I'd like to know why 'naive' is pronounced ny-eve but is spelt naive. Where is the ny part coming from? 'na-' isn't pronounced ny, and if the ny part is nai-, then there is only -ve left. This is about pronunciation

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    The pronunciation of a word isn't dictated by its spelling. In English, it's better to think of spelling as a clue about the word's pronunciation, rather than as a hard-and-fast rule. – Mark Beadles Dec 20 '18 at 15:49
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    @Lordology Nah. Cholmondeley is odd. Taliaferro is odd. Trottiscliffe is odd. Naive is pretty regular. – choster Dec 20 '18 at 15:59
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    @Lordology Choster was giving you examples where spelling and pronunciation differ far more widely than in 'naive'. Cholmondeley - Chumley, Taliaferro - Toliver and Trottiscliffe - Trosley. However, they are all either surnames or Placenames and so can perhaps be expected to be on the eccentric side. – Spagirl Dec 20 '18 at 16:21
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    Does anyone else pronounce it nah-EVE? – KarlG Dec 20 '18 at 19:11
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    Say nah-eve slowly. Then start saying it faster and faster. – Kevin Dec 20 '18 at 19:52

French naïf/naïve does not have a falling diphthong, so its pronunciation wouldn't explain the use of /aɪ/ in English.

English doesn't have that many words where /ɑ/ comes directly before another vowel, especially not when the /ɑ/ is in a "weak" position (unstressed, or at least directly before another vowel with a higher level of stress). Words with /aɪ/ before a stressed vowel are a bit more common; e.g. biography, diameter.

The replacement of /ɑ/ with /aɪ/ is presumably an assimilation to the /i/ in the next syllable. In other contexts, other vowels may turn into diphthongs before a palatal glide /j/ in the following syllable: for example, lawyer has come to be pronounced with the /ɔɪ/ diphthong in the first syllable for many people, and words like arroyo, Loyola, Toyota likewise have /ɔɪ/ instead of /o/ as a syllable nucleus.

Something else that might be relevant is that apparently, people once used the pronunciation "/neɪˈiːv/", with an anglicized "long a" value for the first vowel. This might have made it easier for the diphthong /aɪ/ to eventually become established. Other words spelled with "a" that had variants with /eɪ/ and that are now often pronounced with /aɪ/ (rather than ɑ) in its place are Naomi and Israel. Dais also can have either /eɪ/ or /aɪ/ in the first syllable (the French source word was a monosyllable, but the English pronunciation has deviated in syllable count).


It's of French origin, if that helps. I don't speak French myself.

Word Origin for naive

C7: from French, feminine of naïf, from Old French naif native, spontaneous, from Latin nātīvus native , from nasci to be born

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins

Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for naive


1650s, "natural, simple, artless," from French naïve , fem. of naïf , from Old French naif "naive, natural, genuine; just born; foolish, innocent; unspoiled, unworked" (13c.),

from Latin nativus "not artificial," also "native, rustic," literally "born, innate, natural" (see native (adj.)). Related: Naively .

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

So I'm surprised it doesn't end with -eoux :)

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    It is also noteworthy that the word is often - in English, not French - written with a dieresis over the i (naïve) to indicate that the two vowels are to be pronounced separately, not as a diphthong. – Jeff Zeitlin Dec 20 '18 at 16:16
  • Is there a way to do that on a standard keyboard? – CrossRoads Dec 20 '18 at 16:32
  • Not on an EN-US or EN-UK standard keyboard, but I believe EN-CA can do it, most European language keyboards can, and US-International can. I use US-International routinely because I need to do multilingual word processing. – Jeff Zeitlin Dec 20 '18 at 16:39
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    @CrossRoads See at SU How do I type accented character in Windows? and on a Mac. – choster Dec 20 '18 at 18:01

That's why the word is really naïve. So there are in effect two i's.

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    Could you back this up with any cited sources? – Lordology Dec 20 '18 at 16:42
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    The diaeresis (two dots) over the ï doesn't indicate two i's; it indicates that the i should be pronounced as a separate vowel, and not as an "ai" diphthong. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaeresis_(diacritic). So it's na-ive, and not naive. – Juhasz Dec 20 '18 at 17:21
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    As another example, the word "reentry" is properly spelled as "reëntry." That doesn't indicate that there's "three e's" in the word, it indicates that you pronounce it re-en-try rather than reen-try. – John Montgomery Dec 20 '18 at 19:46
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    I think the typographical convention (of using a diaeresis to indicate a vowel pronounced separately) is and old one, and rarely used these days; ‘naïve’ is one of the few words you still see that use it (along with ‘Noël’). It's much more common to use a hyphen (e.g. ‘co-operate’), or nothing at all (e.g. ‘cooperate’). – gidds Dec 20 '18 at 23:41

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