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It’s hard for me to guess how to pronounce words beginning with re- correctly.

Sometimes it is /rɛ/ as in reference, but sometimes it is /ri/ as in report.

Is there any rule about this?

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3  
The rule is you look it up in the dictionary, as with everything in English. –  tchrist Jul 2 at 15:59
3  
@Tristanr: you must speak a strange English, which I have never heard. In all Englishes I know, "reference" starts with a stressed mid-vowel, /'rɛ-/ whereas "report" starts with an unstressed lax high vowel /rɪ-'/ –  Colin Fine Jul 2 at 16:06
    
Colin, not necessarily "strange", just one where both words start with a "reh" sound, like the words red and rent. –  Tristan r Jul 2 at 16:14
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@Tristan: If there's only one syllable then pretty much by definition it must be "stressed", so it'll always be /ɛ/ rather than the unstressed /ɪ/. –  FumbleFingers Jul 2 at 16:27
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There is no way to deduce pronunciation from spelling, and not just in English, but in any language. The reason is that it's not written words that are pronounced, but spoken words that are written down. And the written form is always an approximation and a compromise, because the spelling has to take into account not just the pronunciation, but a whole lot of other things such as etymology or equal understanding by people speaking different dialects. So you will have to learn the pronunciation of every word by heart. Again, just like every native speaker of every language does. It works. –  RegDwigнt Jul 2 at 18:11

1 Answer 1

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Rule: Use a Dictionary

Yes, there is a rule, and that rule is that you must look them up in a dictionary if you are not a native speaker.

That’s because words beginning with re- in English can, depending on the word, be pronounced with any of eight different vowels:

  1. /ra/
  2. /rɑ̃/
  3. /rɒ/
  4. /re/

  5. /rə/
  6. /rɛ/
  7. /ri/
  8. /rɪ/

The last three or four at the end of that list tend to be for native words, while the ones at the beginning tend to be for unassimilated imports.

But in diphthongs like reindeer or reynard — let alone reiter or rearward — all bets are off.


Examples

Here’s an alphabetized sample list, with pronunciation following:

  • readable (adj.) /ˈriːdəb(ə)l/
  • ready (v.) /ˈrɛdɪ/
  • rearward (adv.) /ˈrɪɚwɚd/
  • reasonable (adj.) /ˈriːz(ə)nəb(ə)l/
  • rebel (adj.) /ˈrɛbəl/
  • rebel (v.) /rɪˈbɛl/
  • rebuff (v.) /riːˈbʌf/
  • rebuff (v.) /rɪˈbʌf/
  • recapture (v.) /riːˈkæptjʊə(r)/
  • recherché (adj.) /rəʃɛrʃe/
  • recollet (v.) /rekɔle/
  • recueillement (n.) /rəkœjmɑ̃/
  • redact (v.) /rɪˈdækt/
  • redolence (n.) /ˈrɛdələns/
  • redondilla (n.) /redonˈdiʎa/
  • redress (v.¹) /rɪˈdrɛs/
  • redress (v.²) /riːˈdrɛs/
  • refectory (n.) /rɪˈfɛktərɪ/
  • refect (v.) /rɪˈfɛkt/
  • regime (n.) /reɪˈʒiːm/
  • regiment (n.) /ˈrɛdʒɪmənt/
  • reign (n.) /reɪn/
  • reindeer (n.) /ˈreɪndɪɚ/
  • reis (n. pl.) /reɪs/
  • reis (n.) /raɪs/
  • reiter (n.) /ˈraɪtɚ/
  • relevé (n.) /rələve/
  • remake (n.) /ˈriːmeɪk/
  • remake (v.) /riːˈmeɪk/
  • remarque (n.) /rəmark/
  • remboîtage (n.) /rɑ̃bwataʒ/
  • remise (n.) /rəmiz/
  • remoulade (n.) /remulad/
  • remplaçant (n.) /rɑ̃plasɑ̃/
  • rendezvous (n.) /ˈrɒndɪvuː/, /ˈrandəvu/, /rɑ̃devu/
  • res (gen.) /reɪz/
  • resolve (n.) /rɪˈzɒlv/
  • resounding (ppl. a.) /rɪˈzaʊndɪŋ/
  • resurrect (v.) /rɛzəˈrɛkt/
  • retrieval (v.) /rɪˈtriːvəl/
  • reunion (n.) /riːˈjuːnɪən/
  • revolutionize (v.) /rɛvəˈl(j)uːʃənaɪz/
  • revisit (v.) /riːˈvɪzɪt/
  • reynard (n.) /ˈreɪnɚd/
  • rez-de-chaussée (n.) /redʃose/

And here grouped by pronunciation:

/ra/

  • reis (n.) /raɪs/
  • reiter (n.) /ˈraɪtɚ/
  • rendezvous (n.) /ˈrɒndɪvuː/, /ˈrandəvu/, /rɑ̃devu/

/rɑ̃/

  • remboîtage (n.) /rɑ̃bwataʒ/
  • remplaçant (n.) /rɑ̃plasɑ̃/
  • rendezvous (n.) /ˈrɒndɪvuː/, /ˈrandəvu/, /rɑ̃devu/

/rɒ/

  • rendezvous (n.) /ˈrɒndɪvuː/, /ˈrandəvu/, /rɑ̃devu/

/re/

  • recollet (v.) /rekɔle/
  • redondilla (n.) /redonˈdiʎa/
  • regime (n.) /reɪˈʒiːm/
  • reign (n.) /reɪn/
  • reindeer (n.) /ˈreɪndɪɚ/
  • reis (n. pl.) /reɪs/
  • remoulade (n.) /remulad/
  • res (gen.) /reɪz/
  • reynard (n.) /ˈreɪnɚd/
  • rez-de-chaussée (n.) /redʃose/

/rə/

  • recherché (adj.) /rəʃɛrʃe/
  • recueillement (n.) /rəkœjmɑ̃/
  • relevé (n.) /rələve/
  • remarque (n.) /rəmark/
  • remise (n.) /rəmiz/

/rɛ/

  • ready (v.) /ˈrɛdɪ/
  • rebel (adj.) /ˈrɛbəl/
  • redolence (n.) /ˈrɛdələns/
  • regiment (n.) /ˈrɛdʒɪmənt/
  • resurrect (v.) /rɛzəˈrɛkt/
  • revolutionize (v.) /rɛvəˈl(j)uːʃənaɪz/

/ri/

  • readable (adj.) /ˈriːdəb(ə)l/
  • reasonable (adj.) /ˈriːz(ə)nəb(ə)l/
  • rebuff (v.) /riːˈbʌf/
  • recapture (v.) /riːˈkæptjʊɚ/
  • redress (v.²) /riːˈdrɛs/
  • remake (n.) /ˈriːmeɪk/
  • remake (v.) /riːˈmeɪk/
  • reunion (n.) /riːˈjuːnɪən/
  • revisit (v.) /riːˈvɪzɪt/

/rɪ/

  • rearward (adv.) /ˈrɪɚwɚd/
  • rebel (v.) /rɪˈbɛl/
  • rebuff (v.) /rɪˈbʌf/
  • redact (v.) /rɪˈdækt/
  • redress (v.¹) /rɪˈdrɛs/
  • refect (v.) /rɪˈfɛkt/
  • refectory (n.) /rɪˈfɛktərɪ/
  • resolve (n.) /rɪˈzɒlv/
  • resounding (ppl. a.) /rɪˈzaʊndɪŋ/
  • retrieval (v.) /rɪˈtriːvəl/
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You are totally right. Sorry for my ignorance. I was not aware of number of various versions. Its my first post here. I will try to be more careful for the future. Thanks for explanation. –  CyberGuy Jul 2 at 18:47
3  
@CyberGuy That’s totally alright, honest. There are indeed subtle patterns going on here that native speakers internalize, but to sieve them out of The Chaos would be harder than just looking up the word. –  tchrist Jul 2 at 19:05

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