Pronunciation

You may sometimes need help with the pronunciation of unfamiliar words. In the notes following each poem in which difficult words appear, the pronunciations will be spelled out according to the following guide. The pronunciation guide is long but fairly intuitive. It’s well worth learning (and not too hard to learn).

Vowel sounds
ah: like the “a” in father.
a: the English short “a” (flat “a”) sound, as in flat.
ā: the English long “a” sound, as in gate (English ā tends to end with an “i-glide,” sounding almost like “ey”).
aw: as in law. In American speech identical to the vowel sound in “loss.”
e: short “e,” as in met.
eh: short “e,” as in met (used in syllables not ending in a consonant).
ē: the English long “e” sound, like “ee” in seem, pronounced SĒM.
i: short “i,” as in pin.
ih: short “i,” as in pin (used in syllables not ending in a consonant).
ī: the English long “i” sound, as in ride (actually = the diphthong AHY).
o: the English short “o” sound, as in loss.
ō: long “o,” as in go (English ō tends to end with a “u-glide”).
ow: like the “ow” in cow (NOT as in low, which is pronounced LŌ).
oy: like the “oy” in boy.
u: the “short u” sound, as in put. Also the sound of “oo” in foot.
ū: like the “oo” in moon.
uh: like the vowel sound in “but.”
(uh): the “uh-sound,” but lightly pronounced. Many unaccentuated vowels take this sound, often “shaded” by their original vowel sound. The parentheses around “uh” DO NOT MEAN that the unaccented syllable can be left unpronounced.

Consonants
The following consonants represent their “normal” sound: b, d, f, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, t, v, y, z English “r” is a unique sound, “untrilled” in standard English. . L, m, n, and r can also be used as vowels, and in this usage are doubled: ll, mm, nn, and rr. For instance, “labor” is pronounced LĀ-brr.

ch: pronounced like “ch” in Charles (the sound is actually “tsh”).
dh: the sound of “th” in the.
g: always represents the “hard g,” as in gun or give, EXCEPT in the combination “ng.”
h: = h, except in special combinations defined here, such as “ah” or “th.”
j: used for the usual “j” sound or the “soft g” sound, as in George (JORJ).
k: used for the ”k” or “hard c” sound, as in cap (KAP).
kh: a breathy k-sound, heard in some Scottish words like “loch.”
ll: = l as a vowel-like sound, like final “le” (the “e” is silent) in little.
mm: = m as a vowel-like sound, as in fascism (FA-shih-zmm). The pronunciation could also be represented by (FA-shih-z(uh)m).
ng: like “ng” in “sing,” NOT like the “ng” in “finger,’ which is pronounced FING-grr.
nn: = n as a vowel-like sound, like the “en” in given (GIH-vnn). The pronunciation could also be repesented by (GIH-v(uh)n).
rr = r as a vowel-like sound, like the “er” in mother (MUH-dhrr).
s: like the “s” in sing. Also used for “soft c,” as in city (SIH-tē).
sh : like “sh” in she.
th : like “th” in thin.
w: =w, and also has a special usage in the vowel sounds “aw” and ”ow.”
wh: like “wh” in whisper (“wh” is actually an unvoiced w-sound).
zh: like the “s” in pleasure.

The main accent of a multi-syllable word is indicated by CAPITAL LETTERS (likewise the only syllable of a one-syllable word). Other syllables are shown in lower case letters. Secondary accents generally occur two syllables after (or before) the main accent. There are exceptions; in such cases the syllables carrying the secondary accent will be marked with an initial capital letter.

The question whether single consonants sounds between vowels are pronounced at the end of the preceding syllable or at the beginning of the following syllable is not easy to determine. Is “mother” pronounced “MUHDH-rr” or “MUH-dhrr”? The latter pronunciation is usually favored in this guide, but the reader is warned that the truth may lie somewhere in between. Sometimes the pronunciation guide may place the consonant at the end of the preceding syllable, especially if the consonant is an “r” as in ”horrible” (HOR-(uh)-bll).

American speech differs somewhat from British speech. One of the most noteworthy differences is in the pronunciation of words with short “o.” Where the British say “HOT” and “LOSS” (with a true short “o” sound), Americans say “HAHT” and “LAWSS.” Another difference is in words with an “r” following a vowel, where British English tends to distinguish the sound according to the quality of the vowel preceding the “r”: thus Mary (MĀ-rē), marry (MA-rē), and merry (MEH-rē); in Anerican English all three words are pronounced the same (MEH-rē or MER-ē). Another difference is in the pronunciation of the long “u” sound; the word “dew,” for instance, is generally pronounced DYŪ in British English, DŪ in American English (but “do” is pronounced DŪ on both sides of the Atlantic, and “few” is pronounced FYŪ in both Britain and the U.S.—likewise unite: yū-NĪT). But while the British tend to insert a “y” before “ū”, in American colloquial speech the tendency is not to.

Hard and fast rules are hard to come by when dealing with the way people talk. This website favors American spelling and also (generally) American pronunciation. Pronunciation can never be exactly defined. Pronunciation tends to vary with the speed of speaking, even in the case of a single individual’s speech. An example is the word “infinite.” In deliberate, more formal speech it would be pronounced IN-fih-nit. But in rapid, conversational speech the unstressed middle syllable would be pronounced more lightly, approaching a light “uh” sound, rather like IN-f(uh)-nit, but with the “uh” lightly pronounced, as indicated by being put in parentheses, and even retaining some of the “ih” quality. The final syllable, bearing as it does a secondary accent, would tend to be unchanged in pronunciation, but could in rapid speech “drop down,” so the word would come to be pronounced something like IN-f(uh)-n(uh)t, the “(uh)s” still carrying some of the original “ih” sound. Similarly, other unstressed vowels tend to “drop down” to a lightly pronounced “uh,” often still influenced by the original vowel sound. English is not the only language that acts this way, although the tendency may be stronger in English than in other languages that have “tighter” modes of pronunciation. This website will give the pronunciation of words as used in deliberate speech, with the proviso that the pronunciation may vary as discussed above. The rules of pronunciation can never form an exact science.