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Over the years, I have heard 3 different ways to pronounce the word strength:

  1. stre(ng)kth /stɹɛŋkθ/
  2. strenth /st̠͡ɹ̠ɛn̪θ/
  3. shtrength /ʃtɹɛŋθ/

I definitely pronounce it with option 3 (shtrength /ʃtɹɛŋθ/), starting the word with an /ʃ/ ("sh").

For me, option 2 (strenth /st̠͡ɹ̠ɛn̪θ/) sounds too simplified as there is not even an ŋ, although I have heard others say it that way.

I am curious about option 1: /stɹɛŋkθ/. I am having trouble hearing (and saying) the very soft k that is being inserted after the /ŋ/ and before the /θ/. Do people still pronounce the word this way, or is it more often pronounced as option 2 or 3?

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    In my experience, the pronunciation with the epenthetic k is more common among native anglophones. Jun 13 '21 at 15:23
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    First figure out how to say rain, then prefix that with t to make train, leaving rain intact. Then prefix that with s to make strain, leaving train intact. Finally add θ to the end of strain to make strength without changing any sound you used in strain. Now you're done! See this related answer which shows trade as [t͡ʂɻʷeɪd], and this and this. Compare with strengths and strengthens. These are all natural phonologic processes.
    – tchrist
    Jun 13 '21 at 15:29
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    @Jim I was also surprised to realize that I say "sh" to start the word! Apparently it's a thing:. Like the author here, I say "stripe, street, straight, struck, and straddled": quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/…
    – kanamekun
    Jun 13 '21 at 15:32
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    @kanamekun: Someone who grew up speaking English Jun 13 '21 at 15:56
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    I think the only time I'd say "shtrength" was if I was trying to do a Sean Connery impression.
    – Showsni
    Jun 13 '21 at 23:42
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My apologies. I read the question too quickly, and did not notice the question was about the pronunciation of the "k". My previous answer was in regards to the "sh" sound in your third example. Shtrength is incorrect pronunciation. Only "sh" in a first syllable makes the "sh" sound in English. In a second syllable, "ci", "ti", and "si" can also make the "sh" sound. The "str" in strength should be pronounced like the "str" in street.

Regarding the pronunciation of strength...such an interesting question. The correct pronunciation is your third example (minus the "sh"), as the "ng" in strength should be pronounced like the "ng" in hung, which is formed by placing the tongue back in the throat. Then followed by the "th" as in "three", which is formed by placing the tongue between the teeth. Perhaps it is all this tongue moving..lol..or two soft phonograms next to each other that causes a US speaker to add a hard "k" to make the pronunciation easier. It is incorrect pronunciation, but I use it myself. So minus the "sh", #3 is how strength SHOULD be pronounced. #1 is how it is USUALLY pronounced (as it is easier on the lazy tongue). Occasionally I hear #2 - it may be a British pronunciation, and that is what it sounds like to the American ear.

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    Frankly, as a new contributor, I did not think you deserved such a rude first response. People around here get pretty cranky. :)
    – Lambie
    Jun 14 '21 at 18:47
  • Thank you for your kind words. I am unfamiliar with this site, and only posted because I am trying to learn Spanish and have been very grateful for the individuals answering my questions on the "Spanish Stack Exchange". I thought I could "repay the favor" by answering a few questions on the "English Stack Exchange". But is this a site only for language teachers or linguistic experts or something? Perhaps I should not post here. I was thinking it was just people enjoying learning a new language. My input is simply as a native speaker trying to help, not a linguistic expert. Thanks Jun 15 '21 at 18:16
  • Chris, try the English Language Learner's site. :)
    – Lambie
    Jun 15 '21 at 18:45
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Asking about “strength” is a big question because you’re really asking about two fairly distinct pronounciation issues: the pronunciation of “ength” and the pronunciation of “str”. People mostly pronounced strength in a way that rhymes with length and alliterates with string or stream.

Dealing with “str” first, the usual pronunciation is with /s/ as in “soon”, but some speakers replace the s sound with a sound more like a sh sound when it comes before -tr- (or even sometimes in other consonant clusters, but str- is the most common context). There is no contrast between s and sh in this context in regular English words. See the citations here for more info: https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/30111/about-s-being-replaced-by-the-voiceless-postalveolar-fricative-in-the-us/30133#30133

With “ength”, a pronunciation as “enth” is somewhat common; it’s also possible to hear “ingth”, “ayngth”, or “inth”. The insertion of a [k] or [t] sound before the -th is a type of epenthesis.

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