreɪjə/ (‘one who prays’), rayon; also in derived forms such as betrayal, conveyance

  • /ɔɪ/ in arroyo, buoyant /ˈbɔɪjənt/, doyen pronounced /ˈdɔɪjən, dɔɪˈjen/, doyenne pronounced /dɔɪˈjen/, foyer pronounced /ˈfɔɪjeɪ, ˈfɔɪjə/, joyous, loyal, royal, soya; also in derived forms such as joyous

  • /aɪ/ in coyote /kaɪˈjəʊtiː/, kayak /ˈkaɪjæk/

  • /waɪ/ in doyen and doyenne pronounced /dwaɪˈjen/, foyer pronounced /ˈfwaɪjeɪ/, voyeur /vwaɪˈjɜː/.

337Consonantal <y> and initial vocalic <y> having been dealt with, the main question is how to predict the three main vocalic pronunciations in medial and final positions.

338y> is pronounced /aɪ/:

  • word-finally where it is the only vowel letter, namely by, cry, dry, fly, fry, my, ply, pry, scry, shy, sky, sly, spy, spry, sty, thy, try, why, wry, plus buy, guy (taking <bu, gu> to be digraphs spelling/b, g/). No exceptions

  • in the suffix <-fy>, e.g. beautify, classify, notify, including the three words with a preceding <e>: liquefy, putrefy, stupefy. The noun salsify (‘root vegetable’) is pronounced /ˈsælsɪfiː/but is not a real exception because here <fy> is not a suffix

  • word-finally also in a few other words where it is not the only vowel letter: ally, ap/com/im/re/sup-ply, awry, defy, deny, descry, espy, July, multiply (verb - contrast the adverb, with /iː/), occupy, prophesy (contrast prophecy, with /iː/), rely

  • medially in hundreds of words where <e>-deletion has occurred, e.g. stylish, typist

  • medially otherwise in an unpredictable ragbag of words, including asylum, aureomycin, cryostat, cyanide, cycle, cyclone, cypress, (hama) dryad, dynamic, forsythia, glycogen, gynaecology, hyacinth, hyaline, hybrid, hydra, hydrangea, hydrant, hydraulic, hydrofoil, hydrogen and various other compounds of hydro-, hyena, hygiene, hygrometer, hymen, hyperbole and other compounds in hyper-, hyphen, hypothesis and other compounds in hypo-, lychee, myopic, nylon, psyche and almost all its derivatives, pylon, stymie, thylacine, thymus, typhoid, typhoon, typhus, xylophone, zygote and derivatives.

339<y> is pronounced /iː/:

  • word-finally in most words where it is not the only vowel letter, e.g. city, happy and hundreds of others. For exceptions with /aɪ/ see above

  • in the prefix poly-when the stress does not fall on the <y>, e.g. polyandry (with following /j/-glide), polytechnic, polysyllable, polysyllabic (exception: polymer, with /ɪ/). When the stress does fall on the <y> it is pronounced /ɪ/, e.g. in polygamy

  • medially otherwise in very few words (with following /j/-glide), e.g. caryatid, embryo(nic), halcyon.

340The only remaining occurrences of vocalic <y> are all medial and all pronounced /ɪ/:

  • regular where it precedes at least one consonant letter and either of the endings <-ic(al)>, e.g. cryptic, cyclic(al), cynic(al), paralytic, pyrrhic, salicylic, typical. In this set cyclic(al), typical are exceptions (but apparently the only ones) to the rule (see above) that <e>-deletion before a suffix beginning with a vowel letter leaves a <y> from a previously split digraph pronounced /aɪ/

  • regular in words where it is the only vowel letter and there is at least one following consonant letter, other than those with <-y. e>, but this is a small set: crypt, cyst, gym, gyp, hymn, lymph, lynch, lynx, nymph, pyx, sylph, tryst. Only exception: psych

  • regular in where it is the last vowel letter and there is at least one following consonant letter, other than those with <-y. e>, e.g. abyss, acronym, amethyst, aneurysm, antonym, apocalypse, beryl, calyx, cataclysm, catalyst, chlorophyll and a few other words ending in -phyll, coccyx, (ptero) dactyl, di/triptych, eponym, hieroglyph, hydroxyl (second <y>), idyll, larynx, onyx, oryx, pharynx, polyp, sibyl, synonym (second <y>). No exceptions

  • mostly predictable before two or more consonant letters or <x> where ther is at least one later vowel letter, e.g. apocrypha(l), asphyxiate, bi/tricycle, cryptic, crystal, cyclamen, cygnet, cymbal, eucalyptus, gryphon, gymkhana, gymnast/ium, gypsum, gypsy, hypnosis, hypnotise, metempsychosis, paroxysm, pygmy, rhythm, strychnine, syllable, syllabic, syllabub, syllabus, sylloge, symbol, sympathy, syndicate, syntax, synthetic, syphilis. Exceptions, all with /aɪ/: cycle, cyclone, cypress, forsythia, hybrid, all the words beginning hydr-, hygrometer, hyphen, lychee, psyche and almost all its derivatives, typhoid, typhoon, typhus

  • otherwise in an unpredictable ragbag of words, including acetylene, analysis, analytic, chlamydia, cotyledon, cylinder, dithyramb(ic), eponym(ous), glycerine, hypocrite, metempsychosis, myriad, oxygen, paralysis, physics, polymer, porphyria, sybarite, sycamore, sycophant, synonym (twice), syringa, syringe, syrup and first <y> in dynasty, etymology, hypocrisy, polygamy, porphyry, tyranny.

341The split digraph <y. e> is defined as covering words where the <e> is separated from the <y> by one consonant letter other than <r> and the <y> is not preceded by a vowel letter and the digraph is pronounced /aɪ/. The definition covers both words where the intervening consonant letter is an independent grapheme and words where the <e> is also part of a split digraph <ce, ve> - see sections 3.7.6-7, and section 7.1 for dualfunctioning. The only extension needed is to cover two words with two intervening consonant letters forming a digraph: hythe, scythe, and there appear to be no exceptions. See also section A. 6 in Appendix A.

10.41 Correspondences of <a, e, i, o, u, y> (± word-final <e>) in content words with no other vowel letters (monosyllables)

342There is more pattern to the correspondences of the vowel letters in monosyllabic content words than comes through in the relevant sections of this chapter above – see Table 10.2, the inspiration for which I owe to Irina Shcherbakova of Moscow. (Most monosyllabic function words are so often unstressed that their predominant vowel is /ə/).

343I have not included columns for the single vowel letters plus <w, y>, because over half the possible combinations do not occur, or for those sequences plus final <e>, because such words are rare. For <aw(e), ay(e), ew(e), ey(e), ow(e), oy> (<-oye> does not occur), see sections 10.10/11/21/12/34/35 respectively.

344The comprehensiveness of Table 10.2 conceals the fact that, even where a cell does not say ‘(does not occur)’, there may be very few instances. This is true of all the cells in the ‘just the vowel letter’ column (see below), and of words ending in <-ure>: sure is the only example in its cell, and the only companions for cure are lure, pure; brae is also an isolate.

345Table 10.2 makes clear the parallelism in the correspondences of <i, y> in relevant words (though <y> is much rarer) - this is why I’ve put <y> next to <i>. Also, I’ve put <o, a> first because all the other vowel letter + <r> combinations are pronounced /ɜː/. Two more regularities are:

  • Each vowel letter + <e> combination without an intervening consonant is pronounced the same as the corresponding split digraph;

  • In word-final position <e, i, o> and sometimes <u> are pronounced like their letter-names (but <u> is sometimes /uː/, <a> is pronounced /ɑː/ and <y> is pronounced /aɪ/).

346There are only about 19 exceptions to the regular short pronunciations before a single consonant letter: raj with /ɑː/, quad, quag, squat, swab, swan, swat, wad, wan, was, what with /ɒ/, chic with /iː/, mic with /aɪ/, son, ton, won with /ʌ/, pud, put, suk with /ʊ/.

347The list of exceptions before geminate and other doubled spellings is longer, but still not extensive (the list would be shorter still in accents other than RP): chaff, staff, hajj, brass, class, glass, grass, pass, with /ɑː/; bass (‘(player of) large stringed instrument’/‘(singer with) low-pitched voice’) with /eɪ/; all, ball, call, fall, gall, hall, pall, small, squall, stall, tall, thrall, wall with /ɔː/; retch pronounced /riːʧ/; boll (sometimes), droll, poll (‘head, vote’), roll, scroll, stroll, toll with /əʊ/.

TABLE 10.2: REGULAR CORRESPONDENCES OF <a, e, i, o, u, y> (± WORD-FINAL <e>) IN MONOSYLLABIC CONTENT WORDS

word ending in →

the vowel letter + any single consonant letter except <r, w, y>

the vowel letter + any geminate or doubled consonant spelling

just the vowel letter

the vowel letter + <e>

the vowel letter + any consonant letter (except <r, w, x, y>) + <e>, = split digraph

the vowel letter + <re>

the vowel letter + <r>

syllable type →

closed

closed

open

open

closed

open

open

vowel sound →

short

short

‘long’, = letter name (except <a, y>, and <u> without /j/ glide)

‘long’, = letter name (except <y>, and <u> without /j/ glide)

‘long’, = letter name (except <y>, and <u> without /j/-glide)

r-coloured diphthong or 2-phoneme sequence (except <ore>)

long pure vowel

vowel letter ↓

<o>

/ɒ/
rod

/ɒ/
lodge

/əʊ/
go

/əʊ/
roe

/əʊ/
rode

/ɔː/
fore

/ɔː/
for

<a>

/æ/
man

/æ/
catch

/ɑː/
pa

/eɪ/
brae

/eɪ/
name

/eə/
care

/ɑː/
car

<y>

/ɪ/
gym

(does not occur)

/aɪ/
sty

/aɪ/
stye

/aɪ/
style

/aɪə/
pyre

(does not occur)

<i>

/ɪ/
pin

/ɪ/
brick

/aɪ/
pi

/aɪ/
pie

/aɪ/
pine

/aɪə/
fire

/ɜː/
fir

<e>

/e/
men

/e/
bell

/iː/
be

/iː/
bee

/iː/
scene

/ɪə/
here

/ɜː/
her

<u> without /j/ glide

/ʌ/
cut

/ʌ/
fuss

/uː/
flu

/uː/
flue

/uː/
flute

/ʊə/*
sure

/ɜː/
fur

<u> with /j/ glide

(does not occur)

(does not occur)

/juː/
mu

/juː/
cue

/juː/
cute

/jʊə/*
cure

(does not occur)

*See section 5.6.5 for the increasing replacement of /(j)ʊə/ by /(j)ɔː/.

348A further set arises from taking final <-ve> to be a doubled spelling. Although a few preceding single-letter vowels have the regular short pronunciation before <-ve>, namely have, give, live (verb, /lɪv/) (see sections 3.7.7 and 9.39), there are 18 words in which the <e> also forms a split digraph with the vowel letter, which therefore has a ‘long’ pronunciation (for dual-functioning see section 7.1): gave, shave, suave, wave; breve, eve; drive, five, hive, jive, live (adjective, /laɪv/), swive, wive; cove, drove, move, prove; gyve (see the parallel list for polysyllables in the next section), and four words with an irregular short pronunciation: dove, glove, love, shove with /ʌ/.

349There are just nine words in the language in which the sole vowel letter is followed by word-final <rr>: carr, charr, parr, err, chirr, shirr, whirr, burr, purr – but in every case the three letters form a trigraph, and these are therefore not really exceptions to the doubled consonant spelling rules in Table 10.2. This applies even more strongly to barre, bizarre, parterre, myrrh.

350There are only about 54 words with a single word-final vowel letter in the language, even when the dictionary is thoroughly scraped (and several function words are included); very few are exceptions – see Table 10.3.

TABLE 10.3: OPEN MONOSYLLABLES WITH A SINGLE VOWEL LETTER

Vowel letter

Words

Pronunciation

a

bra, ma, pa, schwa, spa

/ɑː/

e

be, he, me, she, the (when stressed), we, ye

/iː/

i

Hi!, the pronoun I, and Greek letter names chi, phi, pi, psi, xi (as pronounced in English)

/aɪ/

mi, ti (the musical terms), ski

/iː/

o

fro, go, lo, no

/əʊ/

do, to (when stressed), two, who

/uː/

u

flu, gnu if <gn> is analysed as pronounced /nj/

/uː/

gnu if <gn> is analysed as pronounced /n/, and Greek letter names mu, nu (as pronounced in English)

/juː/

y

by, cry, dry, fly, fry, my, ply, pry, scry, shy, sky, sly, spy, spry, sty, thy, try, why, wry, plus buy, guy (taking <bu, gu> to be digraphs spelling /b, g/)

/aɪ/

351There appear to be only two exceptions for the vowel letter + <e> combinations (see sections 10.3/16/23/27/37/40), namely nee with /eɪ/ and shoe with /uː/ - but there are only about 40 such monosyllables in the entire language.

352There are very few words which end in a vowel letter + consonant letter other than <r, w, x, y> + final <e> (and therefore like look monosyllables with split digraphs), but in which the <e> is ‘pronounced’and the words are therefore disyllables and the vowel letter + <e> do not constitute a split digraph: blase, cafe, glace, pate (‘paste’), hebe, stele, (bona) fide. (See also section 11.4).

353There are also very few words which end in a vowel letter + <re> and have an irregular pronunciation: are, ere, there, where, were (all of which are function words), and the only two exceptions for vowel letter plus <r> are war with /ɔː/ and kir with /ɪə/.

10.42 Correspondences of <a, e, i, o, u, y> in words with at least one later vowel letter other than ‘silent’ <e> (polysyllables)

354Only two columns in Table 10.2 can be generalised more or less straightforwardly to polysyllables, which can be defined for the purposes of this section as all those (huge numbers of) words which do not fit the definition of ‘monosyllables’given in the heading of the previous section.

355First, the single vowel letter graphemes are almost always pronounced ‘short’ (i. e. as /æ e ɪ ɒ ʌ ɪ/ respectively) before geminate and other doubled spellings in polysyllables as well as monosyllables – see Table 10.4, which is the mirror-image of Table 4.1.

TABLE 10.4: SHORT AND LONG PRONUNCIATIONS OF SINGLE-LETTER VOWEL GRAPHEMES BEFORE SINGLE AND DOUBLE CONSONANT SPELLINGS

Before doubled consonant spellings

Before other consonant clusters and single consonant letters

Short vowel pronunciation

Regular

Both occur, and long/short pronunciations are sometimes predictable but mostly not – see the rest of this section

Long vowel/diphthong pronunciation

Very rare

356There are very few exceptions to the rule that single-letter vowel graphemes before geminate and other doubled spellings are pronounced short in polysyllables. This even applies to various short pronunciations which are exceptions to the main one, e.g. words with <a> pronounced /ɒ/. The only exceptions I’ve been able to find are camellia, pizza with /iː/, distaff and sometimes latte with /ɑː/, plimsoll (also spelt plimsole, which would not be an exception) with /əʊ/, and thralldom (also spelt thraldom, which would not be an exception) with /ɔː/. The rule extends to consonant letter clusters which are or look like trigraphs (even though this not how I would analyse them): arrhythmia if pronounced with initial /eɪ/, butte with /juː/, chenille, pelisse with /iː/, giraffe with /ɑː/ and ruche, tulle with /uː/.

357The largest (but still tiny) set of exceptions arises from analysing final <-ve> as a doubled spelling. Although most preceding single-letter vowel graphemes are pronounced short before <-ve> in polysyllables (see sections 3.7.7 and 9.39), there are 14 words in which the <e> also forms a split digraph with the vowel letter, which therefore has a ‘long’pronunciation (for dual-functioning see section 7.1): behave, conclave, forgave; alive, archive, arrive, deprive, naive, ogive, recitative, revive, survive; alcove, mangrove.

358The second column in Table 10.2 which generalises reasonably well to polysyllables concerns split digraphs. As can be seen in Table 11.3, there are only about 30 polysyllabic words in the language in which a word-final <e> separated from a preceding single vowel letter by a single consonant letter is ‘pronounced’and therefore constitutes a separate syllable.

359In most polysyllables which end in a vowel letter plus <e> with no intervening consonant letter the digraphs are pronounced as in the corresponding monosyllables. Thus almost all of those in <-ee> are pronounced /iː/, exceptions (all with /eɪ/) being entree, epee, fiancee, matinee, melee, negligee, soiree and a few other loanwords from French (see section 10.16), all of which are increasingly spelt in English with French <ée>.

360Those in <-ie,-ye> are all pronounced with /aɪ/. Almost all those in <-oe> are pronounced with /əʊ/, the only exceptions being canoe, hoopoe with /uː/. However, most of those which end in <-ae> are Latinate (largely biological) terms with <ae> pronounced /iː/, and only sundae, tenebrae appear to have /eɪ/ like brae. Those in <-ue> fall into two subcategories: in most of those with <g, q> preceding <-ue> the three letters form a trigraph pronounced /g, k/, the only exceptions being argue with /juː/ and dengue with the <u> forming a digraph with the <g> pronounced /g/, and the <e> being pronounced /eɪ/ and constituting a separate syllable. All other words ending in <-ue> are pronounced with /(j)uː/.

361The rest of this section is an attempt to find other ‘rules’for the pronunciation of the vowel letters as single-letter graphemes in polysyllables. The rules below (which should probably be called ‘generalisations’) are listed in a logical order which gradually narrows down their scope; in this respect the organisation is quite different from that adopted in the sections above on the single vowel letters.

362Some preliminaries:

  • None of these rules apply to cases of consonantal <i, u, y>. However, I recognise that these are sometimes difficult to distinguish from cases where they have their vocalic pronunciations, and that some words slither between the two;

  • None of these rules apply where the vowel letter forms a digraph with a following <l r w y>. However, again I recognise that these are sometimes difficult to distinguish from cases where the two letters are separate graphemes. In particular see <ar, er, ir, or, ur, yr>, sections 10.7/19/26/31/39/40;

  • Where (vocalic) <y> is not mentioned there are either no cases or so few that no generalisation about them seems worthwhile;

  • In several cases, the pronunciation of <u> has to be given as /(j)uː/ - that is, it is either /juː/ or/ uː/ depending on other factors which are too complicated to include here – see section 10.36.

3631) The predominant pronunciations of <a e o u> as single-letter graphemes when in ‘hiatus’, i. e. immediately before another pronounced vowel letter belonging to a separate syllable, are /eɪ iː/ (with following /j/-glide), /əʊ(j)uː/ (with following /w/-glide). A few examples are aorta, archaic, chaos, chaotic, dais, kaolin, laity, prosaic; azalea, cameo, deity, erroneous, meteor, museum, neon, peony, petroleum, spontaneity; boa, heroic, poem, poetry, soloist, stoic; actual, annuity, bruin, continuity, cruel, cruet, dual, duel, fluid, genuine, gratuity, ruin, suicide, usual. There seem to be few or no exceptions.

3642) The predominant pronunciations of <i y> as single-letter graphemes when in hiatus appear to be /aɪ/ when stressed and /iː/ when unstressed (all with following /j/-glide), e.g. (stressed) bias, client, dial, giant, psychiatry, science, society, triad, triangle, variety, viaduct, violent, violet; cryostat, cyanide, dryad, dyad, hyacinth, hyaline; (unstressed) alien, battalion, caviar, cheviot, comedian, delirious, dubious, fasciitis, glacier, histrionic, lenient, medium, myriad, odious, odium, polio, premier, radii, radium, radius, retaliate, soviet, taxiing, valiant; caryatid, embryo, halcyon, polyandry. Exceptions: brio, Shiite, skiing, trio with stressed <i> pronounced /iː/; hyena, myopic with unstressed <y> pronounced /aɪ/.

365But the problem with both these categories is that some of the two-letter sequences involved function much more frequently as digraphs; this is particularly true of <ai ea ei eu oa oi ue>. Readers therefore just have to learn when these sequences are not digraphs – one bit of help here is that the second of two vowel letters in hiatus is never <y>.

3663) The predominant pronunciations of <a i o y> when word-final in polysyllabic words and unstressed are /ə iː əʊ iː/. The absence of <e> here is due to the fact that word-final letter <e> is almost always part of a digraph and hardly ever constitutes a separate syllable (for the few exceptions see above and sections 10.12 and 11.4). <u> is also very rare in these circumstances and is not worth including in the rule. And all six vowel letters are so rarely stressed when functioning as word-final single-letter graphemes that no rule is worth giving for that situation (but see section A. 10 in Appendix A).

367All the following rules apply to cases where the vowel letter is followed by one or more consonant letters; this condition is stated only the first time.

3684) The predominant pronunciation of <a e i o u> as single-letter graphemes when unstressed before a consonant letter(s) is /ə/, with a tendency for many instances of unstressed <e i> to be pronounced /ɪ/ – but this is circular and uninformative; there are few indications in the spelling of English words of when a syllable is unstressed (except by implication from the few rules which predict where the stressed syllable is – see Appendix A, section A. 10), of when these graphemes have other pronunciations when unstressed (e.g. the first <u> in museum, the first <y> in psychiatry), or of when other graphemes are pronounced /ə/.

369From here on, all the rules in this section refer to occurrences of the vowel letters as single-letter graphemes when stressed, so these conditions are stated only the first time.

3705) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i o u y> as single-letter graphemes when stressed in the third (antepenultimate) and fourth syllables from the end of the word (that is, when the word continues (CV)CVCVC(silent <e>), where C can be one or more consonant letters) are /æ e ɪ ɒ (j)uː ɪ/. This applies to almost all words ending <-ical>, e.g. classical, heretical, political, logical, musical, lyrical, and to many derived forms in which a suffix has lengthened a word and produced a change from a long to a short vowel sound, e.g. national, profanity, serenity, divinity, wilderness, the <e> in egotism. Other examples are acrobat, agriculture, animal, antagonism, cameo, caviar, glacier, madrigal, sacrament, scarify, valiant, vocabulary, and second <a> in battalion; cheviot, decorative, democrat, deprecate, detriment, premier, secretary, specify; citizen, delirious, military, misery; crocodile, monument, oxygen, profligate and soviet if pronounced with /ɒ/ (if pronounced with /əʊ/ it is an exception which instead obeys rule 10); crucifix, cucumber, dubious, fugitive, funeral, impunity, lubricant, lucrative, ludicrous, mutilate, mutiny, nuclear, pugilist, scrupulous, scrutiny; cyclamen, myriad, polygamy, porphyria, syllable, syllabub, syllabus, sylloge, typical, tyranny. For a major class of exceptions see rule 10. Other exceptions: agency, favourite, decency, obesity, penalise, bribery, library, microscope, nitrogen, rivalry, motorist, notify, soloist, culinary, gluttony, jugular, truculent, hydrogen. Some of these exceptions are derived forms retaining a letter-name vowel from the stem word.

371A corollary here is that so few words are long enough to have syllables before the fourth from last that no rules are worth giving for these ‘early syllables’.

3726) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i o u> before two different consonant letters followed by word-final <-le,-re> in words with no earlier vowel letters are/æ e ɪ ɒ ʌ/, e.g. angle, handle, tremble, uncle, muscle; centre, sceptre, spectre, lustre and most of the <-stle> group (except castle) – see section 3.6.6.

3737) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i o u y> before a consonant letter other than <l, r> followed by <l, r> where there is a later pronounced vowel letter (including the <e> of the 2-phoneme grapheme <-le>) are/eɪ iː aɪ əʊ (j)uː aɪ/. A few examples are able, cradle, maple; bible, disciple, idle, title, trifle; noble; bugle, duplex, scruple; cycle, cyclone; acre, April, apron, flagrant, fragrant, sabre; fibre, mitre; cobra, ogre; lucre, putrid; cypress, hybrid. Extension: ochre, where the first intervening consonant is represented by a digraph. Some exceptions: establish, treble, triple, goblet, goblin, problem, publish; acrid, Avril, petrol, citr-ic /on/ ous, copra.

3748) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i u> when followed by a single consonant letter and word-final <-ate,-et,-it,-ite,-ot,-ut,-ute> are /æ e ɪ (j)uː/. A few examples are gamut, granite, planet, tacit; legate, senate; rivet, limit, bigot, minute; unit. I can find no examples with <o>. Some exceptions: climate, pilot, private.

3759) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i o u> when followed by a single consonant letter and word-final <-ic,-id,-it,-ule> are /æ e ɪ ɒ (j)uː/. A few examples are acid, rabid, squalid, tepid, frigid, timid, solid, stolid, cubic, humid, lucid, music, punic, putrid, runic, stupid, tunic. Among the few exceptions are acetic, fetid pronounced /ˈfiːtɪd/ (also pronounced with /e/), graphemic, phonemic, scenic, chromic, and phobic and all its compounds.

37610) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i o u> before a single consonant letter (except <r>) and an ending containing any of <ea eo eou eu ia ie io iou iu> are/eɪ iː ɪ əʊ (j)uː/, regardless of whether the ending contains two syllables or one. There are thousands of examples; a few are: (2-syllable ending, stress on antepenultimate – these words are exceptions to rule 5) azalea, alien, radium; meteor, comedian, lenient, medium; erroneous, petroleum, polio, odious, odium; dubious; (1-syllable ending, stress on penultimate) courageous, facial, nation, spacious; cohesion, specious; delicious, magician; ocean, social, quotient; crucial, solution. Exceptions: companion, pageant, ration, spaniel with /æ/; discretion, precious, special with /e/; soviet if pronounced with /ɒ/; bunion, onion with /ʌ/.

37711) The predominant pronunciations of <a e i o u> as stressed singleletter graphemes before a single consonant letter and the endings <-al,-sive> are/eɪ iː aɪ əʊ (j)uː/, e.g. fatal, naval; legal, regal, venal; arrival, final, reprisal, rival, spinal; local, modal, opal, oval, proposal, total, vocal; brutal, ducal, frugal, refusal, tribunal; evasive, adhesive, decisive, corrosive, explosive, abusive, conclusive, intrusive. Exceptions: medal, metal, pedal, petal with /e/. Vowel letters preceding the ending <-ssive>, however, are ‘short’.

378Beyond this point, any further rules would apply to so few words that they are hardly worth stating, and, lamentably, there are large numbers of words which are not covered. The two largest gaps are probably (1) reduced pronunciations (/ə, ɪ/) of the single vowel letters when unstressed; (2) long and short pronunciations of the single vowel letters before single consonant letters in circumstances other than those covered above. These are the places where the pronunciation of single vowel letters is at its most unpredictable from the spelling in English and requires most effort to learn, and any attempt to show further regularities would be too complex to be useful because of the large numbers of exceptions.

379The elephant in the room in this section is: how can you tell from the written forms of English words where the main stress falls, in order to work out where some of my ‘rules’apply? For some discussion of this see section A. 10 in Appendix A.

380Inspection of the headings of sections 10.3-40 will show that rather more than might be expected (<air are aw ee e. e eer igh ir o. e oi ore oy>) give the percentage of the basic pronunciation as 100%, and two others (<ie i. e>) are close to that. But many of the rest are somewhat or considerably lower, and in three cases (<ere i y>) no useful figures can be given. Overall (but I have not (yet) done the calculation) I would guess that the predictability of the pronunciations of main-system graphemes beginning with vowel letters may be about 60%.

10.43 Consolation prize?

381The only consolation prize is that almost all multi-letter graphemes beginning with vowel letters have far fewer correspondences and more regularity than the vowels letters as single-letter graphemes have – yet even here there is an egregious exception: <ou>, with 8 minor correspondences. As with various other aspects of the system, there is no choice but to learn the rest.

Table des illustrations

Titre FIGURE 10.1: FLOWCHART TO DETERMINE THE REGULAR PRONUNCIATIONS OF <i> AS A SINGLE-LETTER GRAPHEME
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/2192/img-1.jpg
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