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I just watched the Vsauce video "The net is not the web" and heard Michael saying query as kweh-ree. That surprised me since I've always said kwee-ree.

So I looked this up on Wiktionary and it seems both pronunciations are valid. So I was wondering: which is the most commonly used sound, kweh-ree or kwee-ree?

  • 2
    The oxford dictionary uses kwee-ree in both the UK as well as US variant for the pronunciation, which I'd agree with is the most common one. – Voo Apr 26 '16 at 20:20
  • The word queries is heard at the 10.00 minute mark youtu.be/scWj1BMRHUA?t=10m – Mari-Lou A Apr 26 '16 at 22:36
  • If you're asking about "queries" as heard at 10:03 then that sounds pretty "normal" to me. – Hot Licks Apr 26 '16 at 23:15
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    {ka-where}(e) YouTube The r is part of the first syllable. – Mazura Apr 27 '16 at 2:50
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"Kwee-ree" (/kwɪə̯ri/~/kwɪri/~/kwiri/) is more common in dictionaries

The most common pronunciation of query seems to be "kwee-ree" (or more precisely, "kweer-y", since as Mazura says the vowel here is pronounced the same as a vowel before syllable-final "r", as in the words "fear" or "beard"; it's not necessarily pronounced the same as the "ee" sound of a word like "key-ring").

Looking it up in a bunch of online dictionaries using the OneLook Dictionary Search, I found that:

  • all of the dictionaries with pronunciation guides list "kwee-ree" as either the only or the first pronunciation. More specifically, the IPA transcription of this vowel in dictionaries is either /kwɪər-/ (representing /kwɪə̯r-/, with shwa as a non-syllabic offglide; this may also be realized phonetically as a long [ɪː] that is contrasts in British English with the short [ɪ] sound in words like mirror or squirrel) or /kwɪr-/ (representing the usual American pronunciation resulting from a merger before /r/ of the "long e" vowel in words like serious with the "short i" vowel of words like Sirius; the neutralized vowel in this environment is traditionally identified with and transcribed as lax /ɪ/, but to some speakers it may sound more like tense /i/).
  • only some dictionaries list "kweh-ree" (IPA /kwɛr-, kwer-/) at all: Merriam-Webster, Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary (click over to the "American" tab), Wiktionary, and Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary 2010 (accessed via The Free Dictionary).

Modern dictionaries generally try to describe the language as it is used. They don't always list pronunciations strictly in order of how common they are, but I think this evidence considered together strongly suggests "kwee-ree" is more common. Another interesting detail, although the sample size may be too small to tell for sure: all of the dictionaries that did list "kweh-ree" were dictionaries of American or International English; none of them were of British English specifically.

"Kwee-ree" also seems more common out of 10 Youglish examples that I listed to

This is not a very scientific survey, but to a get a general sense of proportions, I listened to the first ten "Youglish" audio samples for query. Out of them, I counted 7 clear cases of "kweery," vs. 1 clear case of "kwerry" and 2 unclear cases that sounded a bit like "kwerry," but might have been extremely short versions of "kweery". So "kweery" seems to be more common, but "kwerry" is not all that rare.

The prescriptive perspective: also in favor of "kwee-ree"

You only asked which pronunciation is most commonly used, but I thought it might also be interesting to look at prescriptive guides to pronunciation such as Charles Harrington Elster's Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations. Elster expresses a clear preference for "kwee-ree," which he says "is the preference of all authorities I have consulted from Walker (1791) to the present." According to Elster, the pronunciation with a short e "was first recorded in Webster 3 (1961)."

Side notes on etymology and possible pronunciation history

The source of the word is Latin quaere (and the word used to be spelled this way in English too). There seems to be some association (especially in British English) between the spelling ae and the "long e" sound: words like aesthete are sometimes pronounced in British English with the first vowel long, even though the general tendency is to use short vowels before consonant clusters that span more than one syllable, like -sth-. On the other hand, the Oxford English Dictionary does list one historical spelling of query that suggests a pronunciation with a short vowel: querries, which was apparently used in a Scottish text at some point before the 1700s.

I suspect the pronunciation with a short "e" may be due to analogy with "very," which is the only other word I can find that is spelled with "-ery" and has the stress on the "e." There may also be some general tendency for disyllables ending in unstressed -y (pronounced as /i/ or /ɪ/) to have short vowels in the first syllable: some other words that seem to exemplify this tendency are many, any, body, busy, dizzy, honey, study, copy, marry, carry.

  • I'm thinking it only has two syllables not three, so no extra schwa as a middle syllable the way the poetically trisyllabic Faërie has. The first syllable of query has just /i/ like queen, queer or /e/ like quake, square for its syllabic nucleus. – tchrist Apr 27 '16 at 2:49
  • @tchrist: the schwa is non-syllabic. It's an offglide, like the /ɪ/ in /aɪ/. Offglide schwas used to be a feature of British Received Pronunciation, although in modern speech many of them are eliminated in favor of lengthening the preceding vowel (giving something like [ɪː] here). In some accents (mainly North American ones), the vowel in "queer" is approximately the same as the vowel in "queen," but in others, it's closer in quality to the vowel of "kin." There was an interesting question about this on ELL: -eer vowel (accent/dialect variation?) – herisson Apr 27 '16 at 3:40
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Before I clicked that link, I had never heard it pronounced "kweh-ree" or as it sounds in that video, "kw-air-es".

I have always heard and said it as "kwee-ree" or "queer-e"

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It never made sense to me to pronounce query "queer ee" . To me, the form is obviously related to the words question, inquest, querulous, and any other word I can think of that has the "que" combination followed by a consonant. All of those are pronounced with a short e. Why should query be different?

  • 1
    "query" is related to "question" and "inquest", but not to "querulous". The short e in "question" and "inquest" is (mostly) expected because the E comes before the consonant cluster "st" in these two words. But the vowel in "query" doesn't come before a consonant cluster. QUE is also pronounced with a "long e" sound in the word sequela(e). – herisson Jan 14 at 10:02
  • (At least, according to many dictionaries--other pronunciations of sequelae also seem to exist in practice, and might even be more common!) – herisson Jan 14 at 10:08
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