How should hypokeimenon be pronounced?

P.S. For the curious, a sci-fi book I'm reading used several words I did not know. When I looked them up, I also ran across hypokeimenon and wondered about it.

  • supernal
  • dolose
  • haecceity
  • morological
  • accipitrine
  • limbus
  • Odobenus rosmarus

These last six were within two pages. I only knew anything about one of them.

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    Is it a new pokemon? – stacker Oct 1 '10 at 23:06
  • 1
    @stacker: It's one with hyper powers, apparently. – oosterwal Feb 19 '11 at 1:39
  • Was this by chance a book written by Gene Wolfe? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 9 '15 at 0:26
  • @Cerberus I think it was a book by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. – ErikE Jul 9 '15 at 0:29
  • @ErikE: Ah, Modesitt! I read those long ago, but I don't remember in which language. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 9 '15 at 2:58

The word is Greek in origin, used by Aristotle to describe "something which can be predicated by other things, but cannot be a predicate of others". To be certain of the correct pronunciation, we would have to consult someone who speaks native ancient Greek, which may be difficult.

The best reference that I could find was this video of a Greek speaker discussing metaphysics.

The gentleman at this link (a male from Netherlands) pronounces it something like HAY-PO-KAAAY-MEN-ON, drawing out the AA sound between hypok and menon.

As a native English speaker, my first instinct is to pronounce it HIGH-PO-KAY-MEN-ON. I would treat the hypo prefix as identical in sound to its use in "hypodermic" or "hypoallergenic". I am less certain about the kei portion, but KAY sounds more correct than KEE. To my eye, the final menon could only be pronounced MEN-ON. Again, this is only my interpretation.

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    In other words: [ˌhɑɪ poʊ ˈkeɪ mən ɒn] (where the main stress is on [keɪ], which would also give it the "drawn out" length you describe). – Kosmonaut Oct 2 '10 at 3:37
  • Thank you! For some reason it didn't occur to me to do searches on the greek word rather than the English one. Also, to my ear, the male from the Netherlenads says "HOO" rather than "HAY", though the OO is inflected in some way I don't know how to describe, almost like a German umlaut U. – ErikE Oct 3 '10 at 16:48
  • @eja youtube.com/watch?v=NskAaSocM_c&t=01m23s would start the video at 1 minute 23 seconds – mplungjan Feb 1 '11 at 12:07
  • Not "something which can be predicated by other things", but rather "something of which other things can be predicated". In non-technical Greek, it just means "what lies under". – Toothrot Jan 25 '18 at 16:03

It should be /ˌhɑɪpoʊˈkaɪmənɒn/ “high-poe-KIME-uh-non".


According to Wikipedia, this word is taken from Greek ὑποκείμενον (it's actually a letter-by-letter transliteration, aside from the initial “h” which represents the Greek rough breathing mark). The pronunciation of the consonants is unproblematic.

The stress is clearly on the third-to-last syllable, as all the relevant languages involved agree on this (Greek, Latin and English). The prefix “hypo-” already has an established pronunciation in English, which I would advise using (/ˌhaɪpoʊ/, or “HIGH-poe”).

The pronunciation of the last syllable is a bit harder to determine, as the Ancient Greek neuter suffix -on is usually converted to the equivalent Latinate suffix -um in English words. (For example: bacterium, from Greek βακτήριον baktērion. Cerberus points out in a comment that the fully Latinized version of "hypokeimenon" would be hypocimenum.) However, a good analogy for the vowel sound can be found in the word automaton, from Greek αὐτόματον automaton. Some people pronounce it as /ən/ “un, while others pronounce it as ”/ɒn/ “on.”

The second-to-last syllable is unstressed, so will likely simply have a schwa sound in it, /ə/, “uh” or “ih.”

What remains to be determined is the pronunciation of the vowel in the stressed syllable. In general, the digraph “ei” in Greek-derived words, which corresponds to the Greek digraph εἰ, represents a “long i” sound (it is sometimes even interchangeable in the spelling with an “i"). Traditionally, English speakers have pronounced this as the English “long i” sound, /aɪ/, as in the words Deimos, meiosis, eidolon, or irony (from Greek εἰρωνεία eironeia). Some people might try to use a pronunciation closer to the Modern Greek, and instead use /iː/ (an “ee” sound), but this is not as common a pronunciation for this spelling pattern (although it does occur in some proper nouns, such as Cassiopeia).

Although the spelling of the stressed vowel suggests an /eɪ/ “ay” sound to the naive eye, this would be an irregular pronunciation, not in accordance with either the traditional English pronunciation or the modern Greek pronunciation. I would therefore recommend against it. However, there is one argument that could be made for it: it is closest to an early stage of what is believed to have been the Ancient Greek pronunciation of the ει in ὑποκείμενον. There is a variety of evidence that the Greek digraph ει initially represented a diphthong along the lines of /ei̯/, which later developed in Greek to a monophthong /eː/ (and in Modern Greek /i/). I think someone who used this pronunciation would be more likely to use the spelling hupokeimenon, since /u/ is likewise believed to be the earliest vowel quality for the sound represented by the letter υ in Greek (early on in most varieties of Greek, it developed to a front rounded vowel /y/ (like German ü), which lost its rounding to become Modern Greek /i/). Personally, I don't see any reason to try to approximate the Ancient Greek pronunciation of the diphthong in this particular word, since modern English pronunciation has many other significant and irremediable differences from Ancient Greek (a "proper" Ancient Greek pronunciation would use pitch accent, but English speakers naturally use stress accent, and an Ancient Greek speaker would use an unaspirated /k/, while an English speaker naturally aspirates /k/ at the start of a syllable).

So: the overall pronunciation would be /ˌhɑɪpoʊˈkaɪmənɒn/ “high-poe-KIME-uh-non”, or if you wish, /ˌhɑɪpoʊˈkiːmənɒn/ “high-poe-KEEM-uh-non.”

  • Why do you write the /k/ twice in your phonetic transcription? I don't know exactly why, but the /-kaɪmənɒn/ pronunciation seems somehow wrong to me. Possibly something about it only being unstressed ει that yields /aɪ/ in non-proper names? At any rate, I would definitely go with /ˌhaɪpəʊˈkiːmənɒn/ as the safer bet. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 8 '15 at 20:17
  • I think it's just an orthographic illusion. Not too many words in English have ei = /aɪ/, so people aren't used to it. But the rules for pronouncing words from Greek are just a bit odd. To me, the pronunciation /kæˈlaɪəpi/ for "Calliope" seems wrong, but it's right nonetheless. I have no idea why a rule like ει = /aɪ/ only in unstressed syllables of non-proper names would exist, and I don't think it does. Of course, there doesn't have to be a rule. Not all words are pronounced according to rules. But for words like this, that people learn by reading, I think pronunciation rules are useful. – herisson Jul 8 '15 at 20:26
  • Here's an example of ει = /aɪ/ in a stressed syllable of a non-proper noun: english.stackexchange.com/questions/108499/… – herisson Jul 8 '15 at 20:31
  • Wow. Well, I have to admit, that's a new one for me. I've always pronounced the name /ˌkæliˈəʊpiː/. I guess maybe it's just a subconscious rule that I've developed for myself (or, equally likely, the actual rule is something completely different and I misderived it based on the examples I could think of off the top of my head). Edit: Good point about deictic, that is definitely /aɪ/ for me too. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 8 '15 at 20:31
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    The problem is that some recent borrowings or constructions from Greek have violated the rules that have been used for two millennia to translitterate Greek into languages using the Latin alphabet, like this word. It should probably be spelled hypocimenum. Cf. the old word cimeliarch, also from keimai. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 8 '15 at 23:49

In case anyone bumps into this question:

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    English pronunciation is generally closer to Ancient Greek than modern, and not very close to either. – Tim Lymington supports Monica Jun 11 '12 at 17:53
  • That video is no longer available, if you have a different resource to offer. – ErikE Jan 25 '18 at 22:43

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