English pronunciation guidelines

Note that the guidelines given below are just broad approximations. As English uses an etymological spelling, no strict rules of pronunciation can be given. The only real rule which works always is: look up the phonetic transcription in your dictionary.

Phonetic transcription follows Kirsembaum's IPA-ASCII. Notice the following symbols:

Symbol Means
[a] "a" in "has"
[D] "th" in "this"
[O] "o" in "lock"
[j] "y" in "yes"
[N] "ng" in "thing"
[S] "sh" in "shoe" ([tS] is "ch" in "church")
[T] "th" in "thin"
[Z] "s" in "vision" ([dZ] is "j" in "jelly")
[V] "u" in "cut"
[@] "a" in "about"
[:] long vowel


Sign "Broad" "Slender"
b [b]
c [k] [s]
cc [k] [ks]
ch [tS] / [k]
d [d]
dj [dZ]
f [f]
g [g] [g] / [dZ]
gh(*) [g]
gn [n] / [gn]
gu [gw] [gw] / [g]
h [h]
i(**) [j]
j [dZ]
k [k]
kn [n]
l [l]
m [m]
mb [m]
n [n]
ng [N] / [Ng]
p [p]
ph [f]
ps [s]
qu [kw] / [k]
r [r]
rh [r]
s [s] / [z]
ss [s]
sc [sk] [s]
sh [S]
t [t]
th [D] / [T]
tch [tS]
v [v]
u(**) [w]
w(*) [w]
wh [w]
wr [r]
x [ks]
y(*) [j]
z [z]
(*: see also sections Vowels and Diphthongs)
(**: "i" and "u" sometimes have a consonantal sound when preceding a vowel; see also sections Vowels and Diphthongs)

In the above table, I call a consonant slender when it is followed by "e", "i" or "y"; broad in all other cases. [BTW, the terms are borrowed from Gaelic grammar; anyway, the Italian version will use "dura" and "dolce", which are the usual terms used in Italian to refer to the two sounds of "c" and "g"]


Sign Unstressed Stressed, short Stressed, long
a [@] [a] [ei] / [a:]
e [@] [e] / [] [i:]
i [@] [i] [ai]
o [@] [O] / [V] [@u]
u [@] [u] / [V] [ju:]
y(*) [@] [i] [ai]
(*: see also section Consonants)

The stress can fall on any syllable of a word, and there is no indication in the spelling as of which syllable is stressed. As a rule of thumb, most words are stressed on the first syllable.

Notice that "e" is almost always mute at the end of a vowel which contains at least another vowel.

As a rule of thumb, a vowel is long when:

  1. it is the only vowel in a word ending by a vowel (e.g.: "be" [bi:]; "I" [ai]; "no" [n@u])
  2. it is followed by a single consonant itself followed by a vowel. For the purpose of this rule, also mute "e"'s count as vowels.


Sign Sound
ai / ay [ei] / [e]
al [O:(l)]
au / aw [O]
ea [i:] / [e]
ee [i:]
ei / ey [ei] / [i:] / [i]
eigh [ai] / [ei]
eu / ew [ju:]
igh [ai]
ie / ye [ai]
oa [@u]
oe [u:]
oo [u] / [u:] / [V]
oi / oy [oi]
ou / ow [au] / [u] / [u:] / [@]
oul [u:]
ough [u:] / [@u] / [O:] / [au] / [Vf]
uy [ai]

Notice that I am using diphthong, quite improperly, to indicate any any sequence of letters beginning by a vowel letter.

Vowels + "r"

Sign Short Long
ar [@] [@:]
er [@] [@:]
ir [@] [@:]
or [@] [O:]
ur [@] [ju@]

Notice that the above sounds only apply when the above groups of letters are at the end of a word or followed by a consonant. If they are followed by a vowel, the "r" is part of the second syllable, so it and the two vowels around it retain their normal value as found in sections Vowels and Consonants.


When some dental consonants would, by the above guidelines, be followed by a [j] sound, they merge with it forming palatal consonants:

Sequence Becomes Example
[s] + [j] [S] "mission" *['misj@n] > ['miS@n]
[z] + [j] [Z] "vision" *['vizj@n] > ['viZ@n]
[t] + [j] [tS] (*) "nature" *['neitju@] > ['neitS@]
[d] + [j] [dZ] "would you" *['wudj@] > ['wudZ@]
(*: notice, however, that the common termination "-tion" is proounced [S@n].