I was always wondering if there is a compact set of rules that helps readers enunciate English words.

One of the reasons why I believe there are such rules is that there are some online dictionaries with pronunciation guides.

closed as too broad by Janus Bahs Jacquet, tchrist, Chenmunka, ScotM, Misti Jul 6 '15 at 14:09

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  • 1
    I would have thought an online dictionary for example saying tough, though, through and thorough are pronounced /tʌf/, /ðəʊ/, /θruː/ and /ˈθʌrə/ respectively was an indication that the relationship between English orthography and pronunciation can be complicated and that the spelling often does not indicate the sounds of words. – Henry Jul 4 '15 at 6:50
  • @Henry: And bough and cough and... (See ncf.idallen.com/english.html for more!) – user21820 Jul 4 '15 at 8:12
  • You could always memorize The Chaos. – tchrist Jul 4 '15 at 12:42

Yes, some online dictionaries have a vocal feature. That does not demonstrate that there are rules, it only shows that every word has a fairly uniform pronunciation in a country (with certain regional variations.)

English spelling often bears little resemblance to pronunciation. There are dozens of "rules", and thousands of exceptions. Sorry.

You can try to learn the usual pronunciations of a particular group of letters, but there may be several (as noted in the "ough" examples from commenters (compare tough, though, through, slough, bough, bought, cough, hiccough). Slough, for example, is two words with different pronunciations and meanings. Likewise for lead and wind.

So for many (if not most) English words, learning how to say it and learning how to spell it are two distinct tasks. Completely unlike, say, Japanese or Spanish, where orthography maps perfectly to orthoepy.

Learn to spell the words you use; eventually you will be able to guess pronunciation of words you haven't used.

  • Japanese? I assume you're talking about hiragana and katakana and not kanji. – Peter Shor Jul 4 '15 at 12:12
  • Definitely. It takes a phonetic alphabet for the concept of spelling vs prononunciation to even exist. I don't know any Japanese, but all of it I have ever seen transliterated is transparently pronounceable, knowing Spanish pronunciation (with only a few extra consonants such as "tsu", and the "w", which Spanish doesn't exactly have). – Brian Hitchcock Jul 4 '15 at 12:19

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