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'Cursed' can be pronouced '/kɜːrst/' or '/ˈkɜːrsɪd/'. As far as I am aware, when used as the past tense of the verb 'to curse' it is always the former ('He stubbed his toe and cursed'). When used as an adjective the former is used for the predicative ('This house is cursed') but either can be used for the attributive ('This cursed house'); to me , as a native English speaker, /ˈkɜːrsɪd/ has an old-fashioned feel; most of the examples I can think of are Shakespearean or religious. When should each of these pronunciations be used for 'cursed' as an attributive adjective? Nowadays, is /ˈkɜːrsɪd/ simply used when someone wants something to sound dramatic and portentous, or is there more to it than that?

The OED, Cambridge and Merriam-Webster definitions each list both pronunciations but don't provide guidance on when to use each; the Oxford Learner's Dictionary, interestingly, claims the first pronunciation is used when something is literally under a curse, while the second is for metaphorical usage (describing something unpleasant or annoying). This would be a nice straightforward rule but it doesn't sound correct to me.

(This question was prompted by one over on 'Science Fiction and Fantasy' about how to pronounce 'The Cursed Child').

  • I think you are right that /kɜːrsɪd/ is almost never used as a verb anymore, although it might be used in contemporary poetry for metrical purposes. I can easily imagine it being used in both predicative and attributive positions, though, although I agree with you that it seems more commonly to occur in attributive positions (when used predicatively, the trisyllable /a kur sid/ seems more common). People use it to add color and an archaic savor. – GoldenGremlin Aug 2 '16 at 19:57
  • If I was cursing it myself when making the pronouncement I would pronounce it '/ˈkɜːrsɪd/': “I can’t find anything in this curs-ed house.”. But if I believed it to have been cursed by someone else and I am just acknowledging it I would use /kɜːrst/': I will not stay overnight in this cursed house.”. Of course I could always add my own curse to it: “I will not stay overnight in this curs-ed house.” – Jim Aug 2 '16 at 20:01
  • I think of /ˈkɜːrsɪd/ as mostly being used in archaic, poetic forms, where you need the extra syllable to fit the meter. – Barmar Aug 8 '16 at 18:14
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Nearly all the dictionaries only give /ˈkɜːrsɪd/ as a pronunciation associated with the metaphorical usage.

Oxford Dictionaries Online lists both pronunciations, but only gives the meaning

Used to express annoyance or irritation.

Cambridge Dictionary does the same thing:

used to describe something that is annoying to you in an angry way:

As does the American Heritage Dictionary:

So wicked and detestable as to deserve to be cursed.

The first two of these specify that cursed is an attributive adjective.

Collins Dictionary specifically notes that the pronunciation /kɜːʳsɪd/ is associated with sense (3):

Cursed is used by some people to emphasize what they are saying, especially when they are angry.

This leaves Merriam-Webster as the one dictionary that gives both pronunciations, both meanings, and no usage guidance.

So on the whole, the dictionaries agree that the two-syllable pronunciation should only be used for the metaphorical meaning.

Do people actually use the /ˈkɜːrsɪd/ pronunciation only for this meaning? I suspect many do. I also suspect many people don't use this pronunciation at all, and for some of these people, /ˈkɜːrsɪd/ sounds like a pronunciation with an old-fashioned feel which might seem appropriate for Harry Potter, for either meanings.

Which meaning was intended by the writers of the play? Since I haven't read it, I can't say. But maybe both.

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The answer above is no doubt technically sound and I would not argue with it.

However, as an English person with a love of our language, I think the historical "feel" mentioned above, is actually rather important if we're going to keep the richnesses of our language.

This question has arisen (I think) because of the use of the phrase as a title in the Harry Potter series, which of course does have a somewhat 'Gothic' context at least in the sense of the school setting.

I feel certain that the author of that, when choosing the title, would have wanted us to say "....curs-ed child.." not cursed: the usage implies a sense of alarm or grievance or fear, which "..cursed.." simply does not have.

"..Curs-ed" sounds like an active, troubling description (adjective); while "..cursed.." is a bland, factual qualifier.

These things not always defined by rules I think: the feel of the language is important. I'd bet, when 'Harry Potter and the Curs-ed Child" was read out at an award ceremony just as "..cursed child" (and subsequently by the incredibly lazy BBC also), the author will have frowned in dissapointment.

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