The word expanse in the Merriam Webster dictionary has this IPA transcription.


Does the () mean that the t is optional, or that it's very lightly pronounced? It would seem more logical that the parentheses indicate that it's optional, yet when I find the word in online recordings with a t, there is only vague traces of it.

  • The parenthesis is there also for the word "world", the Merriam Webster IPA is /ˈwər(-ə)ld/
    – Gelb
    Aug 6, 2016 at 17:04
  • Guide to linguistic Conventions -Brackets- languagegeek.com/roman/conventions.html
    – user66974
    Aug 6, 2016 at 17:39
  • The question could be whether it means optional in the sense of: in free variation among the population, indicative of a particular subpopulation not specified, its articulation is not perceptible so it doesn't matter, or some thing else.
    – Mitch
    Aug 6, 2016 at 20:29
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is predicated on a misconception. Neither do the conventions of individual dictionaries comprise a suitable topic for ELU. Aug 6, 2016 at 22:43

1 Answer 1


Merriam-Webster does not actually use IPA (in IPA "expanse" is standardly transcribed as /ɪkˈspæns/, although /ɪkˈspans/ is another possible representation). Parentheses are not an official part of regular IPA. In this context, they indicate "optional" sounds, as described in this "Guide to Pronunciation" from one of Merriam-Webster's dictionaries. Often the sounds are optional because the phonetic context makes it hard to hear the difference between the alternative pronunciations.

There is a good explanation of the optional [t] in the answers to the following question: Should the IPA of the word “conscious” be /ˈkɑːnʃəs/ or /ˈkɑːntʃəs/?

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