Don’t pronounce everything!

It is very common not to hear some of the vowels when we pronounce some words. These are called unstressed vowels.

A MALAYSIAN man who was on holiday at his sister’s in Toronto asked for an envelope from his niece but she could not comprehend what he wanted.

He repeated the word “envelope” a few times, yet his niece did not know what he wanted so he enunciated, “En-ve-luhp.”

But the Canadian-born girl was still puzzled so she went to ask her Malaysian-born mother what her uncle wanted.

The lady said, “He’d like an onv-luhp.”

What had confused the niece was that her uncle was unaware of the unstressed vowel in the word envelope and had pronounced it giving the word three syllables instead of the usual two.

What are unstressed vowels?

It is very common not to hear some of the vowels when we pronounce some words. These are called unstressed vowels. Such a vowel is shown in dictionaries as an italicised schwa or a bracketed schwa which tells you that the vowel is not usually pronounced in the word.

Here are examples of some words with the unstressed vowel missing in each word.

1. bre_kfast

2. veg_table

3. bus_ness

4. diff_rent

5. int_rest

6. myst_ry

7. sep_rate

8. choc_late

9. di_mond

10. ev_ry

11. hist_ry

Here are the pronunciations of some words with an unstressed vowel missed out in each word. Did you know the words? Check in a dictionary for the italicised or bracketed schwa.

1. temprature

2. mathmatics

3. camra

4. factry

5. poisnous

6. cemetry

7. Wensday

Here are some common phrases with an unstressed vowel in each phrase:

1. sister-in-law – sistrin law

2. mother-in-law – mothrin law (_thrin assimilated and pronounced as _drin)

3. father-in-law – fathrin law

4. brother-in-law – brothrin law

5. daughter-in-law – daughtrin law

6. Mr & Mrs – mistruhn misiz

Silent letters

Some letters in certain words are not pronounced, i.e. they are silent. Here are some common silent letters, showing where they occur:

1. b

o plumber, plumbing

o bomber, bombing

o climber, climbing

o debt, debtor

o subtle

o doubt, doubting


2. c

o scent

o science

o scythe

o rescind

o sceptre

o descend


3. k

o knob

o knack

o knight

o knuckle

o knell

o knead


4. g

o gnat

o gnash

o sign, design

o align, alignment

o gnaw

o gnarled

5. h

o exhibit

o exhaust

o heir

o honour, honourable

o honest, honesty

o vehicle


6 . l

o salmon

o almond

o yolk

o walk

o alms

o palm


7. w

o wrath

o writhe

o wreck

o wracking

o wriggle

o answer


8. p

o raspberry

o pneumatic

o psychology, psychiatry

o pneumonia

o pseudonym

o psalm


9. s

o isle

o aisle

o viscount

o debris

o island


10. t

o fasten

o listen, listener, listening

o often

o glisten

o christen

o jostling


11. u

o guitar

o circuit

o guillotine

o guilt, guilty, guiltless

o biscuit

o guard


Elision – the ‘missing out’ of a consonant or vowel or both is also very common in informal speech.

1. elision of a vowel

o go away (go way )

o try again (try gain)

o run along (run long)

o may as well (may-s well )

o get another (get nother)

2 . elision of a consonant


o must be

o left turn

o next day

o post office

o went up


o stand still

o a thousand ringgit

o could be

o bold face

o found out

o loved traveling


This is just a very simple and rather superficial explanation on the eliding of sounds in pronunciation as I am unable to use the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) on the computer.

For a more detailed explanation, one can refer to books on spoken English or pronunciation.

I have referred to Modern Spoken English by Thomas Lee Crowell, Jr (Late Professor of English, Columbia University and Hunter College), Listening to Spoken English by Gillian Brown (Professor of English as an International Language, University of Cambridge) and An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English by A.C. Gimson (formerly Professor of Phonetics, University College, London).

A dictionary is one of the most frequently used books for getting information and I have found the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English quite adequate for everyday use.


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