Or maybe just haphazard? Something else?

When I want to refer to a small military unit put together to carry out a specific task, I'll call it a DEtail, accent on the first syllable.

When I want to refer to a particular portion of a larger whole, I'll call it a deTAIL, emphasis on the second syllable.

In my mind, in other words, there is a semantic difference between the pronunciations. Nevertheless, I have noticed that some speakers of American English tend to stress the first syllable, and some don't. Is there any rhyme or reason to the variation in pronunciation of this word?

  • Cisatlantically the verb in the sense 'set forth details' is ordinarily stressed on the second syllable, so it is possible that some of us govern our pronunciation by analogy with those disyllabic words in which the stress distinguishes noun from verb - eg, record, import, decrease Feb 25, 2015 at 2:05
  • My pronunciation is roughly the same as yours, though I'm sure I've noticed folks who pronounce them differently. Frankly, it's the sort of, uh, detail that I'd ignore, unless really far afield.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 25, 2015 at 2:09
  • 2
    I've always wondered if there's a word for that -- where there are two different scans of a word, which tend to be used in different ways -- detail is a great example.
    – Fattie
    Feb 25, 2015 at 3:55
  • purely one man's opinion, there is a semantic difference, as you say. i feel it has less do with region.
    – Fattie
    Feb 25, 2015 at 3:56

2 Answers 2


My first thought is that I would tend to use DE-tail as a noun and de-TAIL as a verb, usually in the past tense.

That's an irrelevant DE-tail.

She de-TAILED her problems for us at great length.

However, I don't see any backup for this in the dictionary, so it must be regional (or familial!) for me. In fact, the accent on the second syllable seems to be the preferred pronunciation--since it's listed first. (That's still the custom, right?)



I believe it is personal preference influenced by locality, culture, and conversational context. For example, the word envelope can have two different pronunciations in American English: one where the en- portion can have a French-like pronunciation:


and another that uses the strict English pronunciation of en-, which sounds like the letter n. My mother prefers the French-like pronunciation; I prefer the strict English pronunciation. We're from the same family of people who grew up in the same area of the country, and we pronounce it differently.

In the UK, I have heard people add letters to words where no such letters exist. For example, to pronounce the word:


some British people will make the u a strict letter pronunciation and add an i where none exists:

al-yoo-MIN-ee-um (as if the word were spelled alyuminium)

Most Americans pronounce aluminum with the stress on the second syllable and do not add a letter:


Another word that gets interesting treatment by the British is:


A British person can pronounce lieutenant where the first t sounds more like an f:


An American will use a hard t and stress the second syllable:


Canandians and Americans pronounce the letter combination ou in some words differently. An American can pronounce ou as if the u sounded like a w:

house: HOW-se

about: a-BOWT

A Canadian can make the ou sound like the ou in soup:

house: HOUW-se

about: a-BOUWT or a-BOOT

Oddly enough, Americans and Canadians pronounce soup the same way.

So pronouncing detail as DE-tail or de-TAIL is matter of preference. As long as people understand that detail in one context is similar to detail in another context, it doesn't matter a great deal how it is pronounced.


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