As a non-native speaker, I often hear the word ‘been’ pronounced as /bɪn/ instead /biːn/ as I expect from the double ‘ee’.

The phonetic transcritpion in the MacMillan dictionary is /biːn/ for the British entry, but in the American entry is /bɪn/. Nonetheless, when I heard that word pronounced in British English in sentences such as ‘I could've been…’ or ‘I've been…’, it sounds to me as /bɪn/.

  • It's this the correct way to pronunce it?
  • It's always in this way or there are cases or exceptions?
  • Does it happen the same in other verbs like ‘seen’?, e.g. ‘I've seen things’.
  • 2
    I think you'll find that this is highly dialectical, even within a major dialect of English (e.g. UK English); where in the UK you were born and raised will determine how you say the word. Here in prairie Canada, the "bin" pronunciation is very common (it's how I say it) and we certainly do not pronounce "seen" that way. – Jim MacKenzie Dec 19 '17 at 15:10
  • Not only that, but individuals vary in how tense the vowel is, and how long it's held, often producing different pronunciations under different conditions (time of day, stress level, tiredness, irritation, etc.). So whatever it says in the dictionary, just treat that as a conductor's A; everybody varies from it in practice. – John Lawler Dec 19 '17 at 15:59

The /bɪn/ pronunciation for "been" is I believe quite old. The Oxford English Dictionary says

The standard form been derives from the latter, and, in unstressed position, develops a weak pronunciation with shortened vowel in early modern English (continued as /bɪn/ and, in a less reduced form, as U.S. English /bɛn/).

Also, it indicates that spellings like "binne" and "bin" have been used as far back as the 16th century.

Even though "ee" is the standard spelling in present-day English, I don't think that the pronunciation with /ɪ/ is particularly stigmatized by most speakers, although I'm an American English speaker so it might have connotations that I am unaware of in British English.

For me, there are no exceptions: "been" is always pronounced /bɪn/, even when it is strongly accented for emphasis.

I don't pronounce "seen" as /sɪn/, and I can't think of any other word where I pronounce "een" as /ɪn/. However JeffUK pointed out in a comment that in some British English dialects, it is pronounced that way, particularly in the East Anglian and Norfolk accents. (30 seconds into this YouTube video)

The past participle of "do", "done", shows historical shortening of a different vowel: as far as I know, in standard British and American English, the only pronunciation that exists for this word is /dʌn/, or in weak contexts possibly /dən/.

The past participle of "go", "gone", also shows shortening, although in American English the quality is variable, and may be either /ɔ/ or /ɑ/.

The strong past tense (in modern English also used as a past participle) of "shine", "shone", is pronounced with shortened /ɒ/ in British English, but often pronounced with long /oʊ/ in American English.

  • "I don't pronounce "seen" as /sɪn/" A lot of regional dialects in the UK would.. esp. East Anglian/ Norfolk. (youtube.com/watch?v=d2bHBmXXdJo 30 seconds) – JeffUK Dec 19 '17 at 19:58
  • I've suggested it as an edit to yours, it's preferred to have one complete answer. – JeffUK Dec 20 '17 at 9:16
  • "been" in American English can also be pronounced as /bən/ which in practice is just /bn/. – David Haim Dec 20 '17 at 10:23
  • @DavidHaim: That sounds right. I think it is an example of the weak vowel merger, whereby unstressed /ɪ/ merges with non-word-final /ə/. – sumelic Dec 21 '17 at 2:45

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