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I was talking to my boyfriend about this but I wanted to get some more opinions.

"Comparable" can be pronounced as:

  1. COMP-er-uh-bul (which is how I usually pronounce it)
  2. Com-PAIR-ah-bul (which usually makes me blink and tilt my head)

Is there a specific case where one pronunciation is used over another? I tend to think that version 1 deals more with similarity than version 2. Version 2, to me, feels like it's more about the fact that two elements can be compared.

Also: can both words/pronunciations be used interchangeably (granted that my guesses toward the meanings are correct)?

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6 Answers 6

The two pronunciations in question are (in IPA):

  1. /ˑkɑmp(ə)rəbəl/ (KOM-pruh-buhl)/(KOM-puh-ruh-buhl)
  2. /kəmˑp(æ/ɛ)rəbəl/ (kuhm-PARE-uh-buhl) [approximately]

Pronunciations for this word are given in dictionaries in four ways, as far as I can tell:

No dictionary I looked in lists pronunciation #2 first. Nor does any support different meanings for different pronunciations. Generally speaking, #1 is the traditional and unimpeachably correct pronunciation. #2 is commonly used, but if you use it, you should not be surprised if you are criticized or corrected.

Addendum: the user-provided pronunciation site Forvo has seven pronunciations for comparable. The two pronunciations which are pronounced like #2 are rated –3. The rest, which are pronounced like #1, are rated 0, 1, or 2.

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2. is arguably more consistent however. Other languages that are phonetically more consistent (e.g. Spanish or French) would put the accent on the 'a' to keep stress there. –  Noldorin Aug 24 '10 at 20:36
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Consistency has never been a feature of English pronunciation or grammar. Certainly lots of people who have never heard comparable pronounced before might guess it is pronounced as #2 (and that is probably why so many pronounce it that way), but the facts are that what little orthoepic authority there is favors #1. –  nohat Aug 24 '10 at 20:52
    
1 is consistent with the similarly structured "comfortable". –  James Jul 21 '11 at 19:34
    
@James, not really—‘comfortable’ may look similar, but it is derived from ‘comfort’ (which already has the stress on the initial syllable), rather than ‘compare’ (which has the stress on the second syllable). If you derive similarly from ‘console’ [kənˈsəʊl], you get [kənˈsəʊləb(ə)l], never [ˈkɒns(ə)ləb(ə)l]. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 10 '13 at 3:10
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What you're discussing is word stress, whether the word stressed is as

comp-ra-ble

or

com-pair-a-ble

This is just another potayto-potahto question.

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The New Oxford American Dictionary reports that the correct pronunciation in standard English is with the stress on the first syllable rather than the second.

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I pronounce it as com-pa-ra-ble. It is more consistent with other similar adjectives ending in -able, in that its emphasis is the syllable before the -able.

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Com-pair-able makes way more sense since you are com-pair-ing (comparing) things. Comp-rable disregards the first letter "a" in the word and to me makes it sound like it has to do with comping something (offering something complimentary). I am a hotel manager and for certain guest satisfaction issues we will comp the room (meaning we will offer their room complimentary and waive the rental fee) so when an employee would ask me if they are able to comp the room for a guest that experiences an issue, I would ask them if they believe it to be a comprable situation or if there is some other compensation that would be more suitable... well, since it has now become more common for people to say comparable as comprable I no longer use that word to explain my point in order to avoid confusion.

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Two well known major supermarkets are now using this word in their advertising. One has been using it for sometime, the other has begun to do so more recently. Each pronounces it as com parable (not com pairable). It grates on me every time I hear it, because I was taught from an early age that the correct pronunciation of this word is 'comprabul' and this appears to be verified in every dictionary I've checked.

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We prefer that you use the international phonetic alphabet (IPA) for expressing pronunciations. Saying a pronunciation sounds like "com parable" and not like "com pairable" makes no sense in my region, as "parable" and "pairable" are homophonic. IPA would make it possible for me to know what you mean. See: english.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic and meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/148/14073 –  MετάEd Aug 10 '13 at 12:47
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