A Key To English Pronunciations

The English language is spoken as a first language in many different countries around the globe, that’s why there are variations of it: British English, American English, Australian English, South African English, and Canadian English. The most distinctive difference between all these variations are their pronunciations. Let’s have a look at some of the main pronunciation rules and peculiarities of the British English and American English variants:

English pronunciation

  • American English Pronunciation

In the pronunciation given below, we included the most general and commonly used American English accent. We excluded some features which are common in particular regions and parts of the USA.

In this article, we’ll use the International Phonetic Alphabet to show you the way each sound is pronounced. The consonants b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, and z have usual English values. The other consonant sounds are represented in the following way:

International Phonetic Alphabet Examples
θ Thick, myth, tenth, think
ð Then, they, bathe, breathe
Chain, butcher, chair, cheese, reach
June, joke, judge, junk, jeans
ʃ Shape, ship, sheep, shy
ŋ Morning, sing, king, wrong, England
j Young, yes, you, beyond
x How, home, loch, hotel, downhill
(h)w Where, when, why, whereabouts
ʒ Usually, pleasure, measure, conclusion

 

Now let’s have a look at the pronunciation of vowels in American English:

International Phonetic Alphabet Examples
æ Cat, sat, rat
ə About, alone, amazing
i Glee, Flee, bean, clean
ɪ Fit, sit, Kit, split
i Busy, dizzy, cozy, lazy
ɛ Bet, set, met
ɑ What, hot, not
ɔ Law, on, already, call, almost
u Fool, stool, cool, zoo
ʊ Should, put, wolf
Like, right, try, fly
Make, paint, brake, neighborhood, say
ɔɪ Toy, point, destroy
Allow, outside, how
Boat, Know, throw, road
ɛr Airport, there, hair, pair
ɪr Fear, clear, peer, near

 

Here are some of the main distinctive features of American English:

  1. a) Americans very often pronounce the sound “R”, and it has a rather strong pronunciation.
  2. b) In some cases when the letter “T” stands in the middle of a word Americans can pronounce it like “D” (better, native, water, bottle…).
  3. c) Americans tend to pronounce the letter “A” as the sound /æ/. For example ask, task, bath, chance, dance /dæns/.
  4. d) The stress tends to be on the second or third syllable, as in adult, brochure, and advertisement.
  • British English Pronunciation

British English is very often taught as a second language in non-English speaking countries.

There are many accents and dialects spoken in the UK. It is important to mention that the pronunciation given below is the one spoken in the south of England.

The consonants b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, and z have their usual English values. The other consonant sounds are provided in the table below:

International Phonetic Alphabet Examples
θ Thick, myth, tenth, think
ð Then, they, bathe, breathe
Chain, butcher, chair, cheese, reach
June, joke, judge, junk, jeans
ʃ Shape, ship, sheep, shy
ŋ Morning, sing, king, wrong, England
j Young, yes, you, beyond
x How, home, loch, hotel, downhill
g Give, get, forgive, glee
ʒ Usually, pleasure, measure, conclusion

 

Symbol Examples
Short vowels
ɒ Problem, what, because, off
a Fat, map, rat, cat, sadness
ʌ Fun, love, uncle, luck
ə Letter, better, paper, amaze
ɛ Bet, well, men, bed, next
i It, ill, six, city, his, sit
ɪ Lazy, cozy, study, busy
ʊ Look, wolf, should
Long vowels
ɛː Hair, fair, care
ɑː Answer, laugh, card, heart
əː Her, dirty, Early, work
ɔː Talk, short, warm, four
Clue, two, group, moon
Region, piece, key, receive
Diphthongs
Make, paint, brake, say
ɪə Idea, pier, cereal, cafeteria
ʌɪ Like, right, try, fly
əʊ Note, rainbow, road
Allow, outside, how
ʊə poor Insure, tour, tourist, our
ɔɪ Toy, point, destroy
Triphthongs
ʌɪə Hire, dire, desire, inspire
aʊə Dour, hour, flour

Here are some of the main distinctive features of British English:

  1. a) In British English, the sound “R” is very often omitted or has a softer pronunciation.
  2. b) Britons tend to pronounce the letter “A” with the sound /ɑː/. For example ask, task, bath, chance, dance /dɑːns/).
  3. c) The stress tends to be on the first or second syllable, as in adult, brochure and advertisement (just compare those to the American examples given above and you’ll see the difference).