A Programmer’s Guide to Pronunciation
This essay gives an introduction to the pronunciation of British English and High German. All information given here is to be understood as hints from a language learner to a language learner. I have no thorough education in Languages, Linguistics or Phonology. I am German and I don't speak perfect English. By reading this essay, you accept that I do not accept any responsibility for the completeness or correctness of this essay. All sound samples are by native speakers.


As a language learner, one often finds that native speakers can tell one's nationality as soon as one opens the mouth. The key to speaking a language like a native speaker seems to be the right pronunciation. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to work out the right pronunciation of a foreign word by help of a dictionary: This essay will first list all relevant speech sounds with examples in all discussed languages. Then it will give what I call a narrow standardized transscription for English and German, i.e. exact rules for pronunciation that use the standard phone symbols. This essay considers only the Received Pronunciation of English and German Hochdeutsch. All other variants are ignored. Furthermore, this essay ignores all foreign words that have been imported into the languages and all proper names.

IPA speech sounds

The building blocks of pronunciation are speech sounds [Wikipedia / phones]. The International Phonetic Association has devised a comprehensive list of language sounds — the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) [Wikipedia / IPA]. IPA sounds are written in squared brackets, [ ]. The IPA sounds are carefully defined and classified systematically according to parameters such as the position of the tongue, the flow of air, the vibration of the cords and many more. This essay confines itself to listing the relevant sounds with examples from the languages. If a sound does not appear in all discussed languages, an explanation is given below.


Sound English German French Italian Spanish
[b] blue blau boue bue bomba
[d] dog Dach de dove India
[f] fantastic fantastisch phantastique fantastico fantastico
[g] great groß grand grande gran
[h] hello hallo - - -
[j] you ja yeux - -
[k] cat Käfig cabinet casa casa
[l] love liebe lune luna luna
[ɫ] well - - - -
[m] man Mann mer mare mesa
[n] nose Nase nez notte noche
[ŋ] sing lang parking anche domingo
[p] problem Problem problème problema problema
[ɹ] rot - - - -
[ʁ] - rot rouge - -
[ɾ] - - - rosa raton
[r] - - - - perro
[s] salt Biss sel sale sal
[sj] this thing - - - -
[t] today Tochter - - todo
[] width - tout tutto -
[θ] thing - - - cinco
[ð] mother - - - dedo
[v] very Wal valve vecchio -
[w] well - - quando cuando
[x] - ach - - general
[z] zero Salz zèbre casa desde
[ʃ] sheep schade chàvre sciarpa -
[ʒ] treasure Massage jour - -
[β] - - - - vivir
[ʎ] - - - figlio -
[ç] - ich - - -
[ʔ] - Be/amter les / hérissons - -

Source: Wikipedia / IPA and Wikipedia pages linked from there. Part of the examples by me.


Symbol Explanation
[ʰ]The aspiration that occurs after saying [p]
[ʷ]Indicates that the preceding sound has round lips like a [u]
[]Indicates that the sound is pronounced with the tongue tip touching the inside of the upper front teeth. [], for example, is a [d] where the tongue touches the upper front teeth.
[]Indicates that the sound is pronounced without vibrating chords. [], for example, sounds similar to a [t], but is weaker than [t].

Source: Wikipedia / IPA.


Sound Explanation
[h] Open your mouth like for an [a]. Push air through the mouth.
[j] Pronounce [i]. Press the middle of your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
[ɾ] Say [bdavo] the flap of the tongue that appears after the [b] is the [r].
[r] Pronounce [bdavo] in quick repetition. When multiple tongue flaps happen after the [b], you are pronouncing a [r].
[R] Let the hindmost rear of your tongue touch the very back of the roof of your mouth. Push air through your mouth, make your cords vibrate and your uvula flap.
[ʁ] A stronger [x]
[sj] Pronounce [s] so that not the tip of your tongue touches the roof of the mouth, but the part that comes directly behind the tip.
[t] Pronounce [], but with the tip of your tongue touching the roof of the mouth well away from the teeth.
[] Pronounce [t], with the tip of your tongue touching the inside of the upper front teeth.
[v] Pronounce [z]. Place the upper lips on the lower front teeth and get your tongue away from the roof of the mouth.
[w] A [w] is a short [u] that glides immediately into the following vowel.
[x] Let the hindmost rear of your tongue touch the very back of the roof of your mouth. Push air through your mouth
[θ] Pronounce [s]. Push the tip of the tongue between the front teeth.
[ð] Pronounce [z]. Push the tip of the tongue between the front teeth.
[ʃ] Pronounce [s]. Let the tip of the tongue travel backwards in the mouth beyond the “corner” in the roof of your mouth.
[ʒ] Pronounce [z]. Let the tip of the tongue travel backwards in the mouth beyond the “corner” in the roof of your mouth. This sound appears in English, German and Italian with a preceding [d], e.g. in “journal”, “Dschungel” and “giusto”.
[β] Pronounce [a]. Close your mouth until the lips touch each other but you can still push out air.
[ʎ] Pronounce [lj]. The sound that appears in the transition from [l] to [j] is [ʎ].
[ç] Pronounce [h] with the tongue in the position of [j]
[ɹ] Pronounce [ʒ], let the tongue travel even further back and then pronounce a [œ].
[ɫ] Put the tip of the tongue in the position of [l], then pronounce [o].
[ʔ] Stop the flow of air between two vowels

Affricates: In the sequences [ts], [dz], [tʃ] [dʒ] and [pf], the first sound often crosses over directly into the second one. This is denoted by an over-arc in IPA. Since this phenomenon seems to be universal in the languages under consideration here (and thus no native speaker of one of them will make a mistake in another one), this subtlety is ignored in this essay.

Source: My observations


Vowels are described by three parameters:
Open vowels have the tongue at the bottom of the mouth, closed vowels have the tongue nearly touching the roof of the mouth.
Back vowels have the ridge of the tongue moved to the back, front vowels have it it moved to the front
Rounded vowels have the lips form a small circle (like when using a straw), unrounded vowels have the lips relaxed. Unrounded front vowels can be pronounced more easily if you smile while pronouncing them.
If you want to learn how to pronounce a vowel, find a vowel that you already know and that differs from the unknown one in only one parameter. Pronounce the known vowel and change the parameter to obtain the unknown vowel.
In the following table, vowels to the right of the “♦” are rounded, else unrounded.
Front Near-front Central Near-back Back
Close  [i] ♦ [y]      ♦ [u]      ♦ [u]
Near-close  [ɪ] ♦ [ʏ]      ♦ [ʊ]
Close-mid [e] ♦ [ø]      ♦ [o]      ♦ [o]
Mid [ə] ♦
Open-mid  [ɛ] ♦ [œ] [ʌ] ♦ [ɔ]
Near-open [æ] ♦ [ɐ] ♦
Open  [a] ♦ [A] ♦ [ɑ] ♦ [ɒ]

Remark: In the official IPA alphabet, there is no [A]. However, the sound is used in a number of languages.

Source: Wikipedia / IPA. Introduction of [A] by myself.


Symbol Explanation
[ ~ ]Indicates that the vowel is nasalized, i.e. the velum is lowered, so that part of the air escapes through the nose. [], for example, is a nasalized [æ]. It appears in the French word “main”, [m:].
[ ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced further to the front.
[ ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced further to the back.
[ ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced more closed.
[ ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced more open.
[ ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced with less lip rounding.
[ ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced with more lip rounding.
[ vowel ]Indicates that the vowel is pronounced weaker and shorter than usual
[ : ]Prolongs the preceding vowel.

Source: Wikipedia / IPA


Sound English German French Italian Spanish
[i] happy ihr iris isola isla
[y] - üben usage - -
[u] - Uhr ou uva uva
[ɪ] it Insel - - -
[ʏ] - üppig - - -
[ʊ] - unter - - -
[] put - - - -
[e] - Esel et e este
[ø] - Öhse Europe - -
[o] - Ofen au oro once
[ə] err keine - - -
[ɛ] estimate Ärger espoir - -
[œ] - öffnen soeur - -
[ɔ] - offen sort parola -
[] ought - - - -
[ɐ] - besser - - -
[] hug - - - -
[A] - anders à a a
[ɑ] father - - - -
[] onion - - - -
[æ] angle - - - -

Remark: For the English transscriptions, see the remark at English.

Source: Wikipedia / IPA and Wikipedia pages linked from there. English transscriptions as given in [Barry].


A diphthong is a vowel combination involving a quick but smooth movement from one vowel to another. In IPA notation, diphthong vowels are joined by an under-arc:
Sound English German French Italian Spanish
[**] house Haus moi sei guapa
A syllable is a vowel sequence with its surrounding consonants that is perceived as a phonological unit (for example, the English word “nicely” falls into two syllables like “nice-ly”). A diphthong is never split up into syllables. A prolongation ([ : ]) always applies to the whole diphthong. A minimal pair is a pair of words that differ only by one speech sound in their pronunciation. A minimal pair proves that the speech sound difference is important in the language. For example, the words “vat” and “bat” form a minimal pair that proves that the distinction between [v] and [b] is important in the English language.

An affix is a string that is appended to the basic form of a word. Examples are the plural “s” for nouns, the adjective modifiers (such as “-ly” and “est”) and the all verb form indicators (such as “-ing”, “-s” or “-ed”).

Source: Wikipedia / Diphthongs. My definitions for “syllable”, “minimal pair” and “affix”.


An apostrophe ['] precedes the syllable that receives the stress:
English German French Italian Spanish
consti'tution Ver'fassung constitu'tion constitu'zione constitu'ción
I use an accent grave [`] to mark the word that receives the stress in a compound word:
English German French Italian Spanish
`safety belt `Sicherheits-Gurt ceinture de `sécurité cintura di `sicurezza cinturón de `seguridad

Source: The apostrophe is standard, the accent grave is my definition.


This essay does not make a distinction between upper case letters and lower case letters. It will refer to the letters “a”, “e”, “i”, “o”, “u” (with all their diacritic variations) as vowel letters and to all other letters as consonant letters. When it is clear from the context, we will call them simply vowels and consonants. A sequence of letters is called a string. Strings are enclosed in quotation marks, “”, unless a table header identifies all column entries as strings. The following meta-letters are used to describe patterns of strings:
Meta-letter Meaning
V a vowel letter
C a consonant letter
... any letters
C+ one or more consonants
# a word boundary
| a syllable boundary (including word boundaries)
(  ) letters enclosed in parentheses define the surroundings of a string
(   /   ) one of the alternatives in the surroundings
[  ] sounds enclosed in parentheses define the sound surroundings of a string
S a syllable
W a word
Here are some examples of patterns:
Pattern Meaning
a the letter “a”
ah the string “ah”
a(h) the letter “a”, if followed by the letter “h”
a(C) the letter “a”, if followed by a consonant
a(CV) the letter “a”, if followed by a consonant and a vowel
a(C / V) the letter “a”, if followed by a consonant or a vowel
a(b / c) the letter “a”, if followed by “b” or “c”
[p]a the letter “a”, if preceded by anything pronounced as [p]
#a the letter “a” at the word onset
a# the letter “a” at the word end
a| the letter “a” at the word end or syllable end
The tables below will give for each language a set of string patterns together with their pronunciations. If you want to know how a particular word is pronounced, you figure out which patterns match your word until each letter is covered. Preference should be given to the most specific patterns (i.e. the longest ones and the ones with most real letters).

Source: My definitions.

Common Pitfalls

This section lists some difficulties that people tend to encounter when speaking another language.
Note that English, German and Italian all have a different r-sound. The wrong r-sound will identify you immediately as a foreigner.
Native English speakers
Note that the IPA vowels are not diphthongized. An [ɛ], for example, sounds like the beginning of the English word “ace” [ɛɪs], but it does not cross over to the [ɪ]-sound before the “c”.
Native German speakers
Note that the [v]-sound corresponds to the “w” in German. Furthermore, take care that [ʒ] does not sound like [ʃ], [b] does not sound like [p], [g] does not sound like [k] and [d] does not sound like [t]. Note furthermore that the other languages do not have a glottal stop between the words, i.e. the words have to be linked together as if they were one long word! If you don't do this, you will sound harsh to native speakers!
Native French speakers
Take care that the [h]-sound appears, but that it does not sound too strong and pressed. Stop the vocal chords from vibrating after having pronounced a word, do not produce an [ø]-sound at the end of the word.
Native Italian/Spanish speakers
Take care that the [h]-sound appears, but that it does not sound too strong and pressed. Try to distinguish open/short and closed/long vowels (e.g. the English words “beach” [bɪjtʃ] and “bitch” [bɪtʃ]). Stop the vocal chords from vibrating after having pronounced a word, do not produce an [ɛ]-sound at the end of the word.

Source: My observations


For the German patterns, composed words are pronounced as if they were two independent words. For example, “Hausboot” is considered a composed word of “Haus” and “Boot”.


The German vowel letters are either pronounced as tense vowels or as lax vowels. Here they are, together with their minimal pairs:
Vowel letter Tense Lax
a [A:] Rahmen [A] rammen
e, ä [e:] Weg [ɛ] weg
i [i:] riet [ɪ] ritt
o [o:] Ofen [ɔ] offen
ö [ø:] Höhle [œ] Hölle
u [u:] Ruhm [ʊ] Rum
ü [y:] fühle [ʏ] fülle
A vowel letter is pronounced tense when it appears in the following patterns:
Pattern Example
in a simple wordrot [ʁo:th]
duplicatedBoot [bo:th]
together with an “h”Mohn [mo:n]
followed by b, d, g, ß Obst [o:pst]
followed by a syllable onsetrote [ʁo:thə]
A vowel letter is pronounced lax when it appears in the following patterns:
Pattern Example
before a duplicated consonantRotte [ʁɔtə]
before “x”Hexe [hɛksə]
In the other cases, it cannot be said deterministically whether the vowel is pronounced tense or lax. A lax pronunciation is usually a good guess.

Exceptions: Prepositions (such as “mit”, “zum”, “was”, and the above “weg”) are often pronounced lax. Vowels before “ch” and may be either tense or lax (”lachen” [laxən], but “Nachen” [na:xən]).

Baseform rule: Derivative forms usually follow the pronunciation of their base form. Examples:

Remarks: There are also a number of debated pronunciations (”Dusche”, e.g., is pronounced either lax or tense). Furthermore, it is debated whether the sound [ɛ:] occurs in German. This sound is necessary to distinguish the minimal pair “Ehre” [e:ʁə] and “Ähre” [ɛ:ʁə] . However, this distinction is not made in all German variants of Hochdeutsch and the Duden allows to pronounce “äh” as [e:]. Hence, this essay adheres to this simplification.

There are two additional rules:

Pattern Sound Example
e after stressed syllable [ə] keine
ie, ieh [i:] riet

Source: Compiled from Wikipedia / German Phonology, Wikipedia / German Spelling, Wikipedia / Aussprache der deutschen Sprache and Wikipedia pages linked from there. Rules for tense and lax vowels by me. Some minimal pairs for tense and lax vowels by me.


The following diphthongs appear in German:
Patterns Pronunciation Example
au [ɑʊ] Haus
ei, ai, ey, ay [] Heim
eu, äu [ɔɪ] Eule

Remark: To make it sound German, keep your lips and your mouth in a rather closed position when pronouncing these diphthongs.

Source: By myself


Some German consonants exist as fortis (voiceless, aspirated) and lenis (voiced) versions. Lenis consonants appear only at the syllable onset:
Fortis Lenis
Patterns Sound Example
p, pp, b [pʰ] Pulle
t, tt, d [tʰ] Torf
k, ck, g [kʰ] Keil
ß, ss, s [s] weiße
f, ff, v, w [fʰ] Fall
Patterns Sound Example
b at syllable onset [b] Bulle
d at syllable onset [d] Dorf
g at syllable onset [g] geil
s at syllable onset [z] weise
w at syllable onset [v] Wall
Fortis consonants are always aspirated.

Remark: Note that even lenis consonants are pronounced fortis in all places except for the beginning of a syllable! In particular, they are pronounced fortis at the end of a syllable. Thus, “Rad” and “Rat” sound the same. This phenomenon is called Auslautverhärtung. Often, the lenis consonants serve just to make the preceding vowel tense. “Obst”, for example, is pronounced [o:pst].

Deaspiration: The fortis consonants lose their aspiration at the beginning of a syllable after consonants:

Pattern Sound Example
p at the beginning of a syllable after consonants[p]Spiel [ʃpi:l]
t at the beginning of a syllable after consonants[t]Stahl [ʃtA:l]

The letter “r”: The German “r” is often considered a difficult sound. Fortunately, it appears far less frequently than assumed! “r” is pronounced [ʁ] only if a vowel follows in the same syllable! Else, it is pronounced [ɐ] (a phenomenon called Vokalisierung). If an “e” or an “a” precedes the “r”, the Vokalisierung eats this letter as well. If a syllable boundary follows, a glottal stop [ʔ] is inserted.

Patterns Sound Example
r followed by a vowel [ʁ] rot [ʁo:th]
r at word end [ɐ] der [deɐ]
er followed by a consonant or word end [ɐ] immer [ɪmɐ]
ar followed by a consonant or word end [A:] Art [A:th]
r followed by vowel syllable onset [ɐʔ] Urahne [Uɐʔ A:nə] Do not say [UʁA:nə]
er followed by vowel syllable onset [ɐʔ] Verein [fɐʔ aɪn] Do not say [feʁaɪn]

Other patterns: Some patterns trigger special sounds:

Patterns Sound Example Remark
(a/o/u)ch [x] Dach ”ch” after “a”, “o” or “u”
ch [ç] ich ”ch” after anything else than “a”, “o” or “u”.
chs [ks] wechseln [xs] would be too complicated even for Germans
dt [t] Stadt the voiceless “d” and the “t” get contracted
ig at word end [ɪç] wichtig at word end
ng [ŋ] Junge [jʊŋə] Note: There is no [g] sound! Do not say [jʊŋgə]
qu [kv] Qualle ”Q” appears only together with “u”
sch [ʃʷ] Schule Make your lips round!
sp at syllable onset [ʃʷp] Spiel only at the syllable onset
st at syllable onset [ʃʷt] Stein only at the syllable onset
ti followed by on/är/al/ell [tsɪ] Information applies mostly to loanwords
tz [ts] Katze
The remaining sounds are:
Patterns Sound Example
h [h] Haus
j [j] Jahr
L, LL [L] Land
m, mm [m] Meer
n, nn [n] Nase
x [ks] Hexe
z [ts] Zahl [tsA:l]

Source: Compiled from the Wikipedia pages mentioned above, pronunciation of “r” by me, rules for fortis and lenis consonants by me as well. Rule for deaspiration derived from [Barry].

Word Boundaries and Syllable Boundaries

When two vowels meet across syllables, Germans insert a glottal stop:
Pattern Sound Example
syllable onset between vowels[ʔ]Beamter [bə ʔ Amtɐ]
This also applies on word-level: A word is separated from the preceding word by a glottal stop, if it starts with a vowel:
Pattern Sound Example
word start with vowel[ʔ]Alle aufgepasst! [ʔ Alə ʔ ɑʊfgəpAsth]
Sehr gut! [se:ɐ gu:th]
This gives German its hard sounding nature.

Source: My formalizations


This section covers the Southern British standard pronunciation of English, the so-called Received Pronunciation. English differs from the other languages in a number of aspects: Given the ambiguities of the English spelling, the descriptions below cannot give a deterministic mapping from strings to sounds. But the descriptions do enumerate all English consonants, vowels and diphthongs exhaustively. Thus, you can at least exclude pronunciations that are definitively wrong.

Source: My observations. Spellings of [k] from Wikipedia / English spelling.

Vowels and Diphthongs

I group the the English vowels into 4 classes: Short vowels, long vowels, open combinations and closed combinations (the columns in the following table). Within each class, there are different types (the rows in the following table). To each type, I have assigned a letter, which roughly mirrors the phonetic symbol. Here are the sounds, together with example words:
Letter Short Long Closed
a [æ]
a variant []
e [ɛ]
i [ɪ]
u []
o []
schwa [ə]
Furthermore, there is a syllable-final [i].


Remarks: Other transscriptions are often used in the literature. However, these often do not correspond to the exact Received Pronunciation. I have digged out the above narrow transsciptions from [Barry].
I have called the long vowels “long” because they are long. I have called the short vowels “short” because they are short. I have called the combinations “combinations”, because they are combinations of (semi-)vowels. I have called the open combinations “open” because they end with an open vowel. I have called the closed combinations “closed” because they end with a closed vowel.

Alternative pronunciations: There are a number of acceptable other pronunciations:

I have decided against these pronunciations because they may make different words sound the same, especially if pronounced by a foreigner.

Destressing: Vowels that do not carry the first or second stress in a word are pronounced [ə] in some cases — irrespective of the vowel letter.

Pattern Sound Example
V   (not carrying 1st or 2nd stress)in some cases [ə]conservative [kənsə:vətɪv]
The same happens to unstressed function words: [Barry / 216]
Pattern Sound Example
him [hɪm]We'll see him tomorrow
(C) him [ɪm]Have you seen him?
his[ɪz]His car is gone
(C) his[ɪz]Have you seen his car?
her [hə]Her car is gone
(C) her [ə]Have you seen her car?
he [hi]He did it?
(C) he [i]Has he done it?
she [ʃi]What did she say?
we [wi]Can we help?
our [aʊə]It's our great strength
our (V)[aɹ]It's our own fault
you [jə]How do you do?
your [jə]How's your father?
their [ðɛ]That's their slogan
for [fə]Time for tea
to [tə]We went to the shops
to (V)[t]He gave his money to others
VL is [s]The cup is broken
is [z]The idea is a good one
the [ðə]The problem
the (V)[ði]The idea
Here, VL abbreviates the voiceless sounds:
   VL = ([p] / [t] / [k] / [f] / [θ] / [s] / [ʃ] / [h])

The j-sound:The sound [j] can only occur at the beginning of a word or after certain sounds at the onset of a syllable. I abbreviate this pattern as follows:
   J = (# / [p] / [b] / [t] / [d] / [k] / [g] / [m] / [n] / [f] / [v] / [θ] / [z] / [h]).

Vowel patterns:There usually exist multiple vowel sounds for one pattern in English. For each pattern I have put the pronunciation that I assume to be the most common to the top.

Pattern Sound Example Exception
a [ɑ:] long “a” father
a [] short “o” watch
a [æ] short “a” man
a [] closed “e” comb. paper
a [] long “o” fall
a [ə] short schwa another
a [ɛ] short “e” many
a [ɪ] short “i” damage
#a|[] closed “e” comb.atheist
a(C+)e [] closed “e” comb. rate
aar [ɑ:] long “a” bazaar
ae [ɛ] short “e” aesthetic
ae [] closed “a” comb. maestro
ae [] closed “e” comb. reggae
aer [ɛə] open “e” comb. aerial
ai [] closed “e” comb. rain
ai [æ] short “a” plaid
ai [ə] short schwa mountain
ai [ɛ] short “e” said
ai [ɪ] short “i” bargain
ai(C+)e [] closed “e” comb. cocaine
air [ɛə] open “e” comb. hair
aire [ɛə] open “e” comb. millionaire
ais [] closed “a” comb. aisle
a (l)[] long “o”bald
al (k) [] long “o” walk
al (l)[] long “o”call[æ] shall
al (f)[ɑ:] long “a”half
al (m)[ɑ:] long “a”calm[æm] salmon
ar [ɑ:] long “a” car
ar [] long “o” war
ar [ə:] long schwa grammar
ar [ɛə] open “e” comb. stationary
are [ɛə] open “e” comb. ware
are [ɑ:] long “a” are
au [] long “o” author
au [ɑ:] long “a” aunt
au [] short “o” sausage
au [æ] short “a” laugh
au [] closed “e” comb. gauge
au(C+)e [əʊ] closed schwa comb.mauve
aw [] long “o” jaw
ay [] closed “e” comb. pay
ay [ɛ] short “e” says
e [ɛ] short “e” met
e [ə] short schwa anthem
e [ɪ] short “i” pretty
(C)e# [i] final “i” be
ea [ɪj] closed “i” comb. beach
ea [ɛ] short “e” weather
ea [ɪ] short “i” mileage
ea [] closed “e” comb. steak
ea(C+)e [ɛ] short “e” cleanse
ear [ɪə] open “i” comb. ear
ear [ɑ:] long “a” heart
ear [ə:] long schwa earth
J eau [j] closed “u” comb. beauty
ee [ɪj] closed “i” comb. bee
ee [ɪ] short “i” been
ei [ɪj] closed “i” comb. deceit
ei [ɛ] short “e” heifer
ei [ɪ] short “i” counterfeit, soverein
ei [] closed “e” comb. veil [] height, sleight
ei [ə] short schwa foreign
eir [ɛə] open “e” comb. heir
eo [əʊ] closed schwa comb.yeoman
eo [ɪj] closed “i” comb. people
eo [ɛ] short “e” jeopardy
er [ə:] long schwa fern [ɑ:] sergeant
er [ɛə] open “e” comb. stationary
er(V/y)[ɪər]serious, series, cereal,
serial [Barry / 115]
ere [ɛə] open “e” comb. where
ere [ɪə] open “i” comb. here
err [ə:] long schwa err
J eu [j] closed “u” comb. feud
J eue [j] closed “u” comb. queue
eur [ə:] long schwa amateur
J ew [j] closed “u” comb. few
ew [] closed “u” comb. jewel [əʊ] sew
J ewe [j] closed “u” comb. ewe
ey [ɪj] closed “i” comb. key
ey [] closed “a” comb. geyser
ey [] closed “e” comb. obey
eye [] closed “a” comb. eye
i [ɪ] short “i” bid
i [] closed “a” comb. mind
i [æ] short “a” meringe
i [ɪ] short “i” medicine
i [j]onion
i(C+)e [] closed “a” comb. fine [ɪ] recipe [rɛsɪpi]
i(C+)e [ɪj] closed “i” comb. machine
ia [ɪ] short “i” carriage
ic [ɪk]strict[] indict
ie [ɪj] closed “i” comb. field
ie [ɛ] short “e” friend
ie [ɪ] short “i” sieve
ier [ɪə] open “i” comb. frontier
ier [] closed “e” comb. dossier
J ieu [j] closed “u” comb. adieu
J iew [j] closed “u” comb. view
ir [ə:] long schwa thirst
ir [] open “a” comb. choir
ire [] open “a” comb. fire
is [] closed “a” comb. isle
o [] short “o” lock
o [] short “u” son
o [ə] short schwa awesome
o [ɪ] short “i” women
o [] closed “u” comb. who
o [] short “u” wolf
o [əʊ] closed schwa comb.so
o [w]choir
o(C+)e [əʊ] closed schwa comb.mope
o(C+)e [] short “u” come
o(C+)e [] closed “u” comb. lose
o(C+)e [əʊ] closed schwa comb.bone
oa [əʊ] closed schwa comb.boat
oa [] long “o” broad
oar(C+)e [] long “o” coarse
oar[]board [Barry / 130]
oe [əʊ] closed schwa comb.foe
oe [] short “u” does
oe#[əʊ]toe[] canoe, shoe [Barry / 118]
oi [] closed “o” comb. noise
oi [ə] short schwa porpoise, tortoise
o (l)[əʊ] closed schwa comb.old [ə:] colonel
ol (k)[əʊ] closed schwa comb.folk
ol (l)[əʊ] closed schwa comb.roll
ol (m)[əʊ] closed schwa comb.holm
oo [] closed “u” comb. tool
oo [] short “u” flood
oo [əʊ] closed schwa comb.brooch
oo(C+)e [] short “u” gooseberry
ook[] short “u” book [Barry / 118] [] snook, spook [Barry / 118]
oor [] long “o” door
or [] long “o” for
or [ə:] long schwa worst
or [] short “u” worsted
or(C+)e [] long “o” horse
ou [] closed “u” comb. soup
ou [] short “u” touch
ou [ə] short schwa callous
ou [] short “u” courier
ou [əʊ] closed schwa comb.soul
ou [] long “o” bought
ou(C+)e [aʊ] closed “a” comb. variant mouse
ough[] long “o”ought [Barry / 131]
ough[aʊ] closed “a” comb. variant plough [Barry / 131]
ough[f] short “o” cough [Barry / 131]
ough[f] short “a” varianttough [Barry / 131]
ough[əʊ] closed schwa comb.though
ough[] closed “u” comb.through
oul [] short “u” should
our[aʊə] open “a” comb. variantour [Barry / 131]
our [] long “o” four
our [ə:] long schwa journey
our [ʊə] open “u” comb. your
ow [əʊ] closed schwa comb.know
ow [aʊ] closed “a” comb. variant now
oy [] closed “o” comb. toy
oy(C+)e [] closed “o” comb. gargoyle
J u [j] closed “u” comb. music
u [] short “u” sun
u [ɛ] short “e” bury
u [ɪ] short “i” busy
u [] closed “u” comb. luminous
u [] short “u” full
J u(C+)e [j] closed “u” comb. use
u(C+)e [] closed “u” comb. flute
uar [ɑ:] long “a” guard
J ue [j] closed “u” comb. cue
ue [ɛ] short “e” guess
ue [] closed “u” comb. true
J ui [j] closed “u” comb. nuisance
ui [] closed “a” comb. guide
ui [ɪ] short “i” build
ui [] closed “u” comb. fruit
ui(C+)e[] closed “u” comb. juice
uo [] long “o” flourine
uoy [] closed “o” comb. buoy
ur [ə:] long schwa turn
ure [ʊə] open “u” comb. sure
J ure [jʊə] open “u” comb. cure
urr[ə:] long schwaburr [Barry / 141]
uy [] closed “a” comb. buy
wo [] closed “u” comb. two
y [] closed “a” comb. try
y [ə] short schwa beryl
y [ɪ] short “i” myth
y(C+)e [] closed “a” comb. type
y#[i] final “i”happy
ye [] closed “a” comb. dye
yr [ə:] long schwa myrtle
yrr [ə:] long schwa myrrh

Source: The vowel patterns in the big table are the reverse compilation from Wikipedia / English orthography. The J-pattern is deduced from Wikipedia / English phonology]. All other information by myself or from Barry, where indicated.


The “th” combination: “th” is pronounced voiced in some function words and between vowels. Else it is pronounced voiceless.

Pattern Sound Example
   in the words
    this, these, their, them, the, those, there, though


this [ðɪs]
(V) th (V)[ð]mother [mðə]
th[θ]thing [θɪŋ]

The tongue has to be at the teeth for “th”. In order to prepare the tongue for this position, certain consonants are pronounced with the tongue already at the teeth when a “th” follows [Barry / 90]. The “th” may follow either in the same word or in the next word:

Pattern Sound Example
d [ð][]hand this over [hænðɪsəʊvə]
d [θ][]width [wɪθ]
t (th), t (#th)[]put through [pʔθɹ]
n (th), n (#th)[]month [mθ]
L (th), L (#th)[]health [hɛθ]
s (th), s (#th)[sj]this thing [ðɪsjθɪŋ]
thr[θɾ]three [θɾɪj]
The [s] becomes palatalized, so that the tip of the tongue is free to pronounce the following “th”.

Remark concerning the “R”: Some foreigners have problems with the english [ɹ]. Many foreigners, however, will pronounce the word “prim” with a correct [ɹ]. What they would need to do is (1) using this [ɹ] in the other places as well and (2) omitting the “r” if no vowel follows.

Example word Foreign pronunciation Correct pronunciation
prim [ɹ][ɹ](this is correct)
merry [ɾ][ɹ] (the one from “prim”)
port [ɾ][ ] (simply omit it!)

The dark and light “L”: The “L” is usually pronounced [ɫ]. If a vowel follows, it becomes [l]:

Pattern Sound Example
Le #[ɫ]pile
Les #[ɫz]piles
L (V)[l]mailing
L # (V)[l]mail and letters
Le # (V)[l]pile of letters
LL (V)[l]telling
LL # (V)[l]tell and listen

Final voiced consonants: A voiced consonant at the end of a syllable serves to prolong the preceding sound:

Pattern Sound Example
(V/Vr/l/m/n) b | [:b] mob [m:b]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) d | [:d] mid [mɪ:d]
        (l/m/n) ed | [:d] mailed [mɫ:d]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) g | [:g] dog [d:g]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) ge | [:dʒ] large [lɑ:dʒ]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) dge | [:dʒ] wedge [wɛ:dʒ]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) s | [:z] mails [mɫ:z]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) se | [:z] rinse [ɹɪn:z]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) ve | [:v] give [gɪ:v]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) z | [:z]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) zz | [:z] buzz [b:z]
To hear the difference between [g] and [k], listen to the words “dock” and “dog” .
The final voiced consonant is pronounced voiceless if a voiceless sound follows.
Pattern Sound
(V/Vr/l/m/n) b | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) d | VL [:]
        (l/m/n) ed | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) g | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) ge | VL [:d]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) dge | VL [:d]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) s | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) se | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) ve | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) z | VL [:]
(V/Vr/l/m/n) zz | VL [:]
Here, VL is an abbreviation for voiceless sounds:
   VL = ([p] / [t] / [k] / [f] / [θ] / [s] / [ʃ] / [h])

Thus, the main characteristics of final voiced consonants is not that they are voiced (because they may be devoiced), but that they prolong the preceding sound. This leads to the following lengths of vowel sounds: [Barry / 114]
      sit [sɪt] < Sid [sɪ:d] < seat [sɪjt] < seed [sɪj:d]

The influence of voiceless sounds has contributed to the following pronunciations of common verbal constructions: [Barry / 59]

Pattern Sound
have VL[hæ:]
have to (in the sense of “must”)[hæftə]
has VL[hæ:]
has to (in the sense of “must”)[hæstə]
used VL[j:z]
used to (in the sense of “habitually”)[jstə]

Verbs and Nouns: If a verb is derived from a noun, the noun has often a voiceless sound at the end while the verb has a voiced sound.
         advice/advise, the use [js] / to use [j:z], advertisement / advertise
The affixes are pronounced as follows:

Pattern Sound
s #(as affix)[z]beds
VL s #(as affix)[s]pets
ed # (as affix)[d]failed
(d/t)ed # (as affix)[ɪd]waited
VL ed # (as affix)[t]topped
es # (as affix)[ɪz]washes
ies # (as affix)[ɪz]cities [Barry / 114]

The combination “ng”: “ng” is usually pronounced [ŋg]. It is pronounced [ŋ] at the end of a word or an affix follows (except for comparative affixes). In some words, it is pronounced [nʒ]: [Barry / 236]

Pattern Sound Example
nger #   (in a comparative form)[ŋgə]longer
ngest #   (in a superlative form)[ŋgəst]longest
ng #[ŋ]sing
ng + affix[ŋ]singing
ng[nʒ]passenger, danger, endanger,
messenger, manger, ranger, ginger
ngue #[ŋ]tongue

Glottal Stops: While English does not have the glottal stop before vowels (as does German), it does insert a glottal stop before syllable-final [p], [t], [tʃ] and [k]. This is called glottal reinforcement.

Patterns Sound Example
(V)ck|, (V)k|, (V)c| [ʔk] pick [pɪʔk]
(V)p|, (V)pp| [ʔp] sip [sɪʔp]
(V)t|, (V)tt| [ʔt] kit [kɪʔt]
(V)tch|, (V)ch| [ʔtʃ] bitch [bɪʔtʃ]

Others: The remaining patterns are

Patterns Sound Example Exception
b, bb[b]bit
c(e/i/y)[s]centre[tʃ] cello
ci(V) (unstressed)[ʃ]special
ci(V) (unstressed)[si]species
d, dd[d]dive, ladder
ex(V/h) (unstressed)[ɪgz]exist, exhaust
ex(V/h) (unstressed)[ɪks]exhale
f, ff[f]fine, off[v] of
ften (unstressed)[fən]often
gh#[ ]dough, high
gh#[f]laugh, enough
gn|, |gn[n]reign
gu(e/i)[g]guest, guide
h[h]hotel[] hour, heir, honor, vehicle, exhaust, exhibit
j[dʒ]jump, ajar
m, mm[m]mine, hammer
mb[m]climb, plumber
n, nn[n]nice, funny
p, pp[pʰ]pill, happy
que#[k]mosque[kju:] barbeque
r, rr[ɹ]ray, parrot[ ] iron
rh, rrh[ɹ]rhyme, diarrhoea
s[s]song[ʃ] sugar
(V)s(V)[z]rose, prison
(V)s(V)[s]house, base
sci(V) (unstressed)[ʃ]conscience
sc(e/i/y)[s]scissors[sk] sceptic
sch[ʃ]schist[s] schism
ss[s]message[ʃ] tissue
ss[z]scissors, dessert
ssi(V) (unstressed)[ʃ]mission
sten (unstressed)[sən]listen
stle (unstressed)[sɫ]whistle
t, tt[tʰ]ten, bitter
tch[tʃ]batch, kitchen
ti(V) (unstressed)[ʃ]nation
ti(V) (unstressed)[ʒ]equation
v, vv[v]vine, bovver
wh(o)[h]who, whole
x[ks]box[kʃ] luxury
x (before vowel with primary
   or secondary stress)
z, zz[z]zoo, fuzz
zure (unstressed)[ʒə]seizure

Source: The big table is compiled from the tables in Wikipedia / English orthography. The rule for glottal stops is taken from Wikipedia / Received Pronunciation. All other rules are from myself or from [Barry] where indicated.

Word Linking

In English, words are linked together — either by connecting the words directly or by putting an intermediate sound between them.
Pattern Sound Name Example
#[]LinkingHop on, hop off [hʔ pn hʔ pf]
(Vre) # (V)[ɹ]Linking “R”spare a moment [spɛəɹəməʊmɛnt]
(Vr) # (V)[ɹ]Linking “R”far away [fɑɹəw]
[ / / ] # (V)[j]Intrusive [j]say it! [sjɪt]
[ / aʊ / əʊ ] # (V)[w]Intrusive [w]Take your shoe off [...ʃwf]
If a word-final consonant meets a word-initial vowel, it helps to pretend that the consonant belongs to the next word. Thus, “hop on” is pronounced like “ho pon” and “Have an ice day” is pronounced like “Have a nice day” [Barry / 183]. There is an optional intrusive “R”, which can be put between two vowels [Barry / 185].

Word Stress

In this section, all patterns refer to whole words (i.e. they are implicitly started and ended with “#”).

By default, English words are stressed on the first syllable:

Stress pattern Examples
'...'labyrith, 'amateur, 'prospect
Some final syllables attract the stress: [Barry / 241]
Stress pattern Examples
...'ookangor'oo, shamp'oo, bamb'oo (exception: 'igloo)
...'eechimpans'ee, sett'ee, train'ee
...'airemillion'aire, legionn'aire
...'adelemon'ade (exception: 'marmelade)
...'eervolunt'eer, mountain'eer, engin'eer, car'eer
...'inemagaz'ine, submar'ine
Other patterns require the preceding syllable to be stressed: [Barry / 241]
Stress pattern Examples
...'S icauto'matic
...'S ionin'tention
Some affixes are stress-neutral, i.e. they do not move the stress of the original word: [Barry / 242]
Stress pattern Examples
un... (as affix)un'friendly
dis... (as affix)disa'ppointed
...hood (as affix)'likelihood
If a word can be both a noun and a verb, the noun is usually stressed on the first syllable and the verb is stressed on the last: [Barry / 242]
Stress pattern Examples
'S S   (if used as noun)'export
S 'S   (if used as verb)ex'port

Source: Compiled from [Barry / 239ff].

Stress for compounds

Most compounds are stressed on the first word:
Stress pattern Example
`W W`Safety belt
However, all compound place names are stressed on the second word, except for compounds with “Street”, “House” and “Museum”:
Stress Pattern Examples
`W Street`Park Street
`W House`White House
`W Museum`Geographic Museum
W `W (place names) Park `Road, Park `Drive, Park `Crescent, Nottingham `Forest, North `Sea, Waterloo `Station, North `Pole, Leicester `Square
There are a number of other compounds that are stressed on the second word:
Stress pattern
crown `jewels, gold `coins, Prime `Minister, government `crisis, kitchen `sink, country `dance, pound `note, W `stamp, evening `star, Middle `Ages, Christmas `W, apple `pie, head`quarters
Adjective + Noun compounds are stressed on the second word:
Stress pattern Examples
Adjective `Nounblue `lagoon, short `story, civil `war
Gerund + Noun compounds are stressed on the first word, if they refer to the object:
Stress pattern Examples
`Gerund Noun (as object)`cleaning lady, `driving licence
Gerund + Noun compounds are stressed on the second word, if they refer to the action:
Stress pattern Examples
Gerund `Noun (as action)cleaning `windows (Cleaning `windows is fun)
Adjective + Past Participle compounds are stressed on the second word:
Stress pattern Examples
Adjective `PastParticipleabsent-`minded (The professor is absent-`minded), old-`fashioned, short-`lived, short-`sighted, blue-`eyed, over-`paid, thick-`skinned, red-`handed, left-`handed, open-`ended, over-`staffed, good-`natured, light-`hearted, over-`qualified, half-`hearted
If used to qualify a following noun, Adjective + Past Participle compounds are stressed on the first word:
Stress pattern Examples
`Adjective PastParticiple Noun`absent-minded professor
Verb + Particle compounds are stressed on the first word, if used as a noun:
Stress pattern Examples
`Verb Particle (as noun)`check-in, `countdown, `pullover, 'comeback, 'know-how, 'sit-in, `drive-in, 'layout
In verb+particle combinations (like “to run down”), one distinguishes phrasal combinations and non-phrasal combinations. The combination is phrasal if the particle gives a different meaning to the verb (e.g. “to run” vs. “to run down somebody”). In this case, the particle cannot be left away without changing the meaning of the sentence (”I ran down somebody” does not mean “I ran”). Hence, the particle is stressed.
Conversely, the combination is non-phrasal, if the particle merely concretizes the verb (e.g. “to run” vs. “to run down the street”). In this case, the particle and the following part of the sentence can be left away while maintaining the truth of the sentence (e.g. “I ran down the street” means that “I ran”). Hence the verb is stressed.
Stress pattern Examples
Verb `Particle (as phrasal verb)I ran `down the grandma
`Verb Particle (as non-phrasal verb)I `ran down the street
In compound words, there cannot be two adjacent syllables with primary stress. If the last syllable of the first compound word is stressed and the first syllable of the second compound word is stressed as well, the stress of the first word shifts:
Stress pattern Examples
'S...S  #  'S...S'Chinese 'restaurant (as opposed to “Chi'nese” if standing alone)

Source: Compiled from [Barry / 239ff]. Explanations for phrasal verbs by myself.


[Barry] Hartwig Eckert and William Barry: “The Phonetics and Phonology of English Pronunciation”, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Trier, 2002


I would like to thank Edwin Lewis-Kelham for providing the English sound samples.