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Most dictionaries provide the US pronunciation of “again” as /əˈɡɛn/ (uh-gen) with the DRESS vowel. This is the most common pronunciation in the USA.

However, I think I might have also come across /əˈɡeɪn/ (uh-gain) with the FACE vowel. This sounds like the word “gain” with an “a” at the beginning.

Is there a US accent where “again” is pronounced this way?

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    Are you sure you don't remember hearing /əˈɡeɪn/ from an Australian, a Brit, or a Canadian? I believe it's a fairly common pronunciation in those countries. Lexico has both pronunciations for the U.K. but only one for the U.S. – Peter Shor Oct 25 '20 at 13:35
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    An interesting point which does not relate to the question, but I thought it might be worth writing here: apparently in Elizabethan/Jacobean London both pronunciations of "again" were used (as far as the Folio is concerned), and David Crystal (the worlds very own Shakespearean linguistic) agrees on this. the very last line of "Richard III" is spelled thus: "agen" (to pronounce "gen" in "gain" like "men") and in the opening line of "Macbeth" the first Witch's line is spelled thus: "again" (to pronounce the "ain" in "gain" as in "Jane"). There are further examples backing up the claim. – Tom O' Bedlam Oct 25 '20 at 18:05
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    @tchrist Do you mind explaining how this is related to /æ/ tensing? The Wikipedia article indicates that this phenomenon affects the /æ/ vowel, which is usually transcribed as an "a" in writing, e.g., in words such as "man" and "bath". – hb20007 Oct 26 '20 at 9:17
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    In the video, I'm hearing |əˈgɪn|, which DARE describes as "throughout US esp among older and less educ speakers". What I'm hearing is undoubtedly a matter of opinion though, and so that part of your question is opinion-based and should be omitted. – JEL Oct 27 '20 at 7:09
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    @JEL I think you're right, it's actually |əˈgɪn|. I slowed down the video to 0.25 playback speed and that's what it sounds like. – hb20007 Oct 27 '20 at 9:06
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According to the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE, paywalled),

Usu[ally] |əˈgɛn|; freq[uently] Atlantic, less freq elsewhere |əˈgen|, which may be considered affected in some areas where it is least freq[uent]

enter image description here

The "broadly phonetic" |e| in a DARE head entry is pronounced as in 'bait',

a higher-mid-front unrounded vowel

op. cit.

(note that the "narrowly phonetic" [eɪ] in DARE fieldwork quotations represents the upgliding variant of |e|, while for |əˈgen| the other variant of |e| noted in DARE, the ingliding variant [eə] "appears in Midland speech territory" [quote from Allen, Harold B., The Linguistic Atlas of the Upper Midwest, 3.270; Minneapolis MN: Univ. MN Press, 1973–1976.]).

DARE's authority for the claims is partly from Kurath, Hans and Raven I. McDavid, Jr., The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States; Ann Arbor MI: Univ. MI Press, 1961 (linked book can be borrowed for an hour with a free account; discussion of 'again' is on p. 131, with referenced maps showing collection sites on pp. 244-5):

The vowel /e/ of pain is decidedly uncommon in again and exhibits no marked social dissemination. It occurs especially in parts of New England, on Delaware Bay, in Tidewater Virginia and northeastern North Carolina (highly conservative areas), and again in the Savannah Valley; only scattered instances are found elsewhere.

Rare cases of /əgæn/ with the vowel of pan occur in the North and the North Midland.

However, in addition to Kurath-McDavid 1961, DARE's claims rest on data from their fieldworkers:

1967–68 DARE FW Addit LA3, Again [əˈgeɪn]; New Orleans LA, [əˈgeɪn] common in uptown University District; csLA, Both [əˈgæn] and [əˈgeɪn] are heard here; LA17, [əˈgeɪn]—occas, [əgɛn]—frequent.

LA3 and LA17 represent data from individual DARE fieldworker informants (see linked list for demographic details); New Orleans LA and csLA (central-south Louisiana) are geographic labels applied to summary data from fieldworkers.


A couple of other things worth mentioning

For many if not most US English speakers 'of a certain age', |əˈgen| is likely to be at least glancingly familiar. In Safire's Political Dictionary (1978, 1993, 2008), Safire explains Franklin Delano Roosevelt's oratorical fondness for the tricolon device 'again and again and again':

 "Evidently," said Sherwood, "you've got to say it again — and again — and again."
 Roosevelt liked the phrase, especially since his own pronunciation of again was distinctive in U.S. speech, rhyming with rain rather then when.

Anybody exposed to FDR's later (post-1940) "fireside chats" and other speeches, whether in person, as historical recordings, or as parodies, might thus have heard |əˈgen| repeatedly. Undoubtedly also, FDR's "distinctive" pronunciation influenced idiolects and sociolects in ways that still reverberate today.

In the FDR media influence context, though, I should also mention the "common misperception that the advent of [motion pictures, radio and television] led to a homogenization of American English" (quote from "Rful Southern", a 2005 article by John Fought at pbs.org). Another 2005 pbs.org article, "Talk the Talk?" by Jack Chambers, linked from "Rful Southern", makes a case contradicting elements of that "common misperception" in some detail. Chambers observes, for example, that there

is zero evidence for television or the other popular media disseminating or influencing sound changes or grammatical innovations.

This is not to say that homogenization of US English regional pronunciations is not now and has not been ongoing for a long time. Rather, the claim is that the causes of any such homogenization are not well enough known to foster easy, general classification or prediction of individual sound pattern changes. Without timely and detailed specific evidence, then, it is premature to conclude that regional distribution of |əˈgen| is today becoming less rather than more defined, or that the incidence of the pronunciation is diminishing, rather than increasing.

James W. Hartman, in the DARE "Guide to Pronunciation", addresses the complexity and difficulty of timely dialect pronunciation studies more generally, and also more directly, than Chambers (bolding mine):

The details of variation in AE pronunciation are highly complex. The amount of data needed to establish patterns in individuals, social groups, regions, and circumstances of style and linguistic context is enormous. Constant change, moreover, rapidly or slowly erodes the applicability of data collected at any given time. And there are local, even neighborhood, pronunciations that are yet unrecorded. The pronunciation features discussed here should not be unduly generalized—they are, of necessity, taken from individual speakers at a particular time. Nevertheless, patterns of pronunciation do tend to be stable, as evidenced by the fact that many young speakers still exhibit the same regional features described in studies done nearly three generations ago.

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  • There are users who apparently have been in those state, and they claim they never heard again pronounced that way. – user 66974 Oct 26 '20 at 6:19
  • @JEL: I'm willing to be the incidence is considerably reduced from 1961. Pronunciation can change a lot in 60 years. The California vowel shift seems to have developed largely since 1970. – Peter Shor Oct 26 '20 at 11:00
  • @JEL It seems that DARE discusses |əˈgɛn| and |əˈgen|. However, I see that you clarified how this is related to [eɪ]: "note that the 'narrowly phonetic' [eɪ] in DARE fieldwork quotations represents the upgliding variant of |e|". So I am accepting this answer, with the caveat that things might have changed since DARE published their data. – hb20007 Oct 27 '20 at 11:30
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    @hb20007 Answers here, for me, usually represent a failed attempt to find a balance between too much and too little information. This is complicated by paywalled sources, as then I must also attempt to balance what's fair to the copyright holder with what's fair to those seeking answers. I'll add a bit more to parts of the answer, but I refer you to, esp., the DARE "Guide to Pronunciation", not paywalled. In general, for 'again', distinguishing the narrowly observed [eə] from [eɪ] within |e| was not considered useful. – JEL Oct 27 '20 at 19:23
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Here are statistics on the pronunciation of "again"; "ai" is both monophthongal and diphthongal in both the UK and the US. The statistics for the UK is given for comparison. It is clear that the form "ˈɡɛɪn" is very rare in AmE (3%); however there is no mention of any particular region in the US.

From Longman Pronunciation dictionary

BrE 1998 poll panel preference: -ˈɡen 80%, -ˈɡeɪn 20%. [Gimson's system (LPD), /e/ is somewhat different from /ɛ/] Many BrE speakers use both pronunciations.
AmE 1993 poll panel preference: -ˈɡɛn 97%, -ˈɡɛɪn 3% [IPA symbols]

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  • And it's probably much rarer now, 25 years later. – Peter Shor Oct 25 '20 at 15:17
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    I'm one of those many Brits who use both. The ɡeɪn version probably less than 10% of the time, but I'm definitely more likely to use it when I'm being emphatic. – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '20 at 16:03
  • @FumbleFingers As I read "use both" I was already thinking of a probable precision to get from you, which came at the end of your comment: emphasis! so that's one of the possible motivations… – LPH Oct 25 '20 at 16:54
  • Another possible motivation is simply that I'm very likely to repeat the pronunciation as just used by an interlocutor. Hey! - I even tend to repeat the (BrE or AmE) spelling of some preceding word when interacting online. Over and above what could be explained by me using cut&paste and/or me being unsure of the "preferred" cis-Atlantic orthography. I think I'm a bit of a "promiscuous whore" in matters linguistic! – FumbleFingers Oct 25 '20 at 17:07
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    Please don't write /e/ for IPA /ɛ/; it's very confusing: see naked and seven. But especially see /æ/ raising for exactly why all this is happening with the nasal. – tchrist Oct 25 '20 at 17:28

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