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So there are many words in which one syllable gets reduced.

For example, chocolate could be pronounced as CHO-KO-LATE but instead it's pronounced as CHOK-LATE, it's now 2 syllable word.

Another example is nursery which could be pronounced as NUR-SE-RY but instead it's pronounced as NURS-RY.

A very common example is the word every which could be pronounced as E-VE-RY but it's not pronounced that way, instead it's pronounced as EV-RY.

What determines these changes?

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    Every question that asks Why is <word> not pronounced ...? -- for any English word or pronunciation -- has the answer Because the spelling of English words does not represent their pronunciation. Since spelling is arbitrary, it doesn't follow the rules you may believe it should, and which you may have been taught in school. Those rules are futile hopes, which most people ignore because English spelling already has. Also, if you are actually interested in discussing English pronunciation on the net, learn the IPA. – John Lawler Jul 16 '20 at 18:35
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    In English, when a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables, the vowel immediately following the stressed syllable is usually dropped in colloquial speech. But I don't know why. It's the same in all your examples – Decapitated Soul Jul 16 '20 at 18:36
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    I’m voting to close this question because it is based on an error. – Michael Harvey Jul 16 '20 at 19:10
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    I say 'choc o late', so the assumption behind the question is proved wrong. Likewise nurs er y and ev er y. – Michael Harvey Jul 16 '20 at 19:11
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    3 syllables, av er age. – Michael Harvey Jul 16 '20 at 19:26
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The pronunciation of words and how many syllables has is not a constant. It varies greatly with region, dialect, accent, time period, eduction, etc. Every example you have given is said in a variety of ways depending on whom you are listening. In some cases, it could depend on the speed with which the person is speaking. To the fast-talker, a three syllable word is spoken with three syllables. But, the listener may only hear two syllables if they are accustomed to listening to slow-talkers. To compound the confusion, a slow-talker could shorten a three syllable word when speaking to two syllables out of sheer habit of speech or out of the convenience of making the word quicker. A little bit of an extreme example is when words not officially ascribes as contractions become one, (“you all” becomes y’all).

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In English, when a stressed syllable is followed by two (or more) unstressed syllables, the vowel immediately following the stressed syllable is usually dropped in colloquial/fast speech (not every accent/dialect).

It is called elision.

Elision is defined as the deletion of one or more sounds in a word. The sound may be a consonant or a vowel.

Examples:

  • When t comes between two consonant sounds, it's often elided. Can't think [kɑ:nt θɪŋk] in normal speech would be pronounced as [kɑ:n θɪŋk] (try both when you're speaking fast). It's for the sake of ease.
  • Comfortable is pronounced /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bəl/ in slow speech but in fast/casual/colloquial speech, it's pronounced /ˈkʌmf.tə.bəl/.

Elision is a normal speech phenomenon and comes naturally to native speakers of the language in whic it occurs.

Moving to OP's question:

There are lots of words in which the vowel is dropped when it occurs in an unstressed syllable immediately following the stressed syllable.

Examples: Comfortable, temperature, family, vegetable, chocolate, every, nursery, average, business, evening, favourite, interest, general etc.

Presumably, the vowel following the stressed syllable was once pronounced but then it got reduced for some reason and eventually dropped (syncopated). This is a special kind of elision known as syncope.

Syncope is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, typically the loss of an unstressed vowel (often [ə]).

In the above words, it's post-tonic syncope.

Post-tonic syncope is only permissible in English if the schwa [ə] is followed by a single consonant and an unstressed vowel as in comfortable /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bəl/. If the vowel after the following consonant is stressed or if the schwa is followed by a cluster or by a word-final consonant then syncope is not permissible.

In many common three-syllable/four-syllable words, the second syllable is often dropped in casual/fast speech for the sake of ease. However, it might not be true for every accent/dialect.

See Michael Harvey's comments:

I say choc o late. Likewise nurs er y and ev er y. And av er age.

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  • There is a fine podcast, Lexicon Valley, where linguist John McWhorter discusses such things as reasons why words are pronounced differently in different regions or dialects, or why syllables drop out of speech (or in some cases added) as languages evolve. McWhorter has written many books on the subject, as have many others. And the answer to this specific question might well be a matter of debate among linguists. – senortim Jul 17 '20 at 0:04
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In a comment John Lawler wrote:

Every question that asks Why is not pronounced ...? -- for any English word or pronunciation -- has the answer Because the spelling of English words does not represent their pronunciation. Since spelling is arbitrary, it doesn't follow the rules you may believe it should, and which you may have been taught in school. Those rules are futile hopes, which most people ignore because English spelling already has. Also, if you are actually interested in discussing English pronunciation on the net, learn the IPA.

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