The question how to (correctly?) pronounce the suffix multi- in English has been discussed here several times, most helpful, I find, in "Multi-" prefix pronunciation

My question relates to that, but has a different focus:

Basically there is British pronunciation (roughly "mul-tee"), and American pronuncation (roughly "mul-tie"), the British version of corse closer to the original Latin word, the US-American version as a person from there would read it aloud naturally if not knowing about its history and not being acoustically accustomed to the other form.

Question now: as the general use in the US seems to be "mul-tie", are there anyway places in society where saying "mul-tee" would be more appropriate, e.g. because you display some level of consciousness about language, awareness about the roots of words, honouring e.g. academic culture of speaking or whatever? For example, by saying "mul-tie" would you indicate that formal education is not that much your cup of tee, whereas by saying "mul-tee" you would indicate (perhaps to certain people) that you distinguish yourself from those who say the latter?

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    I am American and I disagree wholeheartedly that every American says: mul-tie. I say multee and no one looks at me as if I were crazy or British. I also don't know anyone who would even say: the mul-tieverse for the multiverse. That said, one might hear in the states: mul-tie lingual or mul-tee lingual. And either is fine.
    – Lambie
    Jun 1, 2018 at 16:45
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    My mother once got after a headmaster for comparing me to a dog....
    – Lambie
    Jun 1, 2018 at 17:04
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    @GEdgar: No. Every one is different and has different distribution and affordances. This is the case for every word in every language; nothing to see here folks. Move along, please. Jun 1, 2018 at 19:16
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    @JohnLawler I think it would merit "vote to close" or a relevant comment. Why be so mean?
    – Lambie
    Jun 1, 2018 at 19:40
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    @JohnLawler If I understand you correctly you want to say that doing research on the distribution of pronunciation varaties in different milieux in a society tends to be a racist enterprise? And you think it is a bad thing to correlate ways of pronunciation with information the recipient takes from this (correctly or mistakenly) on certain social characteristics of the speaker? Jun 3, 2018 at 9:16

1 Answer 1


American Pronunciation

The prefixes anti-, multi- and semi- are pronounced by some Americans with the diphthong long i sound, though not necessarily in every environment. As a woman from Indianapolis writes:

[I]t really can be pronounced either way. It depends on the individual and even sometimes on the particular word multi- is being used with. I, for example, would almost always say "mul-tie" before -talented but I'd say "mul-tee" before -task, -purpose, -lateral, -color...most things, really. There's just the occasional word that, for some reason, "mul-tie" feels most natural with. And the same goes for sem-ee/sem-eye, too.

And actually, when it comes to semi-final, I'm pretty sure I say it both ways.

These alternate pronunciations are subject neither to a regional dialect nor, as you suggest, the sociolect of the Great Unwashed unschooled in the nuances of Latin. Though not necessarily the choice of a majority of American speakers, the long i alternates are not stigmatized, unlike, say, pronouncing Italian with an “eye,” despite two presidents from the South, Carter and G. W. Bush, having pronounced it that way.

The Kenyon-Knott Pronouncing Dictionary of American English, 1949, does not recognize an alternative “eye” pronunciation of multi-, though it does for anti-. The prefix semi- does not have its own entry, but in all words listed with the prefix, only semiofficial has an /ɪ/, not an /i/, because of the following vowel; the rest have a schwa.

While Merriam-Webster — in their own curious take on the IPA — gives the pronunciation /ˌməl-ti/ to the prefix alone, it lists the alternative for multilateral /ˌməl-tē-ˈla-t(ə-)rəl , -ˌtī-/. The prefix semi- has three pronunciations, /ˌse-mē , -ˌmī , -mi/, as does anti-, /ˌan-ˌtī , ˌan-tē also ˌan-ti before consonsants/, both including the “eye.” Semifinal is given all three pronunciations: /ˌse-mē-ˈfī-nᵊl , ˌse-ˌmī- , -mi-/.


The diphthong in these alternative pronunciations arises in analogy to the way English adopts whole words, rather than prefixes, from Latin. The plurals of second declension nouns like alumni or participles as in corpus delecti are routinely pronounced with a final /aɪ̯/ in all varieties of English, a pronunciation that surely never crossed Cicero’s lips. Given that these three prefixes — especially anti- — are still productive in English, then it’s hardly surprising that some speakers of American English will not parse them as prefixes, but as constituent elements in a compound. This means that someone who would never dream of, say, pronouncing antidote with a diphthong, could easily say anti-abortion with an “eye.”

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    Thank you for the informed and informative answer. My conclusion is, that everybody can more or less do what she or he wants, and so for my own practice I will tend to stick rather to mul-tee, as well as se-mee, an-tee, perhaps with the one or other not necessarily consequent exception. - Intersting would be, however, to have also an informed opinion from Great Britain and Australia. Jun 2, 2018 at 18:40

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