The "oa" in the word "broad" is pronounced like the words "or" or "awe". In phonetic symbols that is ɔː . However in all other examples I can think of it is pronounced like the "oe" in "toe". Or in phonetic symbols, əʊ . For example, in goat, toast, oat and so on.

Etymology: Common Germanic: Old English brád , identical with Old Frisian brêd , Old Saxon brêd (Middle Dutch breet -d- , Dutch breed ), Old High German (Middle High German and modern German) breit , Old Norse breið-r , (Swedish, Danish bred ), Gothic braiþ-s < Old Germanic *braido-z : no related words are known even in Germanic, except its own derivatives

Although perhaps not directly relevant to the question, where it makes a difference I am talking about British English pronunciation. So broad is pronounced /brɔːd/ , both or and awe are pronounced /ɔː/, toe is pronounced /təʊ/, goat is pronounced /ɡəʊt/ and so on and so forth.

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    It depends whether you count oar or not.
    – Chris H
    Apr 19, 2015 at 7:47
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    The pronunciation presumably comes from the language of origin. It would probably be a better question to ask why it was spelled with oa.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19, 2015 at 8:59
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    @Barmar: broad comes from Old English brád. For comparison, goad comes from Old English gád and load comes from Old English lád. Since Old English was spelled more or less phonetically, I would guess that they rhymed in Old English. So here the pronunciation may not come from the language of origin. Apr 19, 2015 at 12:06
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    @PeterShor Yeah, I suspect that for some reason the pronunciation of this word shifted. But it wasn't part of a general trend, it was totally alone.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19, 2015 at 12:07
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    @tchrist I think you may be referring to US English. In British English they are both /ɔː/ . In US English it seems that "or " is pronounced /ɔ(ə)r/ where "awe" is pronounced /ɔː/ .
    – graffe
    Apr 19, 2015 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


First we must set aside oar, board etc. (i.e. where the oa is followed by r). Then there are no rhymes for broad in my Penguin rhyming dictionary that are spelt --oad and aren't derived from broad (/brɔːd/ according to Collins) itself. So there aren't any reasonably common words with that spelling and pronunciation in the last syllable.

Because that only eliminated words ending with broad's --oad, I tried something different -- generating lists of words containing oa and checking the pronunciation. OneLook's pattern matching dictionary fed with oa and the regex dictionary at http://www.visca.com/regexdict/ fed with .+oa[^r].* (i.e. 1 or more characters followed by "oa" then anything other than "r" and 0 or more characters -- not perfect but a decent approximation) give rather long lists. Scanning those lists I can't find anything to suggest that broad isn't unique -- there are unfamiliar words there but they don't look like they should be pronounced --or--.

Tl;dr: yes - I'm now waiting to be proved wrong.

Edit: note that some of the examples in this answer have a British English bias to them, the answer itself is unaffected

  • Broad /brɔd/ and board /bord/ no more rhyme than do cost /kɔst/ and coast /kost/. Scots voar from Norse vár meaning spring is /vɔr/.
    – tchrist
    Apr 19, 2015 at 14:44
  • @tchrist that must be an accent thing -- Collins says they do (on paper), also Oxford online: /brɔːd/ and /bɔːd/. Neither gives an alternative pronunciation, and the rhyming dictionary listed them together. I can't think of an accent in which they don't rhyme (and with e.g. cord /kɔːd/), but I'm no expert on accents.
    – Chris H
    Apr 19, 2015 at 14:48
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    Collins online also gives oar /ɔː/, broad /brɔːd/, board /bɔːd/ and voar /vɔː/. Cost comes out as /kɒst/.
    – Chris H
    Apr 19, 2015 at 14:58
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    @ChrisH Do questions/answers that have a US bias also have to indicate this I wonder?
    – graffe
    Apr 19, 2015 at 15:40
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    @tchrist: In New York City, try Laurence and Lorentz, or Taurus and torus. Outside the U.S. Northeast, I'm not sure that there are any examples. Apr 19, 2015 at 15:56

The original derived noun was "brede" from which the broad, not narrow, pronunciation came for broad. "Breadth" took place of "brede" in Middle English. Why the spelling changed to broad is unknown.

  • 1
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    – Conrado
    Jul 29, 2020 at 3:05

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