Is there any case when it's correct to pronounce the word police with the stress on the first syllable:

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    I spent my teens in Glasgow, Scotland and the slang for police was 'polis' with the emphasis on the first syllable. I have no idea where this comes from unless it is from the French.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 23, 2019 at 10:34
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    When you're talking to your friends in the 'hood.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 23, 2019 at 12:05
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    @HotLicks friends would be homies. Talking is conversating
    – Kris
    Apr 23, 2019 at 12:21
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    The way this question is phrased is bizarre. Correct according to who? There is no single authority that defines what's "correct" in English. "Correct" is based on usage.
    – user91988
    Apr 23, 2019 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


It is possible to put the main stress on the first syllable of police in some varieties of English. When the first syllable of police is stressed, the vowel is not a schwa. It is the "goat" vowel or "long o" sound: /ˈpolis/ or /ˈpoʊlis/ (both of these phonemic transcriptions are identical).

There is no way to classify this pronunciation as indisputably "correct" or "incorrect" in a global sense, because there is no consensus about how to define "correct pronunciation". That said, Mark Liberman (in the post linked below) suggests that "the initially-stressed [pronunciation of police] seems to have become stigmatized, and have been abandoned by many better-educated or more upwardly-mobile people." There are many specific speakers who would never stress the first syllable of police in any context. So it's acceptable for a non-native speaker to always say /pəˈlis/, with stress only on the second syllable.

The pronunciation /ˈpolis/, with stress on the first syllable, is supposed to occur for some speakers in the Southern US, according to the following sources:

  • Thank you for the detailed answer.
    – Denis
    Apr 23, 2019 at 11:06
  • Does this mean the [iː] gets shortened in the process does its quality change? I am quite confused what is called by "stress" here. Apr 23, 2019 at 14:16
  • @VladimirF: See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(linguistics). In many cases unstressed vowels are somewhat shorter or have somewhat different quality, but the term "stress" does not refer to either of those facts, and in the specific case of police I don't think the length and quality of the /i/ are noticeably different between the two pronunciations. (Disclaimer: I come from a region where only the second-syllable-stressed pronunciation is found.)
    – ruakh
    Apr 23, 2019 at 16:06
  • I can imagine an SSBE speaker giving a version of police with a stress on each syllable for emphatic effect: "Dont mess with him. He's a member of the POH LEESE, don't you know" Apr 23, 2019 at 19:38
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    @VladimirF: Phonetic vowel length in English depends on a variety of factors, so I'm not using length markers in my transcriptions here. The quality of /i/ in my accent is (broadly) [i], whether stressed or unstressed. See "The Undesirability of length marks in EFL phonemic transcription", (1975), by Jack Windsor Lewis.
    – herisson
    Apr 23, 2019 at 19:49

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