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I know /əˈfreɪd/ is the schoolbook version of pronouncing "afraid". However, I constantly find myself pronouncing it like /əˈfred/ instead. Is it just a natural thing to do when speaking or does it sound odd to a native speaker?

Thanks in advance!

edit: I would use the first variant in a context where this word receives extra stress i.e. is of some importance, like in "Who is he afraid of?". It's only when the word isn't really important and gets sort of swallowed in the phrase.

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Certainly sounds odd to me, however, grammatically I guess either could be correct, since "ai" doesn't always necessarily have a long "a" sound. – Jacedc Nov 1 '13 at 16:38
To a Yorkshireman it could potentially sound perfectly natural (if you pronounce everything else with a Yorkshire accent). – Neil Coffey Nov 1 '13 at 16:52
@Neil: Not just a Yorkshire accent, surely? I can easily imagine people with "cut glass" accents (who pronounce "house" as "hice") using the clipped vowel form. It also sounds credible to me as something certain "colonial" accents (British Honduras?) might produce. – FumbleFingers Nov 1 '13 at 16:58
Unlike "said", "afraid" is nowhere to my knowledge pronounced that way. – Colin Fine Nov 2 '13 at 0:42

Pronunciation is so variable, but that being said, I think that in Received Pronunciation this is always pronounced /əˈfreɪd/. In the US and Canada I have never heard this being pronounced any other way.

I'm reasonably certain that /əˈfred/ would sound odd to any native speaker, or at least one who is not a Yorkshireman (a nod to @NeilCoffey).

And I cannot conceive of "ai" being pronounced any other way than /eɪ/.

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Only a Fred would pronounce it that way. – John Lawler Nov 1 '13 at 18:48
As it turns out, @JohnLawler, my name is not Fred, and I don't know anyone having that name. What is a Fred, anyway? :-) – Cyberherbalist Nov 1 '13 at 20:50
A Fred is /əˈfred/, as the OQ posted it in that (RP) phonemic notation system; I'd write that as /əˈfrɛd/ in Kenyon and Knott's American phonemic system. And I'd write /əˈfred/ instead of /əˈfreɪd/ for the tense vowel found in afraid. – John Lawler Nov 1 '13 at 21:15

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