Why is Exodus pronounced like "Exidus"? Is there any historical reason for the "O" to be silent and "i" pronounced instead?

I understand from the comments that it is not "I", but a case of " O" not stressed. So to rephrase, how is this different from "exotic"?

As a foreign language speaker, I am interested to know if there are similar words like this?

Somehow Exodus doesn't fit with the generic pattern, I tend to say it with a stressed "O".

  • 4
    Welcome to EL&U. Not everyone pronounces exodus the same, and no one I know pronounces it with an i (but with a schwa), and English spelling is only loosely tied to English pronunciation. To attract a good answer, then, you should edit your post to provide additional evidence for your premise and demonstrate some initial research into the matter. I encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    Dec 9, 2016 at 1:21
  • 1
    I've always heard it pronounced with an "o" sound, though it's a "short o", sounding kind of like "uh". This pronunciation is consistent with "standard" phonetic pronunciation.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 9, 2016 at 2:28
  • There may be a slight difference between the way I pronounce the o in Exodus and the way I pronounce the o in exothermic or exoskeleton, but it isn't large. I'm inclined to vote to close this question because it treats the pronunciation of Exodus as though it were irregular without considering whether other, similar words may follow the same basic pattern of pronunciation.
    – Sven Yargs
    Dec 9, 2016 at 2:57
  • 4
    Exodus does not have a stress on the second syllable, but only on the first. Exotic is different because it has a stress on the second syllable. Stress is phonemic in English, and does weird things when it’s absent.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2016 at 3:07
  • I suppose the OP is referring to the Jamaican "exidas" pronunciation as demonstrated e.g. by Bob Marley ("movement of Jah people").
    – tripleee
    Dec 9, 2016 at 5:40

2 Answers 2


Unstressed vowels in English tend to be reduced

Exodus differs from exotic because exodus is stressed on the first syllable, while exotic is stressed on the second. Unfortunately, there is no single simple rule for figuring out the placement of stress in a word from its spelling in English. (There are a number of more-or-less reliable conditional rules of varying usefulness; for example, words that end in the suffix -ic, such as exotic, tend to be stressed on the second-to-last syllable, although there are exceptions). The easiest, and in many cases the only way to know the stress pattern of an unfamiliar English word is to look up the pronunciation in a dictionary.

Unstressed vowels in English often change due to the process of vowel reduction. So while the letter "o" usually corresponds in stressed syllables to the phoneme "short o" (written in IPA as /ɒ/ for British English, or as /ɑ/ for American English) or the phoneme "long o" (written in IPA as /əʊ/ for British English, or as /oʊ/ for American English), it often corresponds in unstressed syllables to the reduced vowel "schwa" (/ə/). As Sven Yargs mentions, this is not at all irregular; it's quite common. It's important for foreign learners of English to be accustomed to pronouncing the schwa sound if they want to sound like native speakers.

There are many words where "o" is pronounced like this. Another example might be Methodist, pronounced /ˈmɛθədɪst/.

Reduced vowels in English may sometimes sound like "i"

Speakers with the so-called "weak vowel merger" or "rabbit-abbot merger" conflate the reduced vowel /ə/ with the vowel /ɪ/ (the vowel in words like "kid") in unstressed syllables. (For speakers without the merger, "rabbit" ends in /ɪt/ and "abbot" ends in /ət/.)

According to "The phonetics of schwa vowels", by Edward Flemming, non-word-final schwa (at least for speakers with the weak vowel merger) is phonetically similar to stressed /ɪ/ (the vowel in words like "kid") in that it is generally a (relatively) high vowel. What this means is maybe best illustrated by a chart:

schwa chart

This is a vowel chart from Flemming, page 3 (with my annotations on the right). Flemming studied female American English speakers. Vowels near the top are "higher", vowels near the left are "fronter" than the others. The empty white squares are samples of the "schwa" sound in non-word-final position, plotted based on certain measured frequencies that are important for speech perception. You can see that they overlap on the left with the mean position of the /ɪ/ sound. There would be even more overlap if Flemming had plotted the entire range of /ɪ/, rather than just the mean.

Fleming also mentions that the pronunciation of the schwa vowel, especially its "frontness" or "backness" (positioning left or right respectively on the chart), depends a lot on the surrounding consonants and nearby vowels. In "Exodus", the flanking consonants are /s/ and /d/, which seem to be less likely to cause vowel backing and lowering than labial consonants like /b/ and /p/. The preceding vowel is /ɛ/, which is a front vowel. The following vowel is another schwa. So it seems quite likely that the schwa in the second syllable would be realized at about the same height as /ɪ/, and fairly likely that it would be realized with comparable frontness.

  • 1
    You’re using phonemic slashes for things like /əʊ/ and /oʊ/, but those are not distinct phonemes as no minimal pair exists where those contrast. Those are just allophones of tense /o/, [əʊ] and [oʊ]. Phonemically “short o” is simply the lax /ɔ/ while “long o” is simply the tense /o/. I feel we sometimes err too far on the site of phussy phonetics that just confuse non-specialists, and that the phonemes given in the link are what we should instead focus on, since they actually have demonstrable meaning through minimal pairs.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2016 at 3:47
  • @tchrist: I'm using "short o" in the grammar-school sense "the vowel represented by the letter 'o' in words like 'dot', contrasting with the 'long o' in words like 'dote'". The phonemic slashes are because I am referring to the phonemes /əʊ/ and /oʊ/, the first being a British English phoneme and the second being an American English phoneme--I hope the edits make it clearer. Since I don't know what variety of English the OP is learning, I wanted to list all of the common ways of transcribing the relevant phonemes.
    – herisson
    Dec 9, 2016 at 3:51

The word exodus comes to us from the Greek εξοδος, literally a going out. The English word is a transliteration of the Greek into the Roman alphabet. The third letter in the Greek is an omicron, or "short-o", and its counterpart "o" is what you hear in the English pronunciation, usually as the unstressed vowel sound schwa (ə, in the IPA).

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