When I try Google, it says 5 syllables (and so do most top result websites): lab·o·ra·to·ry (the dots do not matter, it explicitly states that there are 5 syllables).

However, the pronunciation as well as its sound sound like 4 to me: /ˈlabrəˌtôrē/ (You can try the sound from Google).

How exactly do you pronounce it? How many syllables are there? If 5, why is it 5 when I can only hear 4?

  • Dictionaries often use raised dots to show where a word can be hyphenated, not to tell you exactly how many syllables you should use when you pronounce the word. These things are related, but not the same. See e.g. the following question: Different syllabic boundaries in various dictionaries?
    – herisson
    Nov 15, 2017 at 1:45
  • 1
    Sorry will add to my question to clarify. My main question is, not the dot, but, all of them say 5 syllables. But when I hear the speaking pronunciation, I can only hear 4 (without the o between lab and ra).
    – Luke Vo
    Nov 15, 2017 at 1:47
  • Nvm, sorry I didn't read the answer before previous comment.
    – Luke Vo
    Nov 15, 2017 at 1:50
  • 2
    In the US I have heard "labratory." But to tell you the truth it sounds pretentious in the US no matter how you pronounce it. 99% of the time the word is pronounced "lab." Nov 15, 2017 at 3:52

2 Answers 2


The transcription /ˈlabrəˌtôrē/ is correct (for American English; and be aware that it is a non-IPA transcription), and you have interpreted it and the recording correctly. The word is often pronounced with four syllables. Unstressed syllables in certain contexts are often dropped from the middle of words.

A five-syllable pronunciation, /ˈlabərəˌtôrē/, seems theoretically possible to me, because of the spelling, but I don't know if I've ever heard it used. It is not common, and might sound over-enunciated.

There are many other examples of words that can elide unstressed vowels after stressed syllables and before resonant consonants, like family and chocolate.

In British English, the word usually is pronounced with a different stress pattern and elision affects a different vowel. The Oxford English Dictionary gives "/ləˈbɒrət(ə)ri/", which as you can see may (and generally does) elide the vowel before the second /r/.

This is related to a more general pattern where American English speakers have secondary stress on the penult syllable of words ending in -ary and -ory, and some words ending in -ery (like cemetery) while British English speakers do not have secondary stress here, and so can elide these vowels (leading to pronunciations like diction'ry, regulat'ry, cemet'ry).


LA-BO-RA-TOR-Y is how its pronounced here, but it might be different for you as you are in the US. I asked a couple of my classmates and they all said it was LA-BO-RA-TOR-Y but I could be wrong.

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