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I came across these words together in a text, and I was wondering whether they are pronounced the same way. 'War' is actually pronounced as 'wor', so I'm not entirely sure.

When I pronounce them, I do not hear a difference, but I'm not a native English speaker. Could anyone perhaps shed some light on whether the two words are pronounced differently?

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I'm sitting here saying the two words to myself and marveling that I never noticed that similarity in pronunciation before. :)

The difference is all in the "or."

In worship, the "or" is pronounced more as "ur" by most Americans. We say it as "wurship."

Warship is pronounced more the way it looks: "wawrship," with the mouth opening a bit wider on the "a."

Accent is on the first syllable in both words.

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  • As Brian’s answer points out, this is slightly inaccurate about the British pronunciation — we too pronounce the ‘wor-’ of ‘worship’ to approximately rhyme with ‘fur’, ‘her’, etc. Otherwise, completely agreed… – PLL Mar 20 '11 at 18:34
  • @PLL Deleted. I shouldn't have commented on British pronunciation. (It sounds different to my ear.) – Kelly Hess Mar 20 '11 at 19:09
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    This doesn't work in St. Louis, where they pronounce pork as "park" and Highway 40 as "Highway Farty" ... So there would be no difference between worship and warship to them. – Robusto Mar 21 '11 at 19:25
  • The variations among American dialects are so interesting. In east Texas, a lot of people pronounce "horse" so that it rhymes with "farce." They're quite selective with this and do it with only a handful of or words. IIRC, forty is one of them. – Kelly Hess Mar 21 '11 at 19:32
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I'd more or less agree with the above answer, apart from the part about the difference between English and American pronunciations.

Dictionary.com has the two pronounced as /ˈwɔrˌʃɪp/ [wawr-ship] for warship, and /ˈwɜrʃɪp/ [wur-ship] for worship. These are about how I'd expect them to sound as a British English speaker.

Merriam-Webster suggests \'wər-shəp\ or \'wòr-shəp\ for worship. I'm not quite sure about either of those.

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    I find all of these answers very strange. For me, the sole difference is that worship is stressed only on the first syllable while warship has both stressed, just as though it were written war ship. Of course, I realise now that most accents differentiate them by pronunciation as well, and I'd naturally pronounce them differently if I were affecting another accent. – Jon Purdy Mar 20 '11 at 20:36
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    For me (AmE), the two differences. Inclassical poetic meter, 'warship' is a spondee (long-long) and 'worship' is a trochee (long-short). And without going into phonetics, the first syllables differe for me mostly as the vowel indicates. – Mitch Mar 20 '11 at 22:32
  • Out of curiosity I looked up the pronunciations on thefreedictionary, and surprisingly the same sound has been put behind those words - please have a look at: thefreedictionary.com/warship and thefreedictionary.com/worship. – pimvdb Mar 21 '11 at 14:47
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The 'a' in Warship is like the 'a' in Law. It is a sound that is hard for a non English speaker to pronounce, try making 'law' and 'low' sound different, they should sound very different and this is part of the same issue.

The 'or' in Worship is like 'err' in "to err on the side of caution", or the mechanical sound that is associated with spinning, 'whirr', as in "The machine whirred past".

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    Er ... many of us Americans pronounce err as a homonym of air (although both pronunciations are correct, according to American dictionaries). So if err and whirr don't rhyme for you, it should be the same as whirr. – Peter Shor Aug 23 '15 at 12:49
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    But if "whirr" and "fur" don't rhyme for you, it should be the same as "fur." – herisson Aug 23 '15 at 21:10
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Warship : wôrˌSHip ( more like Wor-Ship )

Worship: wərSHəp ( more like Wer-Ship )

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I'm pretty sure, when I was a kid in Toronto, that we pronounced the word worship like "warship", as in, a ship of war. I'm not sure I have any way to prove that.

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Sounds like....

The first syllable of worship is pronounced the same way that the word were is pronounced. In contrast, the first syllable of warship is pronounced the same way that the word wore is pronounced. Those two sound-alike words — were, wore — are unlikely to be pronounced the same as each other in most accents, or maybe in any.

The second syllable of worship is pronounced the same way the second syllable of the word bishop is pronounced. In other words, it’s a very short, unstressed syllable with a fully reduced neutral vowel, the one we call schwa. In contrast, the second syllable of warship is pronounced almost as though it were the full word ship. It’s a separate morpheme in a compound word that retains its original character, and it is not reduced.

Looks like....

Precisely how you represent these two words phonetically very much depends on which particular accent we’re talking about. The respective variants can sound quite different from how each other sounds, and their corresponding phonetic representations can often look even more unalike than the sounds.

All that variation aside, one reasonably simple representation that works for rhotic speakers with monophthong vowels before rhotics would be to use /ˈwəɹʃəp/ for worship and to use /ˈwoɹˌʃɪp/ for warship. Notice how the second of those has a bit of secondary stress in its second syllable that the first one lacks.

You should also be aware that most North American speakers, especially rhotic ones, neutralize the lax–tense (or open–close) phonemic distinction (/ɔ‑o/, /ɛ‑e/) before rhotics, perceiving each to always be the close variant in that position. That makes wore have the same tense /o/ vowel as woe has for them, not the lax /ɔ/ vowel they have in the word wall.

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I cannot hear a difference between the two at all. If I heard someone say either word out of context, I would have no idea which one they meant. (And for what it's worth, detecting audible differences comprises much of my life).

On the other hand, I agree with @Kelly C Hess -- despite their similarity, I am pretty sure I have never confused them. Fortunately there are probably very few cases when it would be ambiguous in context.

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