"Certiorari" has a different pronunciation in almost every dictionary I've checked. Almost all of them are five syllables.

And according to a 2014 article in the American Bar Association Journal, in published sound recordings, not even Supreme Court justices agree on the pronunciation of this word. Most used five syllables, one used four syllables, and two copped out and used the abbreviation ("cert").

I'm trying to choose one for myself -- to say out loud and to hear in my mind's ear when I'm reading.

The one that appealed to me the most has three syllables, from the Free Dictionary's legal dictionary. But it is marked as British. Is this acceptable in the US, or will people look at me funny if I use that one?

  • 3
    It has five vowels. Which two were you planning on discarding to bring it down to three syllables?
    – tchrist
    Dec 25, 2019 at 15:33
  • Four (badly transcribed "ser-shur-ar-ee") or five ("ser-she-o-rar-ee") seem reasonable to me (NYC area); I can't "visualize" a three-syllable pronunciation. Dec 25, 2019 at 15:38
  • 2
    This is really a question for the law stackexchange. The word in question is AFAIK only used as legal jargon, so it has no established pronunciation in general speech. And in the courtroom it might depend on local customs which pronunciation is acceptable.
    – The Photon
    Dec 25, 2019 at 15:45
  • Agree with @JeffZeitlin ... 4 syllables, with "tio" pronounced as in "nation".
    – GEdgar
    Dec 25, 2019 at 20:48
  • 1
    @aparente001 I can't find any trisyllabic pronunciation in your link.
    – tchrist
    Dec 25, 2019 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


I would recommend pronouncing this word with at least four syllables.

When you talk in your question about a pronunciation with three syllables, you seem to be referring to an audio file linked from the Free Dictionary entry. I have never seen a written transcription of the pronunciation of certiorari that showed it as having three syllables.

I prefer to use transcriptions rather than audio files for pronunciation information: transcriptions leave less room for uncertainty and do a better job of indicating the important parts of a pronunciation but not the unimportant details.

Another reason not to use audio files (or to only use them as a supplement to written transcriptions) is that in some cases, they are just wrong. That seems to be the case here. This audio file, which sounds like it was automatically generated/artificially produced, seems to place the primary stress on the first syllable: to me, it sounds something like [ˈsəːʃəri] (rhyming with a certain pronunciation of tertiary). Perhaps whatever software was used to generate it based the pronunciation on the pattern of words ending in -ary (where American English speakers typically have a secondary stress on the -a(r)- while British English speakers leave the vowel corresponding to the letter a fully unstressed and may elide it).

That would be a mistake because certiorari does not end in -ary. In both American English and British English, the primary stress in the pronunciation of certiorari standardly falls on the -ra(r)- syllable, which obviously excludes the possibility of eliding this syllable. The preceding o would normally also correspond to a separate syllable (it's unlikely for the o to be elided because vowels are resistant to elision when they are immediately followed by a stressed syllable). Along with the initial cer(t)- and the final -(r)i, that adds up to at least four syllables. You may choose whether to use a fifth: since the medial -(t)i- is followed by an unstressed syllable, there is the option of eliding the i here.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.