Why "bu" in burial is not pronounced as "bu" in burrow? Is there a rule behind it, or it's just random?

  • 5
    Oh, in my accent it does rhyme with burrow...
    – Spagirl
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 19:20
  • 3
    Note that for most Americans, burial does not have the /ɛ/ vowel of DRESS but rather the /e/ vowel of FACE.
    – tchrist
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 19:24
  • Here's a similar/related question for busy.
    – Řídící
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 19:44
  • 4
    @tchrist: For most Americans, the /ɛ/ vowel of DRESS and the /e/ of FACE are merged when they come before an /r/, and can be pronounced with either one, or something in between, depending on your dialect. I certainly pronounce bury with the vowel of DRESS. Oxford American Dictionary agrees with me (but they're based in England; what do they know?) Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 21:51
  • 2
    Never make assumptions about English pronunciation. Someone will always prove you wrong.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


Word History: Why does bury rhyme with berry and not with jury? The answer goes back to early English times. The late Old English form of the verb bury was byrgan, pronounced approximately (bür′yən). During Middle English times this (ü) sound changed, but with different results in different regions of England: to (o͝o) as in put in the Midlands, to (ĭ) as in pit in southern England, or to (ĕ) as in pet in southeast England. London is located in the East Midlands, but because of its central location and its status as the capital, its East Midlands dialect was influenced by southern (Saxon) and southeastern (Kentish) dialects. The normal East Midlands development of (ü) was (o͝o), spelled u. Because scribes from the East Midlands pronounced the word with this vowel they tended to spell the word with a u, and this spelling became standard when spellings were fixed after the introduction of printing. The word's pronunciation, however, is southeastern. Bury is the only word in Modern English with a Midlands spelling and a southeastern pronunciation. Similarly, the word busy, from Old English bysig, bisig, and its verb bysgian, bisgian, "to employ," is spelled with the East Midlands dialect u, but pronounced with the southern (Saxon) development of (ü), (ĭ)


  • "London is located in the East Midlands," I don't know if that was true in Middle English times (though I doubt the term East Midlands even existed then - more likely it was called Mercia) but it certainly isn't true now. London is sandwiched between the South East, and the East of England (often referred to by its older name of East Anglia, and not the same as the East Midlands region) See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regions_of_England for a map.
    – alephzero
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 1:55
  • @alephzero You raise a seemingly fair point. I'm merely referencing in this answer and I'm not too confident about correcting it.
    – Řídící
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 18:00
  • @alephzero: After the Middle English period, London English became heavily influenced by East Anglian dialect (notably in the use of <i>-(e)s</i> instead of <i>-eth</i>, but when /y/ was shifting to other vowels that had not yet happened.
    – John Cowan
    Commented Jan 22, 2021 at 3:00

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