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Flower and flour are said to be homophones. However, considering the number of different pronunciations (/flaʊə/ like BrE sour, /flou(-ə)r/ like AmE sour, /flɑː/ (forvo) like BrE car, etc.) floating around, are they always homophonous for each particular speaker?

Edit: As tchrist points out in the comments, the same question could be asked of dower and dour.

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Anecdotally, I'd say usually but not always. I've heard one person pronounce "flour" as a one-syllable word where they pronounce "flower" as a distinctly two-syllable word. I don't know where they learned to speak that way, and I don't know if it's common where they come from. I'm pretty sure that English was their first language (but I suppose there's a chance could be wrong). –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 7 '13 at 18:50
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Ask also about dower/dour which like flower/flour are also always homophones — and unlike the many pairs which are not, like lower/lore, payer/pair, tower/tour, mower/more, layer/lair, power/pour/poor/pore. –  tchrist Jan 7 '13 at 18:58
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In crosswords, flower is often the cue-word for a river, in which context it's pronounced floe - er. –  FumbleFingers Jan 7 '13 at 19:13
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Dour is another matter; I happily learned to pronounce it /dʊr/, leaving only dower to rhyme with scour. The number of syllables (one, two, one-and-a-half) is another matter for individual variation, especially since many people epenthesize between two resonants like the /w/ of /'flaw-/ and the final /-r/. –  John Lawler Jan 7 '13 at 19:25
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@FumbleFingers: That's water under the bridge. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 7 '13 at 20:00

3 Answers 3

The words flour and flower do not only have the same root, but they were also spelled the same until around 1830. (See etymonline.)

Not only did Shakespeare rhyme hour with flower, but he also sometimes spelled them the same.

It fears not policy that Hereticke,
Which works on leases of short numbred howers,
But all alone stands hugely pollitick,
That it nor growes with heat, nor drownes with showres.

The meter requires that most uses of flower I found in his works be pronounced with one syllable.

To thy faire flower ad the rancke smell of weeds,

but there are a few uses that must be pronounced with two syllables:

Flower of this purple die,
Hit with Cupids archery,
Sinke in apple of his eye,
When his loue he doth espie.

Thomas Gray, writing one hundred and fifty years later, does the same thing: hour and lower rhyme:

While Hope prolongs our happiest hour,
Or deepest shades that dimly lower

and flower always seems to be one syllable:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

So it appears that they have been homophones, at least in the London dialect, for over four hundred years.

Wordsworth (1770–1850) also appears to have only used the one-syllable pronunciation of flower, but Tennyson (1809–1892) used both the one- and two-syllable pronunciations:

The purple flower droops; the golden bee
Is lily-cradled: I alone awake.

Both of these poets rhyme flower and hour.

My guess is that if somebody currently uses two syllables for flower and one syllable for flour, the most likely reason is that their pronunciation has been influenced by the spelling.

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Lower in this sense is, according to the OED, pronounced to rhyme with flower and sometimes spelled 'lour'. Dour rhyming with poor seems to have a Scottish origin; but who would know more about dourness? –  TimLymington Jan 11 '13 at 12:38

Usually, in most english speakers, they are homophones, but depending on some accents this could change. So you will almost never hear them pronounced differently, however, it is possible.

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I was born in England and raised in Ireland. I pronounce them identically. In some accents, they are pronounced differently. My Malaysian wife pronounces flour as one syllable and flower as two.

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