A recent question has reminded me of something I’ve been wondering about for a while: what is the correct way to pronounce tuple?

  • 1
    What is a non-mathematical example of this? – GEdgar Jun 27 '11 at 15:19
  • I don’t know what “correct” means, but the three most frequent pronunciations used by native speakers are [ˈtʰʌpɫ̩], [ˈtʰupɫ̩], and [ˈtʰjupɫ̩]. – tchrist Jun 5 '14 at 13:58
  • looks like nobody agrees - how does the creator say it, thats what they had to do with linux to get everyone to shut up about it. But, the originator of the word is probably long since dead... so can we make up our own rules then? – osirisgothra Jul 7 '15 at 23:42
up vote 55 down vote accepted

There are two possible pronunciations, one to rhyme with two pull (/tupəl/) and the other with supple (/tʌpəl/).

Take your pick. There will always be someone to agree with you... violently :)

  • 4
    You say a Tuple and I say a Tuple ;) – mplungjan Feb 17 '11 at 14:45
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    Just being picky here, but "two pull" and "tuple" are not perfect rhymes, since "pull" is [pʊl] and the "ple" in "tuple" is [pəl]. – Kosmonaut Apr 3 '11 at 15:07
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    In dialects of English that have not experienced yod dropping (and still make a distinction between the words dew and do, such as RP), you will also hear /tjupəl/, which is how I would pronounce the word. I have often (in London) heard /tupəl/, though I have never heard /tʌpəl/. (I'm with tchrist on that one ;o) – Owen Blacker Feb 25 '12 at 20:53
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    I've always pronounced it two-ple. In Python programming circles you'll find proponents of both forms - and usually we're pretty accepting of each other's craziness ;) – Wayne Werner Apr 30 '12 at 14:19
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    There are three common pronunciations: [ˈtʰʌpɫ̩], [ˈtʰupɫ̩], and [ˈtʰjupɫ̩]. – tchrist Jun 5 '14 at 14:01

It should be pronounced to rhyme with quintuple, sextuple, octuple etc, since these are its origins.

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    This is how I've heard it pronounced in the USA (except that I would leave "quadruple" off the list since the "u" there is long). This one may be subject to some regional differences, given @Ham and Bacon's answer. – JeffSahol Jun 27 '11 at 12:20
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    @JeffSahol: You're right that there are regional differences: for example the "u" is long in "quintuple", "sextuple" is long in British English. Saying it's "like quintuple" is about right, because although in my experience there's quite a lot of variation in how people say that word, exactly the same variation occurs with "tuple" :-) – psmears Jun 27 '11 at 12:35
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    So next question. What is the correct pronunciation of those three words! – Martin Smith Jun 5 '14 at 21:54
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    Well, sure, but then you are purposefully excluding quadruple (quadroople, not quadrupple), which conveniently breaks the mold. I think the more complete answer here lies in the phonetics of the prefix of the word. When the prefix (ends in?) a soft/non-consonant sound (or non-existent), the 'u' should go long vs short. ie: 'qua' is different from 'quin', 'sex', 'sept, 'oct'. Now, if Tuple were instead Tuplet, I would go with the 'upplet' :-o! – JoeBrockhaus Aug 25 '16 at 16:50
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    Please expand your answer. How do you pronounce quintuple? Bear in mind that not everybody around is a native English speaker. – Shimmy Sep 27 '17 at 12:56

I don't use either of the pronunciations Benjol mentioned. I say /tjupl/, the first syllable rhyming with "stew".

I suspect that Benjol has a dialect in which "dew" and "do" are homonyms, but they aren't for me or most British speakers.

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    Really? I've never heard anyone in England say "tewple" - it's always "toople". – Marcin Jun 27 '11 at 19:16
  • (Or, in one instance, "tupple"). – Marcin Jun 27 '11 at 19:23
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    You may never have heard it. But I assure you that on the rare occasions when I say the word I pronounce it /tjupl/, like "tulip" and "tutor". Why the downvote? – Colin Fine Jun 28 '11 at 12:03
  • "Most British speakers" certainly does not accord with my observation. – Marcin Jun 28 '11 at 17:09
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    @Marcin: I didn't say anything about how most British speakers pronounce "tuple": I said how I pronounce the word, and made a subsidiary comment about how British speakers pronounce "do" and "dew". – Colin Fine Aug 15 '12 at 16:55

When I first heard of tuple in C.J. Date’s book An Introduction to Database Systems, he goes to the trouble of explaining that it is pronounced like couple. That was in an early edition around 1983.

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    I'm not entirely convinced that Date has any right to pontificate, but +1 for actually providing some evidence, rather than 'this is what I do'. – TimLymington Jun 23 '13 at 20:15

I am a British speaker.

I pronounce Dew and Do differently (dew - stew - chew / do - too - who).

But tuple/quintuple/quintuplets I pronounce with 'up', not 'oop' (tuple - supple).

So do any other British speakers I know.

  • 4
    The "dew"/"do" distinction you are referring to is because UK English allows the /j/ onglide to occur after coronal consonants, /t,d,s,z/ and so on. Although both AmE and BrE can distinguish "fool" /ful/ and "fuel" /fjul/, AmE treats both "dew" /dju/ and "do" /du/ as /du/. – Kosmonaut Apr 3 '11 at 15:59
  • Yes, @kosmonaut, that is quite right. I used the other words to try to provide 'sounds like' examples for my own pronunciation in the absence of IPA symbols. (I've seen them used on here but I don't know how people do it) – Karl Apr 3 '11 at 16:12
  • @Karl: IPA symbols are easy. Just open up a page that already has them and use murine snarf-N-barf to insert whatever you need. – tchrist Apr 3 '11 at 17:45
  • Oh, just like that? Excellent, thanks. ( @tchrist ) – Karl Apr 3 '11 at 18:12
  • Really? Every programmer I have met in England says "toople". – Marcin Jun 27 '11 at 19:17

From dictionary.com:

tjʊp ə l, ˈtʌp ə l)

So, the actual pronunciation is actually either "tew-pel" or "tu-" as in "but".

  • 4
    Isn't /ˈtʌpəl/ more like "tupple" than "tew-pel" or "too-pel"? – psmears Jun 27 '11 at 12:33
  • My pronounciation guide puts it as "ʌ" as in "but"!! I always said "but" as in "boot"... Jks. Don't know what happened when I posted that answer. – Thursagen Jun 28 '11 at 11:48
  • 1
    /tjʊp ə l/ is yet another pronunciation, that nobody else has mentioned. I say /tjup ə l/ with a tense /u/ not a lax /ʊ/ – Colin Fine Feb 18 '13 at 17:15
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    @ColinFine I would say that /tjʊpəl/ is almost certainly a typo. Stressed /jʊ/ is not a phonotactically valid sequence in any type of English I’m familiar with, except just possibly as a variant of /yud yəd/ for ‹you’d› (and there it’s probably just the result of allophonic lengthening of the schwa before a voiced plosive, as is regular). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 5 '14 at 20:33

Tuple can be pronounced as “tewple” ("toople”) or “tupple”

Broadly speaking, there are two main pronunciations of tuple: “tewple” and “tupple”. Neither one is incorrect, so there is no single correct way to pronounce this word. As Ed Guiness says in his answer, it is derived from the end of quintuple, sextuple, octuple etc. and the same variation exists in the pronunciation of these words.

  • “Tewple” usually starts the same way as “Tuesday”.

    • /tjuːpəl/ “tyoople” in accents that maintain word-initial /tj/ clusters
    • /tuːpəl/ “toople” in accents that drop /j/ after word-initial /t/. One commenter on this page, Marcin, has indicated that he uses and is used to hearing "toople" even in a British English context, and there is one upvote for his comment, but this is certainly not used by all British English speakers. It's unclear how widespread this pronunciation might be for otherwise non-/j/-dropping speakers.
    • /tʃuːpəl/“chewple” in accents that change word-initial /tj/ to /tʃ/
  • “Tupple” = /tʌpəl/ in all mainstream accents of English.

“Tewple” is more regular, going from the spelling

The “tewple” pronunciation is more regular. (This doesn’t necessarily mean it is more correct, but some people might think it’s relevant.) In words of Latin origin, the letter “u” usually corresponds to the “long u” sound when it comes before a single consonant letter and a vowel letter, or before a consonant letter followed by “r” or “l” and then a vowel letter (e.g. nucleus, nutrient).

However, tuple = “tupple” is not an unprecedented sound-spelling correspondence

There are a small number of exceptions to this rule about the pronunciation of "u" before a single consonant followed by a vowel letter or the letter "r" or "l", so the pronunciation “tupple”, while less regular than “tewple”, does have some precedent.

For some words, an exceptional pronunciation with “short u” is only used by some speakers. Some of these pronunciations have been criticized by prescriptivists. (See the entry for “culinary” in “The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations”, by Charles Harrington Elster, who seems to view the pronunciation with /ʌ/ with a kind of resigned acceptance. The two other words I know of that are variable between “long u” and “short u” like this are jugular and truculent, although I haven't come across any prescriptive references that talk about them).

But there are other words like this where “short u” is the only possible vowel, rather than an optional variant. These mainly came into English through French (ducat, punish, public, publish, study) although there are also Latinate words taken from French that regularly have “long u” (such as soluble, voluble; the quality of the actual vowel in these words may be reduced to /ʊ/ or /ə/ since it's in an unstressed syllable, but the glide /j/ preceding the vowel makes it clear that it is underlyingly “long u”).

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word quintuple did come into English from French, so I see no clear etymological basis for considering it incorrect to pronounce it with either the vowel of “soluble” or of “public”.

“Tupple” is probably favored by analogy with single, double, triple

One important factor that has probably influenced the pronunciation of this word is analogy. The first British pronunciations given by the Oxford English Dictionary for quadruple, quintuple, sextuple actually have the stress on the first syllable. However, for American English it shows second-syllable stress. This probably developed by analogy with the stress pattern of the words single, double, triple, which all have penultimate stress. Another example of analogy among this set of words is the use of the -et suffix originally found in doublet (a word taken from French) to form triplet, quadruplet, quintuplet etc.

Single, double, triple all have short vowels, and this probably contributed to the use of a short vowel in quintuple etc. (I don’t know why the vowel of quadruple has apparently been immune to this influence.)

I was a little surprised to hear two people who sounded like Brits (Tim Isted and Dave Addey) both saying "tupple" in the "Introduction to Swift" session (402) at Apple's WWDC 2014. (Unfortunately, this is not public.) Like Colin Fine, above, I've always said /tjuple/, and thought that was standard in the UK. Then again, Tim and Dave work for Apple, so maybe they've adopted a company standard.

On "tjuple" vs. "toople": my guess is that this is the same UK vs. US variation as we see with "stew".

  • There are three common pronunciations: [ˈtʰʌpɫ̩], [ˈtʰupɫ̩], and [ˈtʰjupɫ̩]. – tchrist Jun 5 '14 at 13:55
  • @njr0 In the "Intermediate Swift" session (403) from WWDC 2014, Brian Lanier uses the "tew-pel" pronunciation. So I don't think they have agreed on anything internally at Apple :) – smileyborg Jun 5 '14 at 23:27

Here is a list of many online dictionaries out there that can help you with this. I suggest you click on the links and listen to the pronunciations yourself, when available.

Cambridge Dictionary

tuple

noun [ C ] /ˈtuː.pl/ /ˈtjuːpəl/ /ˈtuːpəl/


Oxford Dictionary

tuple

/ˈtjuːp(ə)l/


Merriam Webster says

Origin and Etymology of -tuple

quintuple, sextuple

Now looking at one of them, say quintuple on the same dictionary, we get

quintuple

\kwin-ˈtü-pəl, -ˈtyü-, -ˈtə-; ˈkwin-tə-\


The Free Dictionary: Lists two different pronunciations

tuple

(to͞o′pəl, tŭp′əl)
(ˈtjʊpəl; ˈtʌpəl)


Collins

tuple

ˈtjʊpəl , ˈtʌpəl


Dictionary.com

tuple

/ˈtjʊpəl; ˈtʌpəl/


WordReference.com

tuple

/ˈtjʊpəl/
/ˈtjʊpəl; ˈtʌpəl/


My conclusion:

I prefer the first three dictionaries listed, naturally, and sometimes Collins. The first three consistently say that, pronunciationg of "tu" part of tuple is as in "stew" or "tool", but not rhyming with "but". More importantly, as said in Merriam-Webster, and also as did Ed Guiness in his answer, "tuple" should rhyme with its origins- quintuple, sextuple, etc.

protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 14:38

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