In sentences like the following one, what is the pronunciation of the word read? I have always pronounced it red, as past-tense, but I have, a couple of times, heard it pronounced reed, as instruction to the reader.

The text was unhelpful (read a waste of money) for the class.

(As a side note/question, is there a specific term for that usage of read or its parenthesized sub-sentence?)

  • I think your side note was asked recently: english.stackexchange.com/questions/14059/… Maybe not; the question wasn't amazingly clear and the answers go in a different direction. I'm not aware of any name for the convention, in any event. I sort of suspect a certain stripe of person may refer to it as "a videlicet", but that's kind of cheese, since videlicet/viz. is just the word used to do the same thing by way of Latin.
    – chaos
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 3:39
  • 2
    Related to this, but I think it deserves its own topic.
    – waiwai933
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 3:46

4 Answers 4


I've always said it reed, understanding it in the instruction-to-the-reader sense. I can't have heard somebody say it out loud more than a handful of times in my life, but in none of the cases did the speaker say red.

  • 2
    +1, that's my interpretation, and how I've heard it too, as if it's short for "read that as..."
    – gpr
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 3:37
  • 4
    It would read better if it was punctuated like so (I think): read: a waste of money.
    – Benjol
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 6:03
  • @Benjol, actually the colon works for the opposite as well.
    – Synetech
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 21:02

The two forms of the word are spelled the same in English, but the same construction exists in Swedish, and as the spelling differs it's clearly in the form of an instruction to read:

Texten var värdelös (läs pengaslöseri) för klassen.

Read [rid] translates to läs while read [rɛd] translates to läste.

  • 3
    Also, "lees" in Dutch, "lies" or "sprich" in German, "читай" in Russian. All imperative.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 10:00
  • That’s one of the explanations given in one of the MetaFilter threads, but a compelling argument for the other way is also given there. :-|
    – Synetech
    Commented Mar 1, 2011 at 21:05
  • Note: the Swedish equivalent to the /red/ pronunciation is not läste (past tense), but läst (past participle). A simple past tense would make no sense in either language. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 16:55

I haven't heard it spoken much either, but I have heard both. Both make sense to me. The "red" pronunciation could be just as much an instruction to the reader as "reed", simply expressed differently. (Imagine demonstrating something, and saying "it's done like so", or saying "do it like so".)


It is pronounced /rid/ ("reed").

Here is what the OED has to say about this question:

9. a. To adopt, give, or exhibit as a reading in a particular passage. Hence, to substitute or understand for (what is said or written).

1659 HAMMOND Acts xv. Annot., The Æthiopick and other interpreters retain.., what you would not have done to your selves, do not ye to another,.. for which other Jewish writers read, doing as they would be done to. 1697 BENTLEY Phal. 20, I cannot..comprehend why the most learned Is. Casaubon will read σπεύδοντα in this passage, and not σπένδοντα. 1759 RUDDIMAN Animadver. Vind. Buchanan 60 Instead of.. sexagesimo quinto, we should read,.. sexagesimo nono. 1847 MADDEN Layamon's Brut. III. 346 For Lovaine some copies of Wace read Alemaigne. 1868 M. E. G. DUFF Pol. Survey 16 For monasteries, we should read convents, mission-houses, and seminaries. 1966 ‘A. HALL’ 9th Directive xxi. 193 For snatch read abduction. For swop read exchange. Never a bloody spade. 1967 Listener 4 May 593/2 Links between the cultures of ‘Indonesia’ (read southeast Asia) and west and central Africa.

This OED quote was featured in a Metafilter thread on this very question, and there is a nearly identical Metafilter thread two years later. Both feature lots of opinions and argumentation, but the OED argument (among others) makes the answer fairly clear.

  • The OED article doesn’t provide any kind of answer or argument to this question at all. They define the meaning of the verb in this sense. The verb can be used in all forms in this sense, just like any other verb. The OED article is equally compatible with interpreting the single word read in this particular usage as “/riːd/ this as X” and “to be /red/ as X”. Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 16:59

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