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There are many English words with silent letters, words like gnome or island that are spelt with consonants that aren't pronounced, but are there any words that work the other way round, with a pronunciation that includes extra sounds or syllables that are not in the spelling?

I can't think of any real examples, hence this question, but a made-up example would be if gnome were spelt nome but pronounced with a g at the start. Or if people started pronouncing offer as "ofter" as a sort of weird parallel to after.

Note: I don't mean words like rough, where the f sound is spelt gh, because in those cases the spelling does still include letters (however seemingly illogical) for each of the sounds.

closed as too broad by curiousdannii, Mari-Lou A, JJJ, tchrist Jul 24 at 12:06

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Jul 23 at 1:20
  • By allowing answers to include extra syllables and vowels that are not represented by letters , you're opening a Pandora box. The question's become too broad – Mari-Lou A Jul 23 at 10:54
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    @Mari-LouA - The point of the question was essentially are there any words with the "opposite" of silent letters, so it was kind of a yes/no question but with examples to prove the "yes". So broad, but not too broad I think. Many of the examples given seem obvious now in hindsight, but yesterday when I asked the question I felt there were such words but had a mental blank and couldn't think of any at all, so this has been helpful for me, and I hope might be helpful or at least interesting to others. – nnnnnn Jul 23 at 12:02
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    This is similar to my (only) question on this site, but it's got some great answer's that my question didn't get. english.stackexchange.com/questions/37629/… – bdsl Jul 23 at 14:23
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    Not sure it really counts, but the word vegetable(s) is occasionally heard pronounced as vegestable(s) for humorous effect – that’s an extra s that’s not there in the spelling. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 17:32

16 Answers 16

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Probably "yes", but it depends on what you mean. There isn't actually a clear way to identify which sounds in a word correspond to which letters: for example, rough, which you say has letters for "each of the sounds", could be analyzed as r- + -ou- + -gh or as r- + -o- + ugh. When similar issues arise with other words, it makes it pretty subjective to decide whether the word has consonant sounds that "aren't part of the spelling" or that just have an complex relationship to the spelling.

Some words that could be considered to meet your criteria:

Consonants

  • Any word with an epenthetic voiceless plosive between a nasal and a following consonant. For many speakers, a productive process causes a sound like /t/, /p/ or /k/ to be inserted after the sounds /n/, /m/ or /ŋ/ respectively in various environments. In most words, the epenthetic plosive is not written, so you could say that there is a /p/ in the pronunciation but not the spelling of warmth, dreamt, hamster, seamstress, a /t/ in the pronunciation but not the spelling of sense, glance, a /k/ in the pronunciation but not the spelling of strength, angst.

  • In eighth and in one pronunciation of threshold, a digraph that usually represents a single sound corresponds instead to two sounds: /tθ/ and /ʃh/ respectively. You could say that the /t/ in eighth or the /h/ in that pronunciation of threshold isn't part of the spelling.

    Something similar applies for speakers who use the pronunciation /haıtθ/ instead of /haıt/: whether it's spelled height or heighth, it seems like one of the two sounds at the end is not explicitly represented in the spelling.

  • In some accents of British English, the vowels found in words like saw and draw is regularly followed by epenthetic /r/ before another vowel. This means that the words sawing and drawing are pronounced with an /r/ that "isn't part of the spelling".

Vowels or syllables

  • Many words with syllabic resonants, or sequences of a schwa followed by a resonant, have no particular letter that marks the syllabicity. Words ending in -thm or -sm are the most obvious example. Other examples are more dialect dependent, but words like hour are disyllabic for some speakers.
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    Good answer. Hamster, etc., exhibit exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. Drawing is an interesting one that also fits my admittedly vague and subjective criteria. – nnnnnn Jul 22 at 6:14
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    I like the mention of saw and draw in BrE. It's a peculiar little detail that I like about BrE. – Ian Jul 22 at 14:39
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    Regarding the edit, I'm used to hearing and saying eighteen with just the one t sound, but I can see why some people might say it the way you described. – nnnnnn Jul 22 at 14:53
  • The /t/ sound in sense and glance was very hard for me to sense (pun intended) until I started thinking about the difference between glans and glance (the "ce" and "s" providing a supposedly identical sound). – Draco18s Jul 22 at 17:45
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    You say: eighteen is usually pronounced like "eight teen" but actually it is normally pronounced "ay-teen" unless the speaker is trying VERY hard to make it clear, eg over a radio. – Mike Brockington Jul 23 at 11:23
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Lieutenant in British English is pronounced with an f: /lɛfˈtɛnənt/.

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    While we're on the topic of army ranks, would you like to mention colonel? :) – Tanner Swett Jul 22 at 13:33
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    I always thought of the /f/ coming from the "u" letter, which would have denoted a /v/ sound in earlier spelling systems. – TaliesinMerlin Jul 22 at 14:07
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    Facepalm - I always, for no real reason, assumed that in the UK/British military, Leftenant was a different rank than Lieutenant. ....Either in the a different branch (e.g. Army vs Navy), or a difference for Commissioned/Non-Commissioned ranks, or ...something. Learned something new today :O – BruceWayne Jul 22 at 14:22
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    @curiousdanii: colonel has an /r/ in American English; it's a homophone of kernel. – Peter Shor Jul 22 at 15:50
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    @curiousdannii colonel has an r sound in all dialects I am aware of. And yet is always spelled without an r. It's the most obvious example of such a word I can think of since it's dialect independent and always contains a sound that could never be inferred from the spelling. – terdon Jul 23 at 10:37
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"Colonel", which is pronounced identically to "kernel", as though the "lo" in the middle was somehow an "r".

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Consonants that are pronounced but unmarked in spelling are relatively uncommon. There are a finite number of historical sound changes, and most of them involve either transforming one sound into another (assimilation; dissimilation) or removing the sound from a word (elision or deletion). ("Historical Sound Changes," Nativlang.com)

Adding a sound to a word is known as epenthesis. In many cases, consonants added as a result of epenthesis result from dialect features like rhoticity (ThoughtCo). While we often think of "r" being dropped in dialects (Boston: "Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd"), sometimes they are added. In the American South, I grew up with "sherbert" for the word "sherbet"; the pronunciation is common enough for Merriam-Webster to describe it as a variant.

Non-dialect epenthesis resulting in an un-spelled but pronounced consonant is less common, since our spelling system was standardized relatively recently. So sounds like the "p" in pumpkin (historically also pumkin according to the OED) are marked in the spelling.

Here are a few other examples that show a range of consonant insertions:

  • "warsh" for wash (placed in the Mid-US in this SE question)
  • "hain't" for ain't (Appalachian English)
  • "drawring" for drawing (British English, passim)
  • "hampster" for hamster (common; Merriam-Webster notes the /p/ option)
  • "warmpth" for warmth (common; again, M-W notes the optional /p/)
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    What would it mean for something to be "non-dialect"? I guess you mean "in Standard English", but even then, American English and British English have quite different "standard" forms. I'm also surprised to see the assertion that spelling was standardized "relatively recently", given the vast number of spellings that demonstrate abandoned pronunciations. For that matter, there are spellings that have ended up standardised in ways that never matched pronunciation, like "debt". – IMSoP Jul 22 at 16:49
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    1. The usage would have to be common across multiple large dialect areas, such that the usage no longer characterizes a single dialect group. That development takes time. 2. Pre-caffeine brain; "relatively recently" is 200-300 years ago, as distinguished from 1000+ years of English where spelling was not standardized. Yes, lots of standardized spellings represent abandoned pronunciations, but most pronunciation changes are transformations or deletions of sounds or epenthesis of vowels. – TaliesinMerlin Jul 22 at 17:31
  • Besides dropping r’s in Boston, New Englanders also add an r to words ending in a vowel followed by a word beginning with one. The late senator Edward Kennedy’s speeches are remarkable for this. “Asia, Africa, and Latin America” becomes Asier, Afriker, and Latin America.” – Xanne Jul 23 at 5:14
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Do you count words borrowed from another language that pronounces consonants differently? If so, I'd nominate pizza, which in American English is pronounced with a T (peet'-za).

There's also the common pronunciation of "sandwich" as "samwich", but that's a replacement, not an insertion.

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    In the case of pizza, the pronunciation is just recognizing that it's an Italian word rather than an English word. – John Bentin Jul 22 at 20:16
  • Thus the preface about whether or not you count borrowed words. Note, though, that piazza is often pronounced without the T, at least on this side of the Atlantic. – jeffB Jul 22 at 20:20
  • Borrowed words that have retained their foreign spelling and (perhaps approximate) pronunciation weren't what I was thinking of originally, but taken as what is now a standard English word I think pizza qualifies, especially given that the majority of other English words with a double z don't have that same t sound. – nnnnnn Jul 23 at 0:26
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    I know of at least one language (Hebrew) where the 'tz' sound is considered a single distinct consonant sound with its own letter. – Arcanist Lupus Jul 23 at 13:25
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    And in German, the letter z's sound is tz. – jeffB Jul 23 at 16:07
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Merriam-Webster Online includes "mis-ˈchē-vē-əs" as a nonstandard pronunciation of mischievous, and has no entry for "mischievious".

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    Where is the added sound? Are you talking about the letter v being pronounced 'vee' ? – Mike Brockington Jul 23 at 11:30
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    It sounds like the added sound is the "ē" after the "v". It matches an imaginary spelling ending in "ious" instead of "ous." And now I can't remember how I pronounce or spell it -- all 4 options look/sound right to me! – April Jul 23 at 14:01
  • Excellent example! Mischievious is indeed a very common pronunciation of mischievous. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 17:43
  • Much to my chagrin, I've just discovered that "mischievious" is not a new thing. Google books has examples from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. However they are nowhere near as numerous as "mischievous", and I've only found "mischievous" in the 16th century. – Phil M Jones Jul 24 at 8:26
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People sometimes add an L sound to the word 'saw' when it's followed by a word that begins with a vowel, e.g., "I sawl it." This is common in south New Jersey.

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    That's interesting, I've never heard that. – nnnnnn Jul 22 at 14:46
  • Similarly in Philadelphia (which is very close to NJ, for our non-US-inhabitants); I've heard "drawl" instead of "draw". In addition, the digraph "st" is often pronounced "sht", as in "crossing the shtreet". – Dancrumb Jul 22 at 15:32
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    A similar and well-known feature of the Bristol (UK) accent is to put an L onto any word ending witrh a vowel. The story goes that the town was originally Bristow but the spelling changed to suit the way the inhabitants pronounce it. – TimLymington Jul 22 at 17:29
  • I've observed this with the word "bra". – Monty Harder Jul 22 at 18:00
  • And a lot of people I've known pronounce "drawing" as "drawling." – fluffy Jul 22 at 22:41
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Segue comes to mind, pronounced /ˈseɡ.weɪ/.

  • A 'w' is already a semi-vowel however. – curiousdannii Jul 22 at 13:15
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    But surely the /w/ is "part of the spelling" here—it's the letter "u". – Tanner Swett Jul 22 at 13:29
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    I find it deliciously ironic that when finally there is an instance of a word in English actually being spelt in a way that almost exactly matches its pronunciation letter by letter (allowing for <e> to represent /eɪ/), it gets offered up on a list of words with unintuitive spellings! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 0:34
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Every word is spelled intuitively for an appropriate definition of intuitive. – Mad Physicist Jul 23 at 13:07
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In UK people sometimes add an 'h' in front of words beginning with a vowel.

They are people who habitually "drop their aitches" at the start of a word, so they might say

I 'appen to 'ave five 'undred quid

and because, to them, that is the perfectly normal way to speak, they sometimes add an unnecessay 'h' to words that don't need one, as a mockery of "lardy-dardy" people who "talk posh". So they might say

Have you got hany happles?

and pronounce the first 'H' when they normally would not. I have even seen it in writing, such as this notice on a door

Please knock has the bell will frite the parot.

although in this case the spelling mistakes show a lack of education, not mockery, and the message was written in the same way it would be spoken.

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    From My Fair Lady: "In 'ertford, 'ereford and 'ampshire, 'urricanes 'ardly hever 'appen." But I've never 'eard - ahem, heard - anyone speak like this in real life; perhaps it is dying out. – Especially Lime Jul 23 at 9:23
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    @EspeciallyLime it's true, these days I 'ardly hever 'ear that, but I saw the notice not long ago. People do still drop their aitches, and I think many of them don't really know if there is supposed to be an aitch there or not, so when they try to talk politely, say in front of royalty, they add a haitch where there ain't one. – Weather Vane Jul 23 at 9:27
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/q/348795/21009 – gerrit Jul 23 at 14:37
  • Arguably, those speakers merely change the h rather than dropping it: in Arabic, the ' is a consonant (hamza). – reinierpost Jul 24 at 11:02
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Nuclear, which is often pronounced (wrongly!) with an extra syllable in the middle, more like ‘nucular’…

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    That's not an extra syllable so much as a misplaced syllable. If that were the correct pronunciation it would count. – nnnnnn Jul 22 at 23:12
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The English city Bristol was originally called "Bristow" (in Middle English "Bridgestow", in Old English "Brycgstow"), but locals have/had a habit of adding an "l" to words ending with vowels, so it ended up being called "Bristol". To be more precise, the "l" sound is more of an extremely rounded "aw", apparently, which sounds to most ears like an "l".

Some inhabitants also speak an English dialect known colloquially as Bristolian (or even more informally as "Bristle" or "Brizzle"), in which an L sound is appended to words that end in an 'a' or 'o' (thus "area" becomes "areal", etc). This unique dialectal idiosyncrasy is known as the Bristol L (or terminal L).

https://www.bristol.org.uk/about/dialect/

In summary, that's a word that was pronounced with an extra letter that wasn't in its spelling, but now is, in order to spell it how it's pronounced.

The wikipedia entry is quite well written on this matter.

  • British place names are full of it - Leicester, Warwick, Gloucester... I know there's lots more too – marcellothearcane Jul 24 at 14:56
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    There's also "Middlesbrough" whose football team "Middlesbrough FC" is usually referred to as "The Boro", reflecting the normal pronounciation which adds a syllable as if it were spelled "Middlesborough". – Phil M Jones Aug 5 at 13:09
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A pretty significant fraction of Americans (including myself) often pronounce both as bolth. I'm not a linguist, so I don't have a source to quote here, but it's common enough that I have had two random conversations on the topic.

The added l isn't quite as strong as if you actually tried to pronounce a word spelled bolth, but it is at least half of an l sound.

I am guessing that the OP is probably more interested in cases where the naive pronunciation is incorrect (i.e., where you must pronounce an extra consonant in order to be understood), in which case this example doesn't apply. But I thought it was worth mentioning anyway.

1

Edinburgh (/ˈɛdɪnbərə/)

(Geographical names are somehow particular, but they are not excluded explicitly by the original question.)

  • Likewise the surname Grosvenor which is often used as a place name in England is usually pronounced 'grovesner' or 'grovener'. Heck, even Wednesday is generally pronounced whens-day. I'm not sure if these meet the original question though, since it asks for sounds not already present in the word. – NibblyPig Jul 23 at 11:16
  • Ed-in-bu-rgh is the correct pronunciation of the city where I am writing this. Not a correct answer to the question. – Mike Brockington Jul 23 at 11:34
  • @Mike And how exactly are you intending to pronounce rgh as a syllable? I agree that this isn’t a very good example, but the schwa at the end of Edinburgh (which is absolutely there) is a sound present in the pronunciation which isn’t reflected at all in the spelling. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 17:41
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    @JanusBahsJacquet In this case, rgh is pronounced "ru" as in "rough" without the 'f'. Which is a massive coincidence since 'burgh' is an alternative spelling of 'borough'... – Mike Brockington Jul 24 at 9:15
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Do place names count?

There is a place called Cogenhoe in Northamptonshire (UK) which is pronounced /ˈkʊknoʊ/, at least by the locals.

  • Surely this is the opposite of the question that was asked? – Mike Brockington Jul 24 at 9:17
  • Is it? I thought that the K sound at the end of the first syllable (i.e. "Cook") was not represented by any letter in the word, which was what the OP was asking. Perhaps I have misunderstood. – JimM Jul 24 at 16:51
  • As far as British place names go, that looks to me like a fairly normal aural contraction/abreviation, so primarily there are letters there that are no longer (clearly) pronounced. In this case, "Cook" is how "Cog" is now pronounced, and "enhoe" has become "now", so I don't see any sounds with truly missing letters. – Mike Brockington Jul 25 at 8:31
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I'm a particular fan of "feud" and "fuel". Both have the same mysterious "y" sound with no obvious connection to the spelling.

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    Isn't the "y" sound directly connected to the "u" in each word? The name of the letter "U" is pronounced "yoo", not "oo" or "uh" or whatever. Your suggestion does remind me that "Fiona" is sometimes said with a "y" sound like fiord. – nnnnnn Jul 23 at 6:26
  • Maybe? U sometimes has a preceding Y sound (cute, puke, fume) and sometimes not (lute, puma, futon). I would think the E in feud would prevent the formation of the Y sound after the consonant (pneumatic, rheumatism, deuce). – rotu Jul 23 at 7:43
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    In England, it is usual to pronounce pneumatic and deuce with a Y sound. The lack of this sound in the pronunciation of many American English speakers doesn't have to do with the spelling, it's because of the preceding consonant sounds /n/ and /d/. For these speakers, the sounds /n/ and /d/ prevent a Y sound from being used, regardless of the spelling (compare nude, numeral and duke, duty, durable). In both British and American English, the /r/ sound at the start of rheumatism prevents a Y sound from being used: the same applies to words like rude, rule, rural, ruse. – sumelic Jul 23 at 8:56
  • There are a few ways to put that into particular usage. Whew. That's a shew in for a rose of a different hue. Maybe we can raise a hew and cry. Adieu! – puppetsock Jul 23 at 17:33
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    Leaving out this sound is known as yod-dropping, and is distinctive of American accents. – TRiG Jul 23 at 23:07
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The name "Stephen" is pronounced as "Steven", that is, "ph" is pronounced "v", which is unexpected.

Some notes:

  • "ph" is normally pronounced "f", and both "v" and "f" are labiodental fricatives, so this strange pronunciation doesn't come entirely out of the blue.
  • The name can also be spelt "Steven" (e.g. Steven Tyler), thus matching the pronunciation.
  • Admittedly, this is not exactly what you are asking for (it's like "colonel", where "lo" is pronounced as an "r"), but since you consider colonel "in an adjacent neighbourhood", you might be interested in "Stephen" as well.
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    Phial is still pronounced "vial", so I think you're right. Wondering if the OP allows for when a word that has several spellings - like phial/vial - where one spelling satisfies the sound, but the other does not? – Andrew Jennings Jul 23 at 17:08
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    @Andrew Phial is pronounced /ˈfaɪəl/, and vial is pronounced /ˈvaɪəl/. One derives from the other, but there are two pronunciations, and each matches its own spelling – that’s why the spelling vial exists at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 at 17:39
  • Ok, so "phial" sounds like "file". Perhaps, then, the "al" sound in "phial" has no corresponding spelling in "file"? Similarly, "while" "wile" "bile" "tile" etc – Andrew Jennings Jul 23 at 20:45

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