American and British English pronunciation differences
- differences in accent (i.e. phoneme inventory and realisation). See differences between General American and Received Pronunciation for the standard accents in the United States and Britain; for information about other accents see regional accents of English speakers.
- differences in the pronunciation of individual words in the lexicon (i.e. phoneme distribution). In this article, transcriptions use Received Pronunciation (RP) to represent BrE and General American (GAm) and to represent AmE.
In the following discussion
- superscript A2 after a word indicates the BrE pronunciation of the word is a common variant in AmE
- superscript B2 after a word indicates the AmE pronunciation of the word is a common variant in BrE
For many loanwords from French where AmE has final-syllable stress, BrE stresses an earlier syllable. Such words include:
- BrE first-syllable stress: adultA2,B2, balletA2, baton, beret, bidet, blasé, brevetA2, brochureB2, buffet, caféA2, canardB2, chagrin, chaletA2, chauffeurA2,B2, chiffon, clichéB2, coupé, croissant, debrisB2, debut, décor, detailA2, détenteB2, flambé, frappé, garageB2, gateau, gourmetA2, lamé, montageA2, parquet, pastel, pastille, pâté, précis, sachet, salon, soupçon, vaccine; matinée, négligée, nonchalant, nondescript; also some French names, including BernardB2, Calais, Degas, Dijon, Dumas, Francoise, ManetA2, Maurice, MonetA2, Pauline, Renault, RenéB2, Renoir, Rimbaud, DelacroixB2.
- BrE second-syllable stress: attaché, consommé, décolleté, déclassé, De Beauvoir, Debussy, démodé, denouement, distingué, Dubonnet, escargot, exposé, fiancé(e)A2, retroussé
A few French words have other stress differences:
- AmE first-syllable, BrE last-syllable: addressA2 (postal), moustacheA2; cigaretteA2, limousineB2, magazineB2,
- AmE first-syllable, BrE second-syllable: liaisonA2, macramé, Renaissance (AmE also final-syllable stress)
- AmE second-syllable, BrE last-syllable: New OrleansA2
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/ 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/.
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.
|BrE||AmE||words with relevant syllable stressed in each dialect|
|1st||2nd||caffeine, cannotA2, casein, Kathleen, SuezA2, communal, escalopeA2,B2, harassA2, omega, paprikaA2,B2, patina, subaltern, stalactite, stalagmite, ThanksgivingA2,B2, transference, aristocratA2,B2, kilometre/kilometerB2|
|2nd||1st||defence/defense (sport), guffawA2, ice creamA2,B2, guru, mama, papa, pretence/pretenseA2, princessA2,B2, weekendB2, Canton, anginaA2, AugustineA2, BushidoA2, Ghanaian, LofotenB2, marshmallow, patronal, spread-eagle, controversy, formidableB2, hospitableA2,B2, miscellany, predicative, saxophonistB2, submarinerA2, ancillary, capillary, catenary, corollary, fritillary, medullary, advertisement|
|3rd||1st||margarine, PyreneesB2, cockatoo|
|3rd||2nd||arytenoidA2, oregano, obscurantistA2|
-ary -ery -ory -bury, -berry, -mony
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 /ˌmɪləˈtɛrəli/ 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/.
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:
- generally to agile, docile, facile, fertile, fissile, fragile, futile, infertile, missile, nubile, octile, puerile, rutile, servile, stabile, sterile, tactile, tensile, virile, volatile;
- usually to ductile, hostile, (im)mobile (adjective), projectile, textile, utile, versatile;
- not usually to decile, domicile, infantile, juvenile, labile, mercantile, pensile, reptile, senile;
- not to crocodile, exile, gentile, percentile, reconcile; nor to compounds of monosyllables (e.g. turnstile from stile).
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.
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.
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]. In AmE there are weak form that are not present in BrE. These include: or [ɚ] and your [jɚ].
Miscellaneous pronunciation differences
These tables list words pronounced differently but spelled the same. See also the table of words with different pronunciation reflected in the spelling.
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 /ˈmɒskoʊ/ and GAm /ˈmɑːskaʊ/, but only the /oʊ/-/aʊ/ difference is highlighted here, since the /ɒ/-/ɑː/ difference is 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.
|/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, 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, processor, progress (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, dahliaA2, digitalis, patentA2,B2, comrade|
|(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/||/ər/||chirrupA2, stirrupA2, sirupA2, squirrel|
|/siː/||/ʃ/||cassiaA2, CassiusA2, hessian|
|/uː/||/juː/||couponA2, fuchsine, HoustonB2|
|/uː/||/ʊ/||boulevard, snooker, woofA2 (weaving)|
|/eɪ/||/iː/||deityA2,B2, HeleneA2, IsraelA2|
|/juː/||/w/||iguana, jaguar, Nicaragua|
|/ɔː(r)/||/ər/||record (noun), stridorA2,B2|
|/ziː/||/ʒ/||Frasier, Parisian, Malaysia, Tunisia|
|/ə(r)/||/jər/||figureA2 for the verb|
|/juː/||/uː/||(Excluding words with predictable yod-dropping) barracuda, pumaA2|
Other words with possible differences include status and data (British /eɪ/, American /æ/ in the first syllable); p(a)edophile (British /iː/, American /ɛ/ in the first syllable).
The slashes normally used to enclose IPA phonemic transcriptions have been omitted from the following table to improve legibility.
|Spelling||BrE IPA||AmE IPA||Notes|
|The AmE pronunciations are for distinct senses (1) "sustained weapon-fire" vs (2) "dam, barrier" (Compare garage below.)|
|The first pronunciations approximate German [ø] (spelled 〈ö〉 or 〈oe〉); the second ones are anglicized.|
|buoy||ˈbɔɪ||ˈbuːi||The 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.|
|difference is only in military sense "to quarter soldiers"|
|BrE reflects the word's Italian origin; AmE approximates more to French.|
|BrE uses two spellings and one pronunciation. In AmE the word is usually spelled inquiry.|
|The BrE pronunciation occurs in AmE|
|The BrE plural is French fracas /ˈfrækɑːz/. For AmE examples (1) and (2), the plural is anglicized fracases|
|ɡəˈrɑː(d)ʒ||The 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.)|
|lapsang souchong||ˈlæpsæŋ suːʃɒŋ||ˌlɑːpsɑːŋ ˈsuːʃɑːŋ|
|lasso||ləˈsuː||ˈlæsoʊ||The BrE pronunciation is common in AmE|
|luːˈtɛnənt||The 2nd British pronunciation is restricted to the Royal Navy. Standard Canadian and Australian pronunciation is the same as the British.|
|lychee||ˈliːtʃiː||Spelling litchi has pronunciation /ˈlɪtʃiː/. The BrE pronunciation /laɪˈtʃiː/ also occurs in AmE.|
|oblique||əbˈliːk||əbˈlaɪk||AmE is as BrE except in military sense "advance at an angle"|
|penchant||pɑ̃ˈʃɑ̃||ˈpɛntʃənt||The AmE pronunciation is anglicized; the BrE is French.|
|The BrE pronunciation also occurs in AmE|
|slough||slaʊ||slʌf||sense "bog"; in metaphorical sense "gloom", the BrE pronunciation is common in AmE. Homograph "cast off skin" is /slʌf/ everywhere.|
|The BrE pronunciation also occurs in AmE|
|z (the letter)||zɛd||ziː||The spelling of this letter as a word corresponds to the pronunciation: thus Commonwealth (including, Canada) zed and U.S. zee.|
- "untoward". Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Cambridge University Press.
- Wells, John C. (2000). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary. 2nd ed. Longman. ISBN 0-582-36468-X.