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I ask this because I recently had a debate with my family about how to pronounce this word, miracle. They said it was pronounced with the "mir" in miracle the same way "mir" is in mirror. (/ˈmɪɹəkəl/).

Whereas I said the "mir" was pronounced like "mer" in merry (/ˈmɛɹəkəl/). So, I consulted an online dictionary to prove my point, and the pronunciation guide clearly showed their way of saying miracle, but the spoken pronunciation to my ear clearly was saying it the way I thought it should be said, though they heard it their way.

So, I looked again and found this dictionary that has the pronunciation spelled out their way, but the UK vocal pronunciation clearly sounds like my way, while the US pronunciation clearly sounds like theirs.

Meanwhile, these dictionaries have pronunciation spelled out their way, but the accompanying vocal pronunciation widget clearly sounds like my way, though they still say they hear it their way. Example. I'd post more sources, but I need more reputation points. Others have their (my family's) pronunciation spelled out and the vocalization corresponds, but by far the more common scenario is my family's pronunciation being spelled out, but mine being the spoken one.

The only dictionary I've seen that offers the pronunciation guide that I think is correct is Wiktionary (again, can't post link yet), though I'm more skeptical of that source.

So, which is correct? /ˈmɪɹəkəl/ or /ˈmɛɹəkəl/? Or is it just a matter of US vs UK English, and I've unknowingly been using the UK pronunciation (according to Cambridge dictionary) my whole life despite being born and raised in the US?

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    "Mir" as in "mirror", more or less. – Hot Licks Feb 1 '15 at 5:01
  • If you say miracle slowly, most Americans will indeed say /ˈmɪɹəkəl/, but if they say it quickly, the sound approaches slightly a sound between /ˈmɪɹəkəl/ and /ˈmɛɹəkəl/. In your example, I hear /ˈmɪɹəkəl/, but if I listen to repetitions carefully, I can hear a slight shift. I've lived in several regions in the US, and have never heard it pronounced like that (I have not lived in the Midwest or the Rockies). – anongoodnurse Feb 1 '15 at 5:03
  • @medica, When you say you've never heard it pronounced like that, do you mean you've never heard /ˈmɛɹəkəl/? What sound is between /ˈmɪɹəkəl/ and /ˈmɛɹəkəl/? I imagine when you say it sounds like something between those two the 'ir' being either pronounced like the 'i' in tin, which is very uncommon in English and kind of hard to say, or like the 'ir' in 'flirt.' – tvanc Feb 1 '15 at 5:07
  • @medica, nevermind about my question of what you mean by between the two. Now, when I say it fast I can tell what you mean. Still not sure about which pronunciation you've never heard, though. – tvanc Feb 1 '15 at 5:11
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    The IPA symbol /ɪ/ is supposed to be the sound in fit and not feet. Oxford Dictionaries Online says that mirror has the vowel of fit in the UK pronunciation, and feet in the US. But some dictionaries say Americans use the fit vowel, instead. – Peter Shor Feb 2 '15 at 2:49
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Medica, Dan Bron, and Greg Lee have made it pretty clear in their comments on my question that the more common and most likely correct pronunciation of miracle is /ˈmɪɹəkəl/, where the "mir" in miracle sounds the same as in mirror.

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    Note that in most parts of the US, mary=merry=marry. But nowhere in US does "miracle" have THAT sound, however you want to represent it in phonetic symbols. In much of US, the first syllable of "merely" is identical to the first syllable of "mirror" or "miracle". Unfortunately you will have to face the fact that there is a continuum that is not perfectly represented by a finite number of discrete phonetic symbols. In short, I think you and your family are arguing over something that is well within the range of US dialects, and thus not worth arguing over. – Brian Hitchcock Feb 1 '15 at 7:25
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    @Brian: possibly more relevant, in some parts of the US, me-racle = mere-acle = miracle (that is, hero = here-oh and mirror rhymes with nearer). – Peter Shor Feb 1 '15 at 16:36
  • I agree to an extent. There was a clear difference in the two pronunciation's we were debating, but it still sounds extremely strange to me to say "meeracle," so I'll keep on saying mare-icle. – tvanc Feb 2 '15 at 2:04
  • @BrianHitchcock: is it possible that a broad form of the pin–pen merger might equate the first vowels of mirror and merry? I haven’t come across it, but it doesn’t seem obviously implausible. – PLL Feb 18 '15 at 12:15
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I say the i in miracle the same as the i in 'tin' and 'miss'. If I'm honest, I have to admit I tend to pronounce the a in the same way.

In my mind's ear, Jimmy Stewart (US actor) says something like "Waal, that would take some kind of merical" in pretty much every movie he's in ;) . For me, i pronounced like the e in 'get' is classic US.

  • Yep, Jimmy Stewart would pronounce it the "other" way. In fact he's probably a good source of "alternate" pronunciations for a number of words. – Hot Licks Feb 1 '15 at 19:18
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    Cuz he's a famous Murrican – Brian Hitchcock Feb 2 '15 at 6:19
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The "standard" pronunciation of miracle that you will see transcribed in any dictionary is with the vowel of mirror or irritate or tyranny (this vowel can be transcribed in various ways: in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it might be /ɪ/ or /i/, and in North American dictionary respelling systems it might be \ĭ\ or even \ē\).

However, I just learned of the Harvard Dialect Survey of American English (2003, by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder, Harvard University Linguistics Department), which actually had a question about the pronunciation of this word. Overall, about 78% of the respondents said they had the vowel of "near" (/iː/) or "kit" (/ɪ/) in this word, but 2.35% said they had the vowel of "net," (/ɛ/) and 15.38% said they had something in between /ɪ/ and /ɛ/. That last figure surprises me, since I had never known about the pronunciation with /ɛ/ before reading this question.

I haven't been able to find out what the situation is in the UK.

Speaking generally, the sound /r/ in English often involves velar or uvular articulations that can affect either the production, or the perception of the preceding vowel. (I'm not a phonetician, so I can't specify the precise phonetic reasons for this.) In American English accents especially, this often causes historically distinct vowel phonemes to merge before /r/.

Dialectal replacement of original /ɪr/ with /ɛr/ has been reported for some other words. It may be what the spelling "sperit" is meant to represent in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It is also mentioned, alongside the pin/pen merger, in Some Peculiarities of Speech in Mississippi, by Hubert Anthony Shands (1893).

Some old pronunciation books say that the word panegyric used to be commonly pronounced with /ɛr/ rather than the more regular /ɪr/ (see Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary).

  • I wonder if here and there rhyme in any dialects (outside the very bad fake Irish accents managed by Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson as Marty’s great-grandparents in Back to the Future III). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '17 at 0:28
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: It is reported that they do: Wikipedia says "The near–square merger or cheer–chair merger is the merger of the Early Modern English sequences /iːr/ and /ɛːr/ (and the /eːr/ between them), which is found in some accents of modern English. Many speakers in New Zealand merge them in favor of the NEAR vowel, while some speakers in East Anglia and South Carolina merge them in favor of the SQUARE vowel. The merger is widespread in the Anglophone Caribbean." – sumelic Jul 23 '17 at 1:39
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If you are looking for the most likely correct pronunciation of a word, I suggest you check youglish site.

US pronunciation of miracle (1303 results): http://youglish.com/search/miracle/us

UK pronunciation of miracle (105 results): http://youglish.com/search/miracle/uk

ps: you may also check how Obama will tell that by adding hashtag obama to your query.

hope it helps.

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