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A student of mine has pointed out that in casual speech, my tendency is to pronounce the word "probably" as something like prah-lee.

I am a native speaker of American English without a specific regional dialect, as I moved frequently when young, both within the country and abroad.

I'm curious as to how widespread this pronunciation is, or if it's merely an indication that I'm a lazy speaker. Is this a regionalism I've unknowingly picked up? There is a Wiktionary entry for prolly, which indicates that I'm not alone in this pronunciation, but there's no indication of how common it is or where it's most prevalent.

Note: I'm familiar with the common tendency to skip the ba portion of the word, pronouncing it prob-lee; I'm specifically curious about the elision of both of the b sounds and the vowel between them.

Edit: I've been repeating the word over and over to myself since asking this question and realized that in particularly quick speech I seem to elide the L-sound, as well: prah-ee.

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See also this question: how old is the word "prolly"? – Peter Shor May 10 '13 at 13:03
Guilty! After trying this over and over just now, I think I could slip into "prah-lee" too, being a fast talker from the US Midwest, with that 2nd "b" being too much trouble to pronounce. :-) – Kristina Lopez May 10 '13 at 13:09
My impression is that it's quite common in fast, casual speech, even prah-ee; but it is hard for people to realise that they really say this. – Cerberus May 10 '13 at 15:07
@Kris, those of us leaving out the 2nd and 3rd "b" are not substituting a "v". It's just being said as "pro'ly". I can imagine it being used in a sentence like this, "I needjour Chem notes, I can pro'ly get 'em back t'you by t'night." – Kristina Lopez May 10 '13 at 17:24
I say: probably, proba'ly, prob'ly, and occasionally pro'ly, depending on how carefully I'm talking. I often write prolly, but it's more self-conscious than natural usage. I'm originally from Detroit. – Bradd Szonye May 10 '13 at 22:44
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The normal American English pronunciation of the canonical /'prabəbli/ is a haplologized /'prabli/, with the /b/ often lost in rapid speech to /'pra:li/. That's the "prolly" that McBain and Higgins use. Just normal speech, better recorded, but it definitely flavours the dialogue.

There is also an emphatic form, stressed on the final syllable, /pra'bli/ or /pra:'li/, which can be used as a one-word response, or as an afterthought. I remember my brother saying it a lot when he was young, so this is nothing new, though it may be more common among younger speakers. I don't know.

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/prɑli/'s my native pronunciation, and I'm old enough to know better. But I'm from the Deep South. – StoneyB May 10 '13 at 18:38

I've come across prolly in the books of Ed McBain and George V. Higgins, set in (a thinly disguised) New York, and Massachussets, respectively.

As a South-Eastern British English speaker I sometimes (under the influence, sadly) shorten the word to probly.

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Perhaps New York's the culprit, then. I was worried my stint in rural North Carolina was to blame. – onomatomaniak May 10 '13 at 13:03
+1 How very, very sad... – Cerberus May 10 '13 at 15:08
@Cerberus Cheer up, don't be sad. One man's dire degeneration of English pronunciation is another man's exciting evolution of language. – Mynamite May 11 '13 at 17:28
@Mynamite: That was rather an (ironic !) reference to Brian's "under the influence, sadly"... – Cerberus May 11 '13 at 18:21
@Cerberus Sorry, I missed that! – Mynamite May 11 '13 at 19:26

As a Brit, I don't recall ever coming across prah-lee -- and I don't think I would understand it unless it were obvious from the context. But, I would say that prob-lee is not uncommon.

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Interesting. I think context must generally suffice, as I don't recall ever being asked to clarify myself. If you heard someone say I'll prolly be there, do you think you'd have a hard time understanding it? – onomatomaniak May 10 '13 at 12:56
@onomatomaniak - No, not in that sentence, but if it were spoken as a part sentence without a subject, say "prolly going do ..." I could possibly hear it as "Polly is going to do ...". (That's not a brilliant example because I find it difficult to think of one, but it could be ambiguous.) – TrevorD May 10 '13 at 15:00
@TrevorD I'm sure I say 'prolly' sometimes (I'm a Brit). I know I definitely say 'onny' for 'only'. – Mynamite May 11 '13 at 17:23

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