American and British English pronunciation differences

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Differences in pronunciation between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE) can be divided into:

In the following discussion

Stress[edit]

French stress[edit]

For many loanwords from French where AmE has final-syllable stress, BrE stresses an earlier syllable. Such words include:

A few French words have other stress differences:

Most 2-syllable verbs ending -ate have first-syllable stress in AmE and second-syllable stress in BrE. This includes castrate, dictateA2, donateA2, locateA2, mandateB2, migrate, placate, prostrate, pulsate, rotate, serrateA2,B2, spectate, striated, translateA2, vacate, vibrate; in the case of cremate, narrate, placate, the first vowel is in addition reduced to /ə/ or /ɨ/ in BrE. Examples where AmE and BrE match include create, debate, equate, elate, negate, orate, relate with second-syllable stress (though in American usage, orate occasionally attracts first-syllable stress); and mandate and probate with first-syllable stress. Derived nouns in -ator may retain the distinction, but those in -ation do not. Also, migratoryA2 and vibratory retain the distinction.

Most longer -ate verbs are pronounced the same in AmE and BrE, but a few have first-syllable stress in BrE and second-syllable stress in AmE: elongate, infiltrateA2, remonstrateA2, tergiversate. However, some derived adjectives ending -atory have a difference, as stress shifting to -at- can occur in BrE with the final vowel sound being omitted, in this case, the 'o'. Among these cases are regulatoryB2 /ˌrɛɡ.jʊˈleɪ.tər.i/, celebratoryA2 /ˌsɛl.ɨˈbreɪ.tər.i/, participatoryB2 /pɑːˌtɪ.sɨˈpeɪ.tər.i/, where AmE stresses the same syllable as the corresponding -ate verb; and compensatory /kəmˈpɛnsəˌtɔːri/, where AmE stresses the second syllable.

A further -atory difference is laboratory: AmE /ˈlæbrəˌtɔːri/ and BrE /ləˈbɒrətri/.

Miscellaneous stress[edit]

There are a number of cases where same-spelled noun, verb and/or adjective have uniform stress in one dialect but distinct stress in the other (e.g. alternate, prospect): see initial-stress-derived noun.

The following table lists words where the only difference between AmE and BrE is in stress (possibly with a consequent reduction of the unstressed vowel). Words with other points of difference are listed in a later table.

BrEAmEwords with relevant syllable stressed in each dialect
1st2ndcaffeine, cannotA2, casein, Kathleen, SuezA2, communal, escalopeA2,B2, harassA2, omega, paprikaA2,B2, patina, formidableB2, subaltern, stalactite, stalagmite, ThanksgivingA2,B2, transference, aristocratA2,B2, kilometre/kilometerB2
2nd1stdefence/defense (sport), guffawA2, ice creamA2,B2, guru, mama, papa, pretence/pretenseA2, princessA2,B2, weekendB2, Canton, anginaA2, AugustineA2, BushidoA2, Ghanaian, LofotenB2, marshmallow, patronal, spread-eagle, controversyB2, hospitableA2,B2, miscellany, predicative, saxophonistB2, submarinerA2, ancillary, capillary, catenary, corollary, fritillary, medullary, advertisement
1st3rdpremature, opportune
3rd1stmargarine, PyreneesB2, cockatoo
3rd2ndarytenoidA2, oregano, obscurantistA2

Affixes[edit]

-ary -ery -ory -bury, -berry, -mony[edit]

Where the syllable preceding -ary,-ery or -ory is stressed, AmE pronounce all these endings /əri/, while BrE pronounce these endings without the vowel sound, similar to that of atory, where the 'o' isn't pronounced. Where the preceding syllable is unstressed, however, AmE has a full vowel rather than schwa: /ˌɛri/ for -ary and -ery and /ˌɔri/ for -ory. BrE retains the reduced vowel /əri/, or even elides it completely to /ri/. (The elision is avoided in carefully enunciated speech, especially with endings -rary,-rery,-rory.) So military is AmE /ˈmɪləˌtɛri/ and BrE /ˈmɪlɪtəri/ or /ˈmɪlɪtri/. Likewise, inventory is AmE /ˈɪnvənˌtɔri/ and BrE /ˈɪnvəntəri/ or /ˈɪnvəntri/.

Note that stress differences occur with ending -atory (explained above) and a few others like capillary (included above). A few words have the full vowel in AmE in the ending even though the preceding syllable is stressed: library, primaryA2, rosemary. Pronouncing library as /ˈlaɪˌbɛri/ rather than /ˈlaɪˌbrɛri/ is highly stigmatized in AmE, whereas in BrE, /ˈlaɪbri/ is common in rapid or casual speech.

Formerly the BrE-AmE distinction for adjectives carried over to corresponding adverbs ending -arily, -erily or -orily. However, nowadays most BrE speakers adopt the AmE practice of shifting the stress to the antepenultimate syllable: militarily is thus /ˌmɪləˈtɛrɨli/ rather than /ˈmɪlɪtrɪli/.

The placename component -bury (e.g. Canterbury) has a similar difference after a stressed syllable: AmE /ˌbɛri/ and BrE /bri/ or /bəri/. The ending -mony after a stressed syllable is AmE /ˌmoʊni/ but BrE /məni/. The word -berry in compounds has a slightly different distinction: in BrE, it is reduced (/bəri/ or /bri/) after a stressed syllable, and may be full /ˌbɛri/ after an unstressed syllable; in AmE it is usually full in all cases. Thus, strawberry is BrE /ˈstrɔːbəri/ or /ˈstrɔːbri/ but AmE /ˈstrɔːˌbɛri/, while whortleberry is BrE /ˈwɔːtlbɛri/ and similarly AmE /ˈwɔrtlˌbɛri/.

-ile[edit]

Words ending in unstressed -ile derived from Latin adjectives ending -ilis are mostly pronounced with a full vowel (/aɪl/) in BrE but a reduced vowel /ɪl/ or syllabic /l/ in AmE (e.g. fertile rhymes with fur tile in BrE but with furtle in AmE). This difference applies:

Related endings -ility, -ilize, -iliary are pronounced the same in AmE as BrE. The name Savile is pronounced with (/ɪl/) in both BrE and AmE. Mobile (sculpture), camomile and febrile are sometimes pronounced with /il/ in AmE and /aɪl/ in BrE. Imbecile has /aɪl/ or /iːl/ in BrE and often /ɪl/ in AmE.

-ine[edit]

The suffix -ine, when unstressed, is pronounced sometimes /aɪn/ (e.g. feline), sometimes /iːn/ (e.g. morphine) and sometimes /ɪn/ (e.g. medicine). Some words have variable pronunciation within BrE, or within AmE, or between BrE and AmE. Generally, AmE is more likely to favour /iːn/ or /ɪn/, and BrE to favour /aɪn/: e.g. adamantineA2, carbine, crystallineA2, labyrinthine, philistine, serpentineA2, turbineA2. However, sometimes AmE has /aɪn/ where BrE has /iːn/; e.g. iodineB2, strychnineA2.

Weak forms[edit]

Many function words can have a weak form with a reduced vocal used when the word is unstressed, but the full vowel is usually used in formal settings. For example could /kʊd/, weak form /kəd/.[1] In AmE there are weak forms that are not present in BrE (except in some dialects). These include: or /ɚ/, your /jɚ/, and in /ən/.

On the other hand, the titles Saint and Sir before a person's name have weak forms in BrE but not AmE: before vowels, [snt] and [sər]; before consonants, [sn] and [sə].

Miscellaneous pronunciation differences[edit]

These tables list words pronounced differently but spelled the same. See also the table of words with different pronunciation reflected in the spelling.

Single differences[edit]

Words with multiple points of difference of pronunciation are in the table after this one. Accent-based differences are ignored. For example, Moscow is RP /ˈmɒskəʊ/ and GAm /ˈmɑːskaʊ/, but only the /oʊ/-/aʊ/ difference is highlighted here, since both the /ɒ/-/ɑː/ difference and the RP use of /əʊ/ rather than /oʊ/ are predictable from the accent. Also, tiara is listed with AmE /æ/; the marry–merry–Mary merger changes this vowel for many Americans. Some AmE types are listed as /ɒ/ where GAm merges to /ɑː/. A2 means that American speakers may use either pronunciation; B2 means British speakers may use either pronunciation.

BrEAmEWords
/æ//ɑː/annato, Caracas, chiantiA2, GalapagosA2, GdańskA2, grappaA2, gulagA2, HanoiA2, JanA2 (male name, e.g. Jan Palach), KantA2, kebab, Las (placenames, e.g. Las Vegas), MafiaB2, MombasaA2, Natasha, Nissan, Pablo, pasta,B2 PicassoA2, ralentando, SanA2 (names outside USA; e.g. San Juan), SlovakA2, Sri LankaA2, Vivaldi, wigwamA2, YasserA2 (and A in many other foreign names and loanwords)
/iː//ɛ/aesthete, anaesthetize, breveA2, catenaryA2, Daedalus, devolutionA2,B2, ecumenicalB2, epochA2, evolutionA2,B2, febrileA2, Hephaestus, KenyaB2, leverA2, methane, OedipusA2, (o)estrus, (o)estrogen, p(a)edophile, penalizeA2, predecessorA2, pyrethrinA2, senileA2, hygienic
/ɒ//oʊ/Aeroflot, cognac, compost, homosexualB2, Interpol, Lod, pogrom, polkaB2, produce (noun), Rosh Hashanah, sconeA2,B2, shone, sojourn, trollB2, yogurt
/ɑː//æ/(Excluding trap–bath split words) banana, khakiA2, morale, NevadaA2, scenarioA2, sopranoA2, Pakistani
/ɛ//iː/CecilA2,B2, crematoriumA2, cretin, depot, inherentA2,B2, leisureA2, reconnoit(re/er)A2, zebraB2, zenithA2,B2
/æ//eɪ/compatriot, patriotB2, patronise, phalanx, plait, repatriate, Sabine, satrapA2, basilA2 (plant)
/ɪ//aɪ/advertisement, dynasty, housewifery, idyll, livelongA2, long-livedA2, privacyB2, simultaneous, vicariousA2, vitamin. See also -ine.
/z//s/AussieA2, blouse (noun), complaisantA2, crescent, diagnoseA2, erase, GlasgowA2, parse, valise, trans-A2,B2 (in some words)
/ɑː//eɪ/amenA2, charadeB2, cicada, galaA2, promenadeA2, pro rata, tomato, stratum
/oʊ//ɒ/codify, goffer, ogleA2, process (noun), processor, progress (noun), projectB2(noun), slothA2,B2, wont A2, wroth
/ʌ//ɒ/accomplice, accomplish, colanderB2, constableB2, Lombardy, monetaryA2, -mongerA2
/ɒ//ʌ/hovelA2,B2, hover. Also the strong forms of these function words: anybodyA2 (likewise every-, some-, and no-), becauseA2,B2 (and clipping 'cos/'cause), ofA2, fromA2, wasA2, whatA2
(sounded)(silent)Beethoven, chthonicA2, herbA2 (plant), KnossosA2,B2, phthisicA2,B2, salveA2, solder
/ɑː(r)//ɜr/Berkeley, Berkshire, clerk, Derby, Hertford. (The only AmE word with er = [ɑr] is sergeant.)
/aɪ//iː/eitherA2,B2, neitherA2,B2, Pleiades. See also -ine.
/iː//aɪ/albino, migraineB2. Also the prefixes anti-A2, multi-A2, semi-A2 in loose compounds (e.g. in anti-establishment, but not in antibody). See also -ine.
/ə//ɒ/Amazon, hexagon, octagon, paragon, pentagon, phenomenonA2, pythonA2
/iː//eɪ/eta, beta, quayA2, theta, zeta, heinousB2
/aɪ//ɪ/butylB2, divergeA2, minorityA2,B2, primer (schoolbook). See also -ine.
/ɛ//eɪ/ateB2 ("et" is nonstandard in America), mêléeA2, chaise longue
/ɜːz//uːs/Betelgeuse, chanteuse, chartreuseA2, masseuse
/eɪ//æ/apricotA2, comrade, dahliaA2, data, digitalis, patentA2,B2, status
(silent)(sounded)medicineB2. See also -ary -ery -ory -bury, -berry
/ɒ//ə/Amos, condom, Enoch
/ʃ//ʒ/AsiaB2, PersiaB2, versionB2
/ə//oʊ/boroughA2, thoroughA2, also place names such as EdinburghA2 (see also -ory and -mony)
/ɪr//ɜr/chirrupA2, stirrupA2, sirupA2, squirrel
/siː//ʃ/cassiaA2, CassiusA2, hessian
/tiː//ʃ/consortium
/uː//juː/couponA2, fuchsine, HoustonB2
/uː//ʊ/boulevard, snooker, woofA2 (weaving)
/ɜː(r)//ʊr/connoisseurA2, entrepreneurA2
/ɜː//oʊ/föhnB2, MöbiusB2
/ə//eɪ/DraconianA2, hurricaneB2
/eɪ//iː/deityA2,B2, HeleneA2, IsraelA2
/juː//w/iguana, jaguar, Nicaragua
/ɔː(r)//ər/record (noun), stridorA2,B2
/ziː//ʒ/Frasier, Parisian, Malaysia, Tunisia
/æ//ɒ/twatB2
/ɒ//æ/wrath
/ɑː//ət/nougat
/ɑː//ɔː/UtahA2,B2
/ɑː//ɔːr/quarkA2,B2
/æ//ɛ/femme fataleA2
/aɪ//eɪ/Isaiah
/aʊ//uː/nousA2
/ð//θ/boothB2
/di//dʒi/cordiality
/dʒ//ɡdʒ/suggestA2
/eɪ//ɛ/againB2, nonpareilA2
/eɪ//ə/template
/eɪ//ət/tourniquet
/ə(r)//ɑr/MadagascarA2
/ə(r)//jər/figureA2 for the verb
/ə//ɛ/nonsense
/ɛ//ɑ/envelopeA2,B2
/ɛ//ə/Kentucky
/ə//æ/trapeze
/ɜː(r)//ɛr/errA2
/oʊ//ɒt/HuguenotA2
/oʊ//aʊ/MoscowA2
/oʊ//uː/broochA2
/ɪ//iː/pi(t)taB2, Tunisia
/iː//ɪ/beenB2
/iːʃ//ɪtʃ/nicheA2,B2
/jɜː//juː/milieu
/juː//uː/(Excluding words with predictable yod-dropping) barracuda, pumaA2
/ɔː//æ/falconA2
/s//z/asthma
/ʃ//sk/scheduleB2
/t//θ/AnthonyA2,B2
/ts//z/piazzaA2
/ʊ//ɪ/kümmel
/ʊ//uː/BuddhaA2
/ʊ//ʌ/brusque, hummus
/uː//aʊ/routeA2
/uː//oʊ/cantaloup(e)
/ʌ//oʊ/covertA2,B2
/ziː//ʃ/transientA2, nauseaA2

Multiple differences[edit]

The slashes normally used to enclose IPA phonemic transcriptions have been omitted from the following table to improve legibility.

SpellingBrE IPAAmE IPANotes
barrageˈbærɑːʒ(1) bəˈrɑːʒ
(2) ˈbærɪdʒ
The AmE pronunciations are for distinct senses (1) "sustained weapon-fire" vs (2) "dam, barrier" (Compare garage below.)
boehmite(1) ˈbɜːmaɪt
(2) ˈboʊmaɪt
(1) ˈbeɪmaɪt
(2) ˈboʊmaɪt
The first pronunciations approximate German [ø] (spelled ö or oe); the second ones are anglicized.
bouquetˈbuːkeɪ(1) boʊˈkeɪ
(2) buːˈkeɪ
 
boyar(1) ˈbɔɪɑː
(2) boʊˈjɑː
(1) boʊˈjɑr
(2) ˈbɔɪjər
 
buoyˈbɔɪˈbuːiThe U.S. pronunciation would be unrecognised in the UK. The British pronunciation occurs in America, more commonly for the verb than the noun, still more in derivatives buoyant, buoyancy.
cantonkænˈtuːn(1) kænˈtɑːn
(2) kænˈtoʊn
difference is only in military sense "to quarter soldiers"
dilettantedɪləˈtænti(1) ˈdɪlətɑːnt
(2) ˌdɪləˈtɑːnt
BrE reflects the word's Italian origin; AmE approximates more to French.
enquiry/inquiryɪŋˈkwaɪ(ə)ri(1) ˈɪnkwəri
(2) ɪŋˈkwaɪri
BrE uses two spellings and one pronunciation. In AmE the word is usually spelled inquiry.
febrileˈfiːbraɪl(1) ˈfɛbriːl
(2) ˈfɛbrəl
The BrE pronunciation occurs in AmE
fracasˈfrækɑː(1) ˈfreɪkəs
(2) ˈfrækəs
(3) frəˈkɑː
The BrE plural is French fracas /ˈfrækɑːz/. For AmE examples (1) and (2), the plural is anglicized fracases
garage(1) ˈɡærɪdʒ
(2) ˈɡærɑːʒ
ɡəˈrɑː(d)ʒThe AmE reflects French stress difference. The two BrE pronunciations may represent distinct meanings for some speakers; for example, "a subterranean garage for a car" (1) vs "a petrol garage" (2). (Compare barrage above.)
glacier(1) ˈɡlæsiə
(2) ˈɡleɪsiə
ˈɡleɪʃər 
jalousie(1)  ʒælʊˈziː
(2) ˈʒælʊziː
ˈdʒæləsi 
lapsang souchongˈlæpsæŋ suːʃɒŋˌlɑːpsɑːŋ ˈsuːʃɑːŋ 
lassoləˈsuːˈlæsoʊThe BrE pronunciation is common in AmE
lieutenant(1) lɛfˈtɛnənt
(2) ləˈtɛnənt
luːˈtɛnəntThe 2nd British pronunciation is restricted to the Royal Navy. Standard Canadian and Australian pronunciation is the same as the British.
lycheeˈliːtʃiːSpelling litchi has pronunciation /ˈlɪtʃiː/. The BrE pronunciation /laɪˈtʃiː/ also occurs in AmE.
Molièreˈmɒliɛəmoʊlˈjɛr 
obliqueəbˈliːkəbˈlaɪkAmE is as BrE except in military sense "advance at an angle"
penchantpɑ̃ˈʃɑ̃ˈpɛntʃəntThe AmE pronunciation is anglicized; the BrE is French.
penultpɛˈnʌlt(1) ˈpiːnʌlt
(2) pɪˈnʌlt
 
premier(1) ˈprɛmjə
(2) ˈprɛmɪə
(1) ˈpriːmɪər
(2) prɪmˈɪər
 
premièreˈprɛmɪɛə(1) prɪˈmɪər
(2) prɪmˈjɛr
 
provostˈprɒvəst(1) ˈproʊvoʊst
(2) ˈproʊvəst
The BrE pronunciation also occurs in AmE
quinineˈkwɪniːn(1) ˈkwaɪnaɪn
(2) ˈkwɪnaɪn
 
resource(1) rɨˈzɔːs
(2) rɨˈsɔːs
ˈriːsɔːrs 
respiteˈrɛspaɪt(1) ˈrɛspɪt
(2) rɨˈspaɪt
 
reveillerɪˈvæliːˈrɛvəli 
sloughslaʊslʌfsense "bog"; in metaphorical sense "gloom", the BrE pronunciation is common in AmE. Homograph "cast off skin" is /slʌf/ everywhere.
Tunisiatjuːˈnɪziə(1) tuˈniʒə
(2) tuˈniʃə
 
untowardˌʌntʊˈwɔːd[2](1) ʌnˈtɔːrd
(2) ˌʌntəˈwɔrd
 
vasevɑːz(1) veɪs
(2) veɪz
The BrE pronunciation also occurs in AmE
z (the letter)zɛdziːThe spelling of this letter as a word corresponds to the pronunciation: thus Commonwealth (including, Canada) zed and U.S. zee.

References[edit]