I'm a native Spanish speaker who's trying to grasp some of the subtleties of (American) English pronunciation. I think the sounds that give me the most trouble are the triplet of low back vowels: /ɑ/, /ʌ/ and /ɔ/. The word "gone" is especially tricky, because each time I hear it I hear something different:

  • Sometimes I think it's with a /ɔ/, as if it was "gawn". From my very limited experience, it would seem like this is more common in Southern accents.
  • Other times it sounds like a /ɑ/, the same vowel as in "pot".
  • The third option would be /ʌ/, like "gun", but I'm pretty sure this is not it.

Which one of these is it? Does it depend on the accent?

  • 4
    Both on and gone are pronounced either with /ɔ/ or /ɑ/, depending on the regional dialect. And they don't always rhyme. – Peter Shor Dec 23 '13 at 19:52
  • I doubt the usage is so well-known in the US, but many UK speakers reserve a special pronunciation of gone for facetious contexts like "Not lorst, but gorn before" – FumbleFingers Dec 23 '13 at 22:18
  • @FumbleFingers Is that some sort of "intrusive r", or is that just one of your British "fake r" thingies? Anyway, I always thought that a gorn was some sort of Awful Green Thing from Outer Space. – tchrist Dec 24 '13 at 19:13
  • @tchrist: I don't think it's an "intrusive r" - that's the one in, for example, loweR or upper, where I suppose everyone has to enunciate the first R because schwa followed by vowel is awkward. I don't what a British "fake r" is, though. All I can say is lots of dialectal speakers (incl. "Cockneys") will say gawn quite naturally - but in my experience, gorn is usually a deliberate affectation (particularly common in that "Muvva's lament" context I linked to, as popularised on Cream's "Disraeli Gears") – FumbleFingers Dec 25 '13 at 17:33
  • @FumbleFingers I guess what I’m asking is what the IPA is. By "fake r" I mean a silent letter, one spelled but not said. Consider these various possible pronunciations of gone: [gən], [gɑn], [gɒn], [gɔn], [gɔɹn], [goɹn], and [gorn]. Do you mean one of those, and if so, which one in particular? If you don’t mean one of those, could you please show me what you do mean? – tchrist Dec 25 '13 at 17:54

English vowels have a large amount of variation between accents and individual speakers. Even among speakers who pronounce cot and caught differently, gone and on may be pronounced either way. Gone and on do not belong to any lexical set, but the closest one for me is cloth.

So it’s generally pronounced /gɑn/, and that’s the pronunciation I would prefer if you’re learning American English. But as you have noticed, in some accents it’s /gɔn/ (as in gaunt). As Peter Shor says, it usually rhymes with on.

I think /gʌn/ is possible, but would analyse it as an unrounded version of the /gɔn/ pronunciation, perhaps Scottish or northern English, in which gun is likely to be pronounced /gʊn/. And as with any vowel, in unstressed position it can become /ə/. So /gən/ is also possible, albeit unlikely because gone is rarely unstressed. For example:

He’s gone out to the store.

  • I thought that in American English, gone and on didn't fit well into any lexical set. – Peter Shor Dec 23 '13 at 20:45
  • @PeterShor: I don’t know, you may be right. No counterexample came to mind is all. – Jon Purdy Dec 23 '13 at 20:53
  • If you look at the Merriam-Webster dictionary, they give cloth the symbol ȯ, which means you should pronounce the same way you do caught (things in this lexical set are pronounced like caught in the U.S. and cot in the U.K.) However, they give the pronunciations: \ˈgȯn also ˈgän\ and \ˈȯn, ˈän\. – Peter Shor Dec 23 '13 at 21:04
  • 1
    The canonical test is the two names Dawn (female: /dɔn/) and Don (male: /dan/) in the U.S.A. People with the merger don't distinguish them in speech. The shift originated during the settlement of the West coast, and the original merger map includes the whole coast, narrowing down to a funnel that terminates around Iowa or so, on the Mississippi. But people move around a lot in the U.S, so it's all over the place. – John Lawler Dec 23 '13 at 21:59
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    @tchrist: I can't write them in IPA; Merriam-Webster uses pronunciation symbols to represent lexical classes. That is, they say that the symbol /ȯ/ should be pronounced like /ɔ/ and /ä/ like /ɑ/ for people who distinguish caught and cot, and that these two symbols should be pronounced the same for those who merge them. So what Merriam-Webster is implying by using these symbols is that even among those people who distinguish between cot /kɑt/ and caught /kɔt/, on and gone can be pronounced either with /ɑ/ or /ɔ/. That would be much more complicated to convey with IPA. – Peter Shor Dec 24 '13 at 19:22

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