As a native French speaker, I used to pronounce the end of all the English words ending in "-ey" as [eɪ] instead of [i]. Most noticeably, such of those words that are directly used in French are almost automatically mispronounced as ending in [eɪ] by even good English French speakers: hockey, jockey, (silicon) valley... or proper nouns: McCartney, Surrey...

I came to realise my mistake here years ago and then proceeded to learn to pronounce those words with an [i] instead consistently.

However, a simple word: "survey". The recommended pronunciation is [ˈs3ːrveɪ], which holds the previous rule off. I also found "grey" or "prey" to work.

Are there other such words? And more importantly: why are they not pronounced [i]? An etymological reason maybe? Can a rule be drawn to learn how to pronounce them?

  • This is not a unique problem. Unlike French, where one can always derive the pronunciation of a word from its spelling (though not the other way around), in English spelling does not represent the pronunciation of a word. It has to be learned separately from the pronunciation. That's why Americans make a sport out of English spelling; it's the only thing it's good for. May 13, 2023 at 19:59
  • Do you mean [i] as in the verb be?
    – Lambie
    May 13, 2023 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


Other words pronounced like 'survey' are 'convey' and 'purvey' (an old-fashioned verb meaning sell). "Drey", "whey" and "Hey!", as in "Hey Jude", also rhyme with grey and prey.

A rule that seems more or less to work is that the "ay" sound is used in single syllable "ey" words or words ending in "ey" in which the stress is on the last syllable, but the ee sound is used if the stress is on a previous syllable. This works for 'survey' as a verb but not for 'survey' as a noun, and there are doubtless more exceptions. I've just thought of one: key.

  • 1
    In purvey and survey, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the pronunciation comes from the verb. Noun derivation from disyllabic verbs by stress retraction is a productive process in English, but it doesn’t entail secondary effects like changing a stressed /eɪ/ to unstressed /i/. There are some true exceptions – like parley (which can have either /eɪ/ or /i/), as well as loan words from various other languages (like maguey /ˡmagweɪ/ or /məˡgeɪ/, of which the latter fits the rule while the former doesn’t) – but they are definitely a minority. Apr 21, 2019 at 22:49
  • In purvey and survey the pronunciation comes from the Normans.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 22, 2019 at 12:09
  • The rule "single syllable, stressed on the last, or stress-retracted from such word = /eɪ/" seems rather good, albeit a few exceptions such as "key". I'll mark the answer as accepted.
    – Mysterry
    Apr 22, 2019 at 22:17
  • purvey and leeway have the same ending sound: ey and ay.
    – Lambie
    May 13, 2023 at 22:33

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