Under the entries for secret in Cambridge, Oxford Learner's, and MW Learner's dictionaries, the recordings of the word are clearly saying /ˈsiːkrɪt/ but the IPAs transcriptions are /ˈsiːkrət/.

The Free Dictionary gives the transcription as /ˈsiːkrɪt/.

It is very uncomfortable for me to pronounce /ˈsiːkrət/. On the contrary, it is very comfortable for me to pronounce /ˈsiːkrɪt/.

I think the dictionaries made a mistake by transcribing the pronunciation as /ˈsiːkrət/, because I hear it clearly as /ˈsiːkrɪt/. There is no possible way to pronounce /ˈsiːkrət/.

So, is the pronunciation of secret /ˈsiːkrət/ or /ˈsiːkrɪt/?

  • Tomayto, tomarto?
    – user45532
    Nov 16, 2015 at 9:29
  • Confusingly, the symbol /ə/ does not represent the same thing everywhere it is used. You should be fine using your pronunciation with /ɪ/. This is kind of a transcriptional ambiguity.
    – herisson
    Nov 16, 2015 at 9:30
  • In fact though, it does depend on the variety of English spoken. Please edit your question to say if you want to learn how to pronounce the word in a specific regional variety.
    – herisson
    Nov 16, 2015 at 11:12
  • Seems related to the following question: Is effect pronounced as /ɪˈfekt/ or as /əˈfekt/?
    – herisson
    Nov 17, 2015 at 2:01

2 Answers 2


It depends on, but is not limited to, the accent of the speaker. English dictionaries provide only the two standard pronunciations: RP and GenAm. In terms of pronunciation, don't take for granted everything you see in dictionaries, because they employ simplified transcription. Additionaly, words in dictionaries are pronounced in isolation.

To give weight to my arguments, the GenAm transcription of the word "man" doesn't take into account the /æ/ tensing process, and yet you can clearly hear the difference between the RP and GenAm pronunciations of the word man. Yet, both transcriptions have been transcriped the same: man Someone unaware of this process might incorrectly assume that in fact both pronunciations are the same.

Another example includes the flap T (the alveolar tap). Americans flap their Ts, and yet the flap T isn't transcribed, nor pronounced as /ɾ/. Why? Beats me.

Now, to answer your question, you would be better advised to check on the Internet the 3 varieties of unstressed vowels: schwa, schwi, and schwu. This article should shed some light on the issue and probably answer your question at least to some extent: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_and_vowel_reduction_in_English#Reduced_vowels_in_the_close_unrounded_area


I would normally use the 'schwa' sound for the second syllable ('u' as in 'butter').

In special cases (e.g. poetry, expressive storytelling) I might say 'e' (as in 'head') or 'i' (as in 'it') (sorry I can't make phonetic symbols). However, both of these sound too 'affected' for ordinary use, to my UK ears.

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