I was talking to some friends and I said "I ate (/et/) chocolate yesterday...". Then my friend corrected me: "you ate (/eit/) chocolate...". I repeated my sentence with the /eit/ pronunciation and we moved on.

But later at home I checked some dictionaries and online debates on the subject, and now I'd like to know if it's possible or not to pronounce ate as /et/ rather than /eit/.

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    The right response to that, of course, is "I don't 'ate chocolate. If I 'ated chocolate, I wouldn't've et it." – Peter Shor Nov 14 '13 at 13:56
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    Merriam-Webster says both are correct, although it lists the long-A first and the other as a dialect form: "\ˈāt, dialect or British ˈet\" – apsillers Nov 14 '13 at 14:30
  • The standard british pronunciation is /et/. people who "correct" their accents seem ignorantly to think it's like 'eight'. even meryl streep in the french leftenant's woman got it right when she said it as /et/. – praestans Jul 30 '17 at 1:29
  • @praestans Both pronunciations are completely standard in British English. /et/ has never been ‘more standard’ than /eɪt/. It is, in fact, historically the most recent of the forms, most likely one that arose through influence from similar verbs like lead/led. Bet /bet/ is also recorded as an analogous past-tense form of beat, and het (up) is still common enough as the past tense of heat, but neither of those is any more standard than beat and heated either. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 20 '17 at 0:08

That's just a regional pronunciation. It's non-standard but not completely uncommon. If I had to guess, I'd say rural midwestern America, where a lot of the different vowel sounds all get pronounced the same --although Peter Shor's comment above seems to imply it might also be a Cockney accent. (I'm not all that familiar with British accents, so I don't know which might fit best.)

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    +1 I would say that the traditional pronunciation of "ate" is exactly as you would pronounce the number, "eight". There is variation by dialects, but if you want to sound like you have any education, then stick with "I eight some chocolate." – THEAO Nov 14 '13 at 14:15
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    I have loads of education, but I don’t say I eight. I say I et. I speak British English, but not Cockney. – Barrie England Nov 14 '13 at 15:22
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    As with most pronunciations, if it's not the way you say it, it sounds bizarre to you, if it is the way you say it, it sounds normal. However, I will agree with THEAO to the extent that in American English, how you pronounce "ate" and how you pronounce "eight" are generally the same. It sounds like that might not be a good rule in Britain, however. – Chris Sunami Nov 14 '13 at 15:42
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    @BarrieEngland that's fair... I should have limited the scope of my stereotype to the US. My wife actually grew up in Cheltenham and so I can appreciate the existence of differences in pronunciation. – THEAO Nov 14 '13 at 15:48
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    @Barrie England I think that he 'et' (meaning ate) chocolate is the correct RP. Indeed I believe that is how the Queen, or Boris Johnson, would say it. Saying you 'eight' some chocolate is probably how someone who grew up saying 'et' as part of a working-class accent, but was now trying ever so hard to speak nicely (say Sir John Major) would say it. It is the Eliza Doolittle syndrome! – WS2 Nov 14 '13 at 21:16

The traditional RP pronunciation of ate is /ɛt/. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary agrees:

/ɛt/, occasionally /eɪt/.

I believe Charivarius also has /ɛt/. From his famous poem about the inconsistent spelling of English, The Chaos:

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

However, it is my impression that /eɪt/ has become more and more common everywhere, even in RP.

  • I find the OED note puzzling, because the OED2 (and OED3—there was no change) article gives the pronunciation of ate as “/eɪt/ /ɛt/ /iːt/” and also makes it clear that /eɪt/ is the older form, with /εt/ being analogically formed based on similarly patterning strong verbs like read and lead (and also beat and heat in certain dialectal forms). I’ve always /rεd/ the Chaos line as /eɪt/ as well—that gives a more elegant scansion in my view—but either is possible. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 20 '17 at 0:16
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: I've always read that OED entry as the return of the older pronunciation /eɪt/ (possibly from someplace outside RP where it remained prominent, and around the time RP began to lose ground) to end the intermezzo of /ɛt/. As to The Chaos, only /ɛt/ would make sense to me: otherwise you'd have the same pronunciation twice in succession in ate, late, which would be pointless (and probably unique in the entire poem). – Cerberus Nov 20 '17 at 3:11
  • This comment also points in the direction of a triple-stages pronunciation: english.stackexchange.com/questions/137657/… – Cerberus Nov 20 '17 at 3:16

Generally, RP forms are accepted in America as valid alternatives, assuming they are in the general context of RP. However, the /et/ pronunciation is one that jars on many American's ears, and it the context of American pronunciation is considered substandard.

protected by tchrist Jul 30 '17 at 1:44

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