Spelling Pronunciation

How do you pronounce that combination of letters?!

English pronunciation is notoriously difficult, largely due to the many influences of the language; mostly Latin, French, Germanic, Greek, and others.

The inspiration for this post came from the Fidel Chart, which is a language-teaching method created by Caleb Gattegno that makes extensive use of silence as a teaching method (Wikipedia).

As both a teacher and a student, I am not a fan of the Silent Way method of teaching, but the Fidel Chart does have value in learning.

However, I noticed that the Fidel Chart was missing two key details: the target sound in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), and examples of words that contain the target sound!

I have generally arranged the sounds according to the IPA and separated them into two groups: vowels and diphthongs, which are the most tricky; and consonants and glides.

Note that silent letters are grouped in where most appropriate, and that pronunciation changes from region to region. The pronunciation we use here is Standard Canadian English, which is spoken mostly across central and western Canada, or Pacific Northwest English, which includes British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon, and some of California and Idaho.

If I have missed any letter/sound combination, please let me know and I will add it 🙂

 

Vowels and Diphthongs

/i/ /u/
e me ew new
ee meet o to
ea each oo too
ei receipt oe shoe
eo people eu maneuver
ey monkey ou you
i ski ough through
ie piece oup coup
y only u student
ue blue
ueue queue
ui juice
/ɪ/ /ʊ/
a purchase oo took
ai captain ou would
ee breeches
ei forfeit
i sit
ie sieve
u busy
ui guitar
y hypocrite
/ei/ /ɘ/ /ow/ /oi/
a alien a another au mauve oi voice
ai mail e enough eau plateau oy boy
au gauge i cigar ew sew
ay day o together o no
e there oo brooch
ee fiancé(e) oe toe
ea break ol folk
et ballet ou soul
ey they ough dough
ei eight ow low
/ɛ/ /ʌ/
e bed o mother
ea heaven oo blood
eo leopard ou touch
ai said u but
ay says
u bury
ei friend
/æ/ /aɪ/ /aw/ /ɒ/
a and ai aisle ou about a father
au laughter ei neither ough plough al palm
eye eye ow how aw dawn
i bite au daughter
ic indict e entrée
ie die ea Sean
is island o not
uy buy oi reservoir
y my ou cough
ye bye ow knowledge

 

Consonants and Glides

/p/ /b/ /m/
p pen b big m more
pp happy bb bubble mm hammer
mb thumb
/t/ /t/ /d/ /n/
t top d door n new
tt butts dd middle gn sign
ght night t (ɾ) thirty kn knew
pt pterodactyl tt (ɾ) better pn pneumonia
nt winter
/k/ /c/ /g/ ʔ
c cup g good t before n button
ch choir gg bigger
k key gh ghost
ck back gu guest
qu quiet
/m/ /m/ /n/ /ŋ/
m me n no ing sing
mm hammer nn running
mn autumn
/f/ /f/ /v/
f fun v van
ff stuff vv divvy
gh laugh
ph photo
/θ/ /θ/ /ð/
th think th the
th breathe
/s/ /z/
ci cider es goes
s sun se please
ss pass z zoo
ps psychologist zz buzz
sc science
/ʃ/ /ʒ/ /h/
ch machine su usually h house
ci special si vision
ss mission
se Sean
sh ship
su sugar
ti station
/d͡ʒ/ /t͡ʃ/
dge bridge ch chat
g general tu nature
j just
/l/ /ɫ/
l like milk
/w/ /j/
w wet y yes
wh white u use
/ɹ/ ɚ
r run er her
rr berry ir shirt
ur turn

 

 

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“The Chaos”, by Gerard Nolst Trenité, transcribed by Present Simple ESL

 

A student reminded me of this poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité, called “The Chaos”, so I decided to transcribe it!

I chose to do fairly detailed transcriptions, instead of general ones, so that learners can get a more accurate idea of the pronunciation and become more familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). I have included a link, at the end of the poem, to an interactive IPA chart where you can click on the various symbols and hear the sounds they make! Keep in mind that this is an international chart, so it includes all the sounds of all the languages, not just English or your first language. This is a super fun and useful tool for studying languages.

  • According to the IPA, the “ɹ” symbol represents the North American r sound in words such as right. The IPA “r” is a trilled r found in other languages, so there is actually a very big difference between the two symbols.
  • The “ʔ” is not a question mark! Nope, it is a sound called a glottal stop, and you can make this sound by saying “uh-oh”.
  • The “ɾ” is called a flap, and it’s the d sound that the t makes in words like better [bɛ.ɾəɹ]
  • The period [.] in the transcriptions marks a syllable break
  • The apostrophe [ˈ] marks syllable stress when there are two or more syllables. If the word is only one syllable, I don’t mark it.
  • I should point out that there are different ways of transcribing, so you may be used to different symbols than I have used here. For example, “əɹ”, “ər” and “ɚ” are three different symbols used to represent the same sound.

Dearest creature [ˈkri.tʃər] in creation [kri.ˈeɪ.ʃən]

Study English pronunciation [pɹə.ˈnʌn.si.eɪ.ʃən]

 

I will teach you in my verse [vəɹs]

Sounds like corpse [kɔɹps], corps [kɔɹ], horse [hɔɹs], and worse [wǝɹs].

 

I will keep you Suzy [ˈsu.zi], busy [ˈbɪ.zi],

Make your head [hɛd] with heat [hit] grow dizzy [ˈdɪ.zi].

 

Tear [tiɹ] in eye, your dress will tear [teɪɹ]

So shall I [ai]! Oh hear [hiɹ] my prayer [pɹeɪɹ].

 

Just compare heart [hart], beard [biɹd], and heard [hərd],

Dies [daɪz] and diet [ˈdaɪ. ɛt], lord [lɔrd] and word [wəɹd],

 

Sword [sɔɹd]and sward [swaɹd], retain [ɹɛ.ˈtaɪn] and Britain [ˈbɹɪ.ʔ]

Mind the latter [ˈlæ.ɾəɹ], how it’s written [ˈɹɪ.ʔ]

 

Now I surely will not plague [plaɪg] you,

With such words as plaque [plæk] and ague [ˈaɪ.gu].

 

Be careful how you speak [spik]:

Say break [bɹeɪk] and steak [steɪk], but bleak [blik] and streak [stɹik]

Cloven [ˈklow.vɛn], oven [ˈʌ.vən], how [haʊ] and low [loʊ],

Script [skɹɪpt], receipt [ɹə.ˈsit], show [ʃoʊ], poem [ˈpoʊ.əm], and toe [toʊ].

 

Hear me say devoid of trickery [ˈtɹɪ.kəɹ.i],

Daughter [ˈdɑ.ɾəɹ], laughter[ˈlæf.təɹ], and Terpsichore [tɜrp.ˈsɪ.kəɹ.i].

 

Typhoid [ˈtaɪ.fɔɪd], measles [ˈmi.zəlz], topsails [ˈtɑp.seɪlz], and aisles [ˈaɪ.əlz],

Exiles[ɛk.ˈsaɪ.əlz], similes [ˈsɪ.mə.liz], and reviles [ɹɪˈvaɪ.əlz];

 

Scholar [ˈskɑ.ləɹ], vicar [ˈvɪ.kəɹ], and cigar [səˈɡɑɹ]

Solar [ˈsoʊ.ləɹ], mica [ˈmaɪ.kə], war [ˈwɔɹ], and far [faɹ];

 

One [wʌn], anemone [əˈnɛ.mə.ni], balmoral [bælˈmɔɹ.əl],

Kitchen [ˈkɪ.tʃən], lichen [ˈlaɪ.kən], laundry[ˈlan.dɹi], laurel [ˈlɔɹ.əl];

 

Gertrude [ˈgeɹ.tɹud], German [ˈdʒəɹ.mən], wind [wɪnd/waɪnd], mind [maɪnd],

Scene [sin], Melpomene [mɛlˈpɑ.mə.ni], mankind [mænˈkaɪnd].

 

Billet [ˈbɪl.ət] does not rhyme with ballet [bæ.ˈleɪ],

Bouquet [boʊ.ˈkeɪ], wallet [ˈwa.lɛt], mallet [ˈmæ.lɛt], chalet [ʃæˈleɪ].

 

Blood [blʌd] and flood [flʌd] are not like food [fud],

Nor is mould [moʊld] like should [ʃʊd] and would [wʊd].

 

Viscous [ˈvɪs.kəs], viscount [ˈvaɪ.kaʊnt] , load [loʊd] and broad [bɹɑd],

Toward [tə.ˈwɔɹd], forward [ˈfɔɹ.wəɹd], reward [ɹə.ˈwɔɹd]

 

And your pronunciation’s OK [oʊ.ˈkeɪ],

When you correctly say croquet [kɹoʊ.ˈkeɪ].

 

Rounded [ˈɹaʊnd.əd], wounded [ˈwund.əd], grieve [ɡɹiv] and sieve [sɪv]

Friend [fɹɛnd] and fiend [find], alive [ə.ˈlaɪv] and live [lɪv],

 

Ivy [ˈaɪ.vi], privy [ˈpɹɪ.vi], famous [ˈfeɪ.məs]; clamour [ˈklæ.məɹ]

And enamour [ə.ˈnæ.məɹ] rhyme with hammer [ˈhæ.məɹ]

 

River [ˈɹɪ.vəɹ], rival [ˈɹaɪ.vəl], tomb [tum], bomb [bɑm], comb [koʊm],

Doll [dɑl] and roll [ɹoʊl] and some [sʌm] and home [hoʊm].

 

Stranger [ˈstɹeɪn.dʒəɹ] does not rhyme with anger [ˈæŋ.ɡəɹ],

Neither does devour [dəˈvaʊ.əɹ] with clangour [ˈklæŋ.əɹ].

 

Souls [soʊlz] but foul [faʊəl], haunt [hɑnt] but aunt [ænt],

Font [fɑnt], front [fɹʌnt], wont [wɑnt], want [wɑnt], grand [ɡɹænd], and grant [ɡɹænt],

 

Shoes [ʃuz], goes [ɡoʊz], does [dʌz]. Now say finger [ˈfɪŋ.ɡəɹ],

And then singer [ˈsɪŋ.əɹ], ginger [ˈdʒɪn.dʒəɹ], linger [ˈlɪŋ.ɡəɹ]

 

Real [ɹil], zeal [zil], mauve [moʊv], gauze [ɡɑz], gouge [ɡaʊdʒ], and gauge [ɡeɪdʒ],

Marriage [ˈmɛɹ.ɪdʒ], foliage [ˈfoʊ.li.ɪdʒ], mirage [məˈɹɑʒ], and age [eɪdʒ].

 

Query [ˈkwiɹ.i] does not rhyme with very [ˈvɛ.rɪ],

Nor does fury [ˈfjʊ.rɪ] sound like bury [ˈbɛ.rɪ]

 

Dost [dʌst], lost [lɑst], post [poʊst] and doth [dʌθ], cloth [klɑθ], loth [loʊθ].

Job [dʒɑb], nob [nɑb], bosom [ˈbʊ.zəm], transom [ˈtɹæn.səm], oath [oʊθ].

 

Though the difference seems little [ˈlɪ.təl]

We say actual [ˈæk.tʃə.wəl] but victual [ˈvɪ.təl]

 

Refer [ɹɪ.ˈfɜɹ] does not rhyme with deafer [ˈdɛ.fəɹ].

Feoffer [ˈfɛ.fəɹ] does and zephyr [ˈzɛ.fəɹ] and heifer [ˈhɛ.fəɹ].

 

Mint [mɪnt], pint [paɪnt], senate [ˈsɛn.ət], sedate [sɪ.ˈdeɪt],

Dull [dʌl], bull [bʊl], and George are late [leɪt].

 

Scenic [ˈsi.nɪk], Arabic [ˈeɪɹ.ə.bɪk], Pacific [pə.ˈsɪ.fɪk],

Science [ˈsaɪ.əns], conscience [ˈkɑn.ʃəns], scientific [saɪ.ən.ˈtɪ.fɪk].

 

Liberty [ˈlɪ.bəɹ.ti], library [ˈlaɪ.bɹɛɹ.i], heave [hiv] and heaven [ˈhɛ.vən],

Rachel [ˈɹeɪ.tʃ.əl], ache [eɪk], moustache [ˈmʌ.stæʃ], eleven [ə.ˈlɛ.vən].

 

We say hallowed [ˈhæ.loʊd], but allowed [ə.ˈlaʊd],

People [ˈpi.pəl], leopard [ˈlɛ.pəɹd], towed [toʊd], but vowed [vaʊd].

 

Mark the difference, moreover [mɔrˈoʊvəɹ],

Between, mover [ˈmu.vəɹ], cover [ˈkʌ.vəɹ], clover [ˈkloʊ.vəɹ];

 

Leeches [ˈli.tʃəz], breeches [ˈbɹɪ.tʃəz], wise [waɪz], precise [pɹə.ˈsaɪs],

Chalice [ˈtʃæ.ləs], but police [pəˈlis] and lice [laɪs];

 

Camel [ˈkæ.məl], constable [ˈkɑn.stə.bəl], unstable [ʌn.ˈsteɪ.bəl],

Principle [ˈpɹɪn.sə.pəl], disciple [də.ˈsaɪ.pəl], label [ˈleɪ.bəl].

 

Petal [ˈpɛ.ɾəl], panel [ˈpæ.n̩əl], canal [kəˈnæl],

Wait [weɪt], surprise [sə.ˈpɹaɪz], plait [pleɪt], promise [ˈpɹɑ.məs], pal [pæl].

 

Worm [wəɹm] and storm [stɔrm], chaise [ʃeɪz], chaos [ˈkeɪ.ɑs], chair [tʃeɪɹ],

Senator [ˈsɛ.nə.ɾəɹ], spectator [ˈspɛk.teɪ.ɾəɹ], mayor [ˈmeɪ.jəɹ].

 

Tour [tʊɹ], but our [aʊɹ] and succour [ˈsʌk.əɹ], four [fɔɹ].

Gas [gæs], alas [ə.ˈlæs], and Arkansas [ˈɑɹ.kən.sɑ].

 

Sea [si], idea [aɪ.ˈdi.ə], Korea [kəɹ.ˈi.ə], area [ˈeɪɹ.i.ə],

Psalm [sɑm], Maria [mə.ˈɹi.ə], but malaria [mə.ˈleɪɹ.i.ə].

 

Youth [juθ], south [saʊθ], southern [ˈsʌ.ðəɹn], cleanse [klɛnz] and clean [klin].

Doctrine [ˈdɑk.tɹən], turpentine [ˈtəɹ.pən.taɪn], marine [mə.ˈɹin].

 

Compare alien [ˈeɪ.li.ən] with Italian [ɪ.ˈtæl.i.ən],

Dandelion [ˈdæn.də.laɪ.ən] and battalion [bə.ˈtæl.i.ən].

 

Sally [ˈsæl.i] with ally [ˈæ.laɪ], yea [jeɪ], ye [ji],

Eye [aɪ], I [aɪ], ay [aɪ], aye [aɪ], whey [weɪ], and key [ki].

 

Say aver [əˈvəɹ], but ever [ˈɛ.vəɹ], fever [ˈfi.vəɹ],

Neither [ˈni.ðəɹ], leisure [ˈli.ʒəɹ], skein [skeɪn], deceiver də.ˈsi.vəɹ].

 

Heron [ˈheɪɹ.ən], granary [ˈɡɹeɪn.ə.ɹi], canary [kə.ˈneɪɹ.i].

Crevice [ˈkɹɛ.vəs] and device [də.ˈvaɪs], aerie [eɪɹ.i]

 

Face [ˈfeɪs]but preface [ˈpɹɛ.fəs], not efface [ə.ˈfeɪs].

Phlegm [flɛm], phlegmatic [flɛɡ.ˈmæ.ɾɪk], ass [æs], glass [glæs], bass [beɪs]

 

Large [lɑɹdʒ], but target [ˈtɑɹ.ɡət], gin [dʒɪn], give [ɡɪv], verging [ˈvəɹ.dʒɪŋ],

Ought [ɑt], out [aʊt], joust [dʒaʊst] and scour [skaʊɹ], scourging [ˈskəɹ.dʒɪŋ].

 

Ear [iɹ], but earn [əɹn], and wear [waɪɹ] and tear [taɪɹ]

Do not rhyme with here [hiɹ] but ere [aɪɹ].

 

Seven [ˈsɛ.vən] is right, but so is even [ˈi.vən],

Hyphen [ˈhaɪ.fən], roughen [ˈɹʌ.fən], nephew [ˈnɛ.fju], Stephen [ˈsti.vən],

 

Monkey [ˈmʌŋ.ki], donkey [ˈdɑŋ.ki], Turk [təɹk] and jerk [dʒəɹk],

Ask [æsk], grasp [gɹæsp], wasp [wɑsp] and cork [kɔrk] and work [wəɹk].

 

Pronunciation (think of phyche! [ˈsaɪ.ki])

Is a paling [ˈpeɪ.lɪŋ] stout [staʊt] and spikey [ˈspaɪ.ki]?

 

Won’t make you lose your wits [wɪts],

Writing groats [ɡɹoʊts] and saying grits [ɡɹɪts]?

 

It’s a dark abyss [əˈbɪs] or tunnel [ˈtʌ.nəl]:

Strewn [stɹun] with stones [stoʊnz], stowed [stoʊd], solace [ˈsɑ.ləs], gunwale [ˈɡʌ.nəl],

 

Islington [ˈɪz.lɪŋ.tən] and Isle [ˈaɪ.əl] of Wight [waɪt],

Housewife [ˈhaʊs.waɪf], verdict [ˈvəɹ.dɪkt], indict [ɪnˈdaɪt].

 

Finally, which rhymes with enough [ə.ˈnʌf],

Though [ðoʊ], through [θɹu], plough [plaʊ], or dough [doʊ] or cough [kɑf]?

 

Hiccough [ˈhɪ.kʌp] has the sound of cup [kʌp],

My advice is to give up!

How to Pronounce “the”

There are two ways to pronounce “the” and it’s important to know that the pronunciation changes based on the first sound in the following word.  What we say is important, not what we read or write.

When “the” comes before a consonant sound, it’s pronounced “thuh”.  When it comes before a vowel sound, it’s pronounced “thee”.

Consonant Sounds:

  • Thuh Canadian
  • Thuh dog
  • Thuh man
  • Thuh school

Vowel Sounds:

  • Thee American
  • Thee energy
  • Thee information
  • Thee office
  • Thee ugly dog

The tricky part is that the letter “h” can sometimes be silent, and the letter “u” can take either a consonant or a vowel pronunciation, depending on the word.

  • Thuh house  – hæʊs, consonant sound
  • Thuh honey  – həniː, consonant sound
  • Thee hour  – æʊr, silent h, vowel sound
  • Thee honest man  – ɑnəst, silent h, vowel sound
  • Thuh university  – ˌjuːnəˈvərsətiː, consonant sound
  • Thuh unique antique  – jʊˈniːk, consonant sound
  • Thee umpire  – əmˌpaɪr, vowel sound
  • Thee umbrella  – əmˈbrelə, vowel sound

Also, when pronouncing initials, it depends how you pronounce the first letter, not what you see.

  • Thuh CBC  – siː, consonant sound
  • Thuh WWF – dəbəljuː, consonant sound
  • Thee NBA – en, vowel sound
  • Thee SPCA  – es, vowel sound

When we want to emphasize a specific word, we use “thee” no matter what sound follows.

  • He’s THEE best boyfriend ever!
  • I just met THEE president!
  •  I had THEE time of my life last night!

“ough” Pronunciation

The “ough” letter sequence has the most random pronunciation. It can be pronounced six different ways in North America, and over ten ways in British English.

We’re going to keep it simple for now, and just look at the six North American pronunciations.

ʌf tough, rough, enough     Stuff, suffer
ɒf cough, trough    Off, offer
aʊ  bough, plough, draught    How, flower
oʊ  dough, though, thorough    Toe, know
ɒ thought, bought, taught    Not, saw.  Usually used before /t/, except in drought /draʊt/
through    Too, knew