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Crazy English Pronunciation Rules

Updated on October 17, 2013

No other language in the world is as crazy as English in terms of its pronunciation system. The peculiar features of English pronunciation are the biggest barrier that non-native speakers often face while communicating with native speakers. Many speakers of other languages have an equally competent – or even better in some cases – command of English grammar and writing skills as the people whose mother tongue is English have. But when it comes to speaking, their pronunciation is stigmatized as shockingly bad in quality. Though awkward pronunciation is not acceptable, certain characteristics of English pronunciation are really confusing for non-natives.

GHOTI = fish

No discussion on the irregularities of English pronunciation and spelling is complete without referring to ‘ghoti’, a constructed word that George Bernard Shaw often used to mock the crazy nature of English pronunciation and to support English spelling reforms. The pronunciation of this word is arguably ‘fish’, according to him. Here is how: gh in ‘ghoti’ is pronounced like f as in tough; o is pronounced like i as in women, and ti is like sh as in nation. This sarcastic example is supposed to have been first used by one William Ollier Jr, but was popularized by Bernard Shaw in some of his writings.

'ough' pronounced in eight different ways

Although the example cited above can be written off just as a coined word, there are still a number of English words whose pronunciation often puzzles, if not scares, the speakers of other languages. For instance, the ‘ough’ is treated in confusingly different ways in the following word groups: 1) Although, dough, plough, though 2) bought, brought, fought, thought 3) enough, rough, tough 4) bough, doughty 5) through 6) cough 7) thorough. In the first group, ‘ough’ is pronounced as /əu/ and in the second one it masquerades as /o/. While it takes an /ʌf/ sound in the third group, it is /aʊ/ in the next set of words. The ough in the through is uttered as /uː/ whereas in cough and thorough, it must be articulated as /ɒf/ and /ʌ/ respectively. Here is one more: hiccough. The ‘ough’ here sounds like /p/ as in cup! Click the link to listen to the exact pronunciation of the words in discussion: http://oxforddictionaries.com/

Mishmash continues...

The past indefinite forms of the common words 'pay' and 'lay' are paid and laid. They are pronounced just as they are written i.e., /peid/ and /leid/. The same rule, however, does not apply to 'said' which is the past form of 'say'. It is pronounced as as /sed/. Other two words 'bomb' and 'comb' are pronounced as /bom/ and /com/ respectively. Going with the same logic, 'tomb' and 'womb' should be articulated as /tom/ and /wom/ but they are doomed to be pronounced as /tuːm/ and /wuːm/ in English! Rendezvous (a meeting at an agreed time and place) is pronounced as /rondivoo/; the ‘s’ at the end of the word is silent. When the same word is used as its plural (with the same spelling), ‘s’ gets the sound ‘z! 'Come' and 'some' do not rhyme with 'home', 'dome' and 'Rome'. The past tense of 'read' is read (pronounced /red/) but past form of beat is not articulated /bet/. While 'lead' and 'bead' have an ee sound in them, 'dead' cannot be treated similarly.

A few more...

'Eve' and 'eke' are are logically pronounced as /eev/ and /eek/ but the rules take a u-turn in the case of 'ewe'; speak it out as you or get lost! 'Fury' and 'jury' are quite easy to deal with while speaking but 'bury' does not agree with them; it must sound /beri/. 'Sceptic' is pronounced /skeptic/ while 'scepter' is not /skepter/ but /septə/. God Save the Queen’s English! Many a time, words consisting of two ‘o’s in them are a big problem for the learners of English.

Most words with two consecutive o’s are pronounced with a long sound as in food, fool, mood, brood, cool, moon, pool, soon, tool, zoom etc. In some other words the things are quite different – ‘oo’ has a short ʊ sound in them. Book, cook, foot, good, hook, shook, and took are a few among them. And what about 'floor' and 'door'? They perfectly match with the other words in discussion, but only in spelling. The oo in them are to be spoken out exactly as 'o' in bore and sore. Is that all? No. A fourth category of words behaves in a totally different way: 'blood' and 'flood', and you know very well how to pronounce them. Yes, they do rhyme with mud and thud. Isn’t English crazy?

Gheaughteighptough

The pronunciation of this word is potato. According to the writer who coined this word, it can arguably be pronounced as potato. How?

Pronounce Gh like P, as in hiccough

Pronounce eau like O, as in plateau

Pronounce ght like T, as in naught

Pronounce eigh like A, as in neigh

Pronounce pt like T, as in pterodactyl

Pronounce ough like O, as in though.

A funny yet informative video on the crazy nature of English pronuncitaion

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