I am an American and I always pronounce “inquiry” with second syllable stress. After hearing more and more Americans say it with first syllable stres, along with British people saying it the way I do, I though I was pronouncing it the British way. But when I consulted wiktionary and all the American dictionaries, I realized that they prefer the second syllable stress, or “British way”. Does anyone know why people pronounce it with first syllable stress and why it is so widespread among educated Americans when no American dictionary prefers it?

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    Why is it so widespread among educated Americans when no American dictionary prefers it? Because educated Americans don't look up pronunciations in dictionaries, except sometimes for very uncommon words. Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 19:42
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    The question should probably be asked the other way around: why do American dictionaries prefer it when that's not the way most educated Americans pronounce it? Probably the predominant American pronunciation has changed over time, and the dictionaries haven't caught up yet. If I had any evidence for this statement, I'd make it an answer. Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 19:46
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    @ Jason Bassford What do you mean? I’m saying that the American dictionaries sanction the second syllable stress pronunciation over first syllable, the one that you and I say. The second syllable stress seems to be the dominant pronunciation in Britain, but it does not seem to be the dominant one for most of the educated Americans that I come across. Just to see the pronunciations, merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inquiry. As you can see, merriam Webster’s prefers the pronunciation that you and I use, and the standard one in Britain.
    – Polubios
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 21:48
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    All the US TV shows we get in the UK pronounce inquiry the "American" way, with the stress on the first syllable and the second having a short i. I've never heard an American pronounce it the "British" way, including the few I've met personally.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 27, 2019 at 22:03
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    I'm with @PeterShor on this. The dictionaries all seem to have it wrong about American pronunciation, and they don't say anything about it being regional. So the question is why the dictionaries are wrong, not why Americans don't pronounce it as the dictionaries say. Modern dictionaries are generally descriptive, not prescriptive.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 19:58

1 Answer 1


The educated Americans I know all say "inquiry" stressing the second syllable. I think many in the media believe stressing the first syllable is more "sophisticated" for some reason -- but it's not. Then some of the "educated public" repeat what they hear from the media, thinking the media must know better -- but they don't. Interestingly, both Nancy Pelosi and Lester Holt stress the second syllable. Personally, I cringe everytime someone stresses the first syllable. How about dispensing with "inquiry" completely and substituting "probe"?

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    Would help desks be labelled 'Probes'? Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 13:29

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