Are the words "Aural" and "Oral" usually pronounced the same? Does it vary by dialect? Are there strategies that people use to differentiate them when listening to spoken English?

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    What does your dictionary say? Does it give the same IPA transcription for both?
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 12:35
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    I pronounce them with an A and O respectively, but it would be hard for a third party to clearly distinguish one from the other in a word stream. Webster's and Oxford give the same pronunciation for both, which I find a bit odd.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 13:10
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    In American English, as given in Kenyon and Knott, both are pronounced /'ɔrəl/, and in addition, oral may also be pronounced /'orəl/ -- if, of course, tense and lax vowels are not neutralized before /r/, the way they are in most rhotic American lects. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 23:30
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    I have the cot-caught merger, and use the cot vowel for aural and the force vowel with oral. That may be because I learned them from reading rather than hearing, however.
    – choster
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 3:09
  • @HotLicks What vowels exactly do you mean by that? Are you saying you pronounce aural with the same vowel as father? Or like Harold without the h and d? Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 22:01

5 Answers 5


Are the words "Aural" and "Oral" usually pronounced the same?


Does it vary by dialect?

Judging by the answers and comments here, they do do. That said, these differences appear to be idiosyncratic rather than by accent. The OED, whose IPA I have used below, suggests that in other accents (AE) the pronunciation of both words is as homonyms

Are there strategies that people use to differentiate them when listening to spoken English?

Yes. They include context. If you are deaf and go for an aural examination, it is clear what is meant as nobody is going to look in your mouth – likewise the dentist is not going to look in your ear.

I came across the difference in school when aural and oral exams were announced.

Oral was always pronounced oral /ˈɔːrəl/ as this was the commonest type and the default.

Purely to emphasise the difference where context was lacking, aural was occasionally [mis]pronounced owr’l /aʊrəl/ but, in deference to the strange pronunciation, the speaker would often point to their ear.

As far as examinations were concerned, quite early on, the phrase “[aural] comprehension exams” took the place of aural exams – and then the word “aural” was abandoned, and then the oral exam became "the spoken exam".

My accent is East Midlands with influences of Yorkshire moderated with some RP and I can detect no difference between oral and aural when I speak and when I listen to other people - all rhyme with choral /ˈkɔːrəl/ but not coral /ˈkɒrəl/.


Aural and oral are “supposed” to be pronounced the same in almost all accents of English (the exception would be accents without the “north-force merger”). Most dictionaries do not give distinct pronunciations for these two words. Although it's not unheard of for people to pronounce them differently, distinguishing them by sound usually involves the use of some pronunciation that could be considered a “mispronunciation”.

Aural has the long north vowel as the outcome of the thought vowel before /r/

Words spelled with "au" followed by "r" are not that common, so it's a little hard to describe their pronunciations in terms of a general rule. But aura, dinosaur, Minotaur, centaur, thesaurus, tyrannosaurus are other words where "aur" is standardly pronounced as the vowel found in north.

Laurel has a pronunciation with the "short o" vowel in British English, /ˈlɒrəl/, which can be considered irregular. (A few words spelled with au before another consonant also have irregular pronunciations with "short o" in British English, such as sausage /ˈsɒsɪdʒ/.)

As mentioned in David Robinson’s and Greybeard's answers, aural is sometimes pronounced with the sour diphthong. The phonetician John Wells made a blog post mentioning the "ˈaʊrəl" pronunciation of aural, and the comments below it have some more discussion: "trauma", John Wells's Phonetic Blog.

Anecdotally, for some American English speakers it is possible to pronounce aural with the vowel of caught (i.e. pronouncing the first syllable like the word "awe"), contrasting with the vowel in oral. See the forum posts here: http://www.verduria.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=73&start=200 as well the comments left beneath your question by Hot Licks and choster. For a speaker who merges cot and caught as an unrounded vowel, this could be aural [ɑrəl] vs. oral [orəl], or for a speaker who has the north-force merger but no unrounding of the vowel in caught, this could be aural [ɔrəl] vs. oral [orəl].

Oral has the long force vowel as the outcome of the "long o" vowel before /r/

Oral is an -al adjective, a class of words that come from Latin and that generally are pronounced in a way consistent with the "traditional English pronunciation of Latin words". In the case of oral, the relevant part of the traditional Latin pronunciation rules is a rule saying that a vowel letter takes its "long" pronunciation when it comes in the second-to-last syllable of a word and is followed by only a single consonant letter. Since the O in "oral" meets both of these criteria, it is regular for it to be pronounced as a "long o" sound, which before a /r/ is normally realized as the force vowel.

There are some exceptions to the traditional pronunciation rules: the most relevant one is moral, which British English speakers pronounce as /ˈmɒrəl/, with a "short o" sound. (Coral also has a "short o" in British English pronunciation, but it is not an -al adjective.)

Oral doesn't seem to be a well-established exception, but it sounds like a few British English speakers make it /ɒrəl/, rhyming with moral and coral. Aside from Tony Mountifield's answer, which seems to be saying this, the Teflpedia article "Pronunciation exercises: /ɒrV/ vs /ɔːrV/" points out that the Collins Dictionary entry for "oral in British" lists the variant pronunciation /ˈɒrəl/ after /ˈɔːrəl/.

  • It's hard to take your Teflpedia article seriously when they purport that Americans have the same vowel in all of thought, cloth, north, force. Rather, they're in pairs, with the former pair sharing lax /ɔ/ and the latter pair sharing tense /o/. They even admit they’re lying: “Many people pronounce /ɔː/ and /ɔːr/ with different vowels (e.g. "sauce" as [sɔs] and "source" as [sors]); however since the difference is predictable there is no problem using the same symbol in both cases (e.g. /sɔːs/ and /sɔːrs/).” That’s idiotic. Different sounds, different symbols, duh.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 23:20
  • @tchrist: They're usually predictable, except some New Yorkers pronounce aura, Laura, and possibly aural with the sauce vowel, and core, Lora, and possibly oral with the source vowel. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 23:24
  • @tchrist That's not idiotic. That's a reasonable practice, given that Teflpedia is giving phonemic pronunciations. Note that it puts them between slashes.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 6:34

Since this question asks about whether people can tell the difference I am going to answer for myself and my dialect rather than referring to a dictionary.

I speak Standard Southern English English and I pronounce them the same as far as I know. I cannot tell the difference when I hear them whatever accent the speaker has.

There is one exception and that is that I sometimes hear aural with the same vowel as now. Sometimes it is clear they are deliberately pronouncing it that way to distinguish it but sometimes I am not sure if they know how to pronounce it.

I never hear them pronounced slightly differently.

  • @andyt My mistake. I thought it was a recognized term. Research shows it isn't. I mean the standardized version of the language of southern England that is close to what is sometimes called BBC English. Standard Southern English English would be clearer so I have edited my answer, but this term is unwieldy and often avoided. The term Standard British English is sometimes used but many find that objectionable as it appears to prioritize southern England over the rest of the country and and the other nations of Britain. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 14:35
  • @DavidRobinson Whether it's clearer or more politically accurate, it is more common in language circles to say 'British English'. 'English English' sounds even more 'little England' than 'British English'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 14:52
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    Yes, @mitch, I agree I speak a dialect of BE, but the problems are with the adjectives Standard and Southern put in front of the term. People here in Scotland get offended (quite reasonably) when they hear the term British used as the adjective for England which is why I am not going to use it when describing what part of England my accent is from. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 15:06
  • @DavidRobinson You may have a very good case, I'm just pointing out that it is out of the mainstream and that others outside of Scotland might get confused at your usage.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 15:56
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    From my side of the pond, "Southern English" is the dialect whose speakers address people as "y'all" and in which "bless your heart" is a dig.
    – shoover
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 22:34

I have always lived in Southern England, and am a bit of a language pedant. I don’t know if others would consider it correct, but I always distinguish by pronouncing aural like choral, and oral like coral. I hate it that so many pronounce them both like choral. And pronouncing aural like “owral” makes it sound like a German word.

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    I find this answer to be very interesting in a slightly bewildering fashion because as far as I know, "choral" and "coral" are exact homophones; so I am very curious as to what distinction you actually make between the "-oral" parts.
    – Hellion
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 21:56
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    @Hellion Choral (being derived from chorus) has a long vowel, /ˡkɔːrəl/, while coral has a short vowel, /ˡkɔrəl ~ kɒrəl/. Well, in theory at least. Even in BrE, many people pronounce them the same (like aural and oral). The distinction between /ɒ/ and /ɔː/ is disappearing before /r/. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 22:07
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Is the distinction as a whole really disappearing? I hadn't heard of that: although I had heard that certain words with ambiguous spellings, like florist, may show variation, I thought that words like horrid, horrible, sorry, sorrel, borrow, sorrow, torrent were firmly /ɒ/-only words in British English, and words like story, gory, glory, adorable were firmly /ɔː/-only words.
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 22:15
  • @sumelic I think the distinction is on its way out, at least among many younger speakers. An at least partial merger of the two, with non-distinctive vacillation in vowel length and often a complete merger of vowel quality, seems anecdotally to be very common in younger speakers; less so in older speakers. Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 22:19
  • @JanusBahsJacquet: Oh, which direction is the neutralized quality? Would speakers with an indistinct or merged quality use a vowel in sorrow, sorry, horrible that is more [o]-like than the vowel in lot, or a vowel in gory, glory, adorable that is more [ɔ~ɒ]-like than the vowel in gore or adore (which I understand to be pronounced as [oː] by many southern British speakers)?
    – herisson
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 22:24

I’d say that in America they’d most likely be pronounced the same, whereas in England the difference is more readily apparent to the person hearing this. Certainly, as one from Southern England I’d say this is true, as I believe some understanding is lost when not making clear the difference. I feel it (pronouncing them the same) is effectively bastardizing the language.

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    It would help if you actually told us what the difference between them is for you. British dictionaries say they're pronounced the same. Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 14:48

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