Certain things should be made quite clear at the beginning. First, these are no more than hints. English pronunciation cannot be described in a few pages. Conventional English spelling is no great help : just think of the spellings of the words rough, friend, colonel ! The intention of these hints is merely to help you to make a better and fuller use of some good dictionary that gives a phonetic spelling also for ach word. For example, there is :


The Advanced Learners Dictionary of Current English, by Hornby, Gatenby, and Wakefield. London : Oxford University Press, Second Edition, 1963


If you turn to the first page you will find the following :

ab bey ['bi] n (pl. abbeys) 1 building(s) in which men etc. etc.


Now you may have seen or in Devanagari; the phonetic spelling in [ ] will help you to find out the right pronunciation only if you know what [ ' ] and [ ] and [ b ] and [ i ] sand for.


Secondly, these are hints for the students. If you are a teacher, or if you intend to specialize in English, then of course they will not be enough ; you should go to some good book. At the least read an elementary book like :


Colloquial English Pronunciation, by Julian T. Pring, London : Longmans, 1959.


Thirdly, the hints are strictly for the interested student. If you are lazy or if you dont care, they are not for you. You will have to make some effort listening to the radio, turning to your pronouncing dictionary whenever there is doubt, practising conversation, reading aloud, and so on. If you do all this, you can not only read better or spell better (for example, writing pronunciation and not pronunciation) but also converse more effectively with those who speak English but come from other parts of India or from other parts of the world. Marathi English, for example, is perfectly all right between two Marathi speakers but trouble starts when a speaker starts using Marathi English (or Gujarati English, and so on) to somebody not familiar with it. English is not your native language and the influence of your mother-tongue is always going to be there : you need not be ashamed of it. But if you succeed in cutting down the distance between your English and the educated Englishmans English, you will make yourself a more useful person.


What are the things that you should know in order to do this? There are four kinds of things:


(a) Every language has its own way of putting the sounds of an utterance into boxes Tamil, for example, puts [p] sounds and [b] sounds in the same box with the result that a Tamil speaker pronounces simple and symbol in the same way, [simbәl], and this makes it difficult for others to understand him. A Marathi speaker on the other hand boxes the sounds of idol and idle in different ways actually, though the spellings are different, the two words are pronounced alike. Obviously if you want to speak English in a way that will be understood by an Englishman, you should have a general idea of the boxes in the Englishmans English an idea of the sound units of English. So, abbey is not divided into five units a, b, b, e, and y but into four sound units or phonemes as they are technically called, namely, [], [ b ], [ i ], and the accent [ ' ] which begins with [ ] and binds the word together.


(b) The proper binding together of phonemes is equally important. Just as writing is not complete without punctuation, speech has its own kind of punctuation and arrangement. If you say equivalent, you should not chop it into equi with the accent on e and valent with the accent on val as many Indians do, but you should say [i'kwivәlәnt] with a single accent that begins with [ k ] and continues through [ v ]. If you are changing your house on Saturday, it will be all right for you to say


Ill 'move on ' Saturday

binding on to Saturday. But if you say


Ill move 'on | ' Saturday

there will be a break between on and Saturday, and your listener will understand that you are going to the next place in your tour. Indeed it will be at all right even if you say :


Ill move 'on | ' Saturday

with two ons one linked with move and the other with Saturday. Good pronunciation will help your grammar.


(c)            It is not enough to know what the phonemes are : it is also necessary to know what sounds correctly represent them. You should put your lips, tongue, sound box (which is concealed in your wind pipe), and so on in the right position in order to produce a particular phoneme in a particular position.


(d)           But what is the use of producing the phoneme correctly if you do not know where to use it properly? You know perfectly well how to utter the [ f ] phoneme you put your lower lips against the upper teeth (and not against the upper lip, as some Indians do), etc. etc. But what is the use if you pronounce the name Stephen as [sti:fәn] ? That name has no use for [ f ] phoneme; it has a [ v ] phoneme instead. There is no difference of pronunciation between Stephenson and Stevenson.


Let us begin with the English consonants they are somewhat easier than the other phonemes.


The Consonant Phonemes


This table of English consonants is given below with some Devanagari equivalents :


[ k ]


[ t ʃ ]


[ t ]






[ p ]

[ g ]


[ dз ]


[ d ]







[ b ]

[ η ]




[ n ]







[ m ]



[ ʃ ]


[ s ]


[ θ ] ?


[ f ]





[ з ] ?


[ z ] ?


[ ] ?


[ v ] ?



[ j ] [ r ] [ l ] [ w ] ? [ h ] :


Some comments necessary. You will perhaps be surprised at finding in the first column and not . This is just to remind you that is found not only Christ but also in crime and that and are put in the same box by the Englishman skin, steam, spin and other examples of [ s ] combinations have , , , otherwise [k], [t], [p] tend to be , , . Putting [j] and not [y] for the sound in the phonetic alphabet is simply an international convention. South Indians should guard against pushing the tongue too far back in saying [n], [r], [l] they should not make them sound like , , . The sounds in the last two columns are a constant source of trouble they all depend on leaving an open passage in the mouth through which air can be blown with friction. This is what happens when you hiss with [s] or hush with [ ʃ ], for example. Note the difference between [p] and [f] . If you master [ ʃ ], [s], [f] you can also master the question marks against [з] (as in pleasure), [z] (as in please, pleasant), and [v] (as in seven) by simply adding voicing in the sound box to the sounds [ ʃ ], [s], and [f]. Do not be satisfied with substitutes for example, for the [з] sound in pleasure Marathi speakers use , Hindi speakers use (rhyming pleasure with major), and Panjabi speakers use (confusing measure with mayor). South Indians should guard against mixing up [s] in race, basic, hence with [z] in raise, rays, busy, hens. The sounds of thigh [θ] and thy [ ] are of the same family if you cannot master them by imitation, and are tolerable substitutes. For [h] we have put the visarga sign rather than just to remind you that it is normally without voicing in the sound box. [w] as in wine, [hw] as in whine, and [v] as in vine (the plant that wine comes from) should not be confused in saying wine begin with a -sound, in saying whine begin with a who [hu] sound, and in saying vine begin exactly like fine but adding voicing. Many Marathi speakers wrongly use for the sound in whine as well as the sound in vine.


Joining consonants to other sounds can be a problem sometimes. In saying chalk or orange juice we should avoid the temptation of merging the two [ tʃ ] sounds or the two [dз] sounds. We should not indulge in sand his of the type found in Sanskrit and say bagdoor when we mean back door, thizboy when we mean this boy. Sandhis of this kind inside a word are quite all right in English osmosis is [ɔz'mousis]; cats is ['kts] but dogs is ['dɔgz]; stopped is ['stɔpt] but robed is ['rɔbd]. This last word should not be uttered with a vowel at the end; many Indians are in the habit of attaching a short [ә] sound at the end of words ending in a consonant and making two syllables out of post or leg. The temptation to attach unwanted vowels is particularly strong with conjunct consonants in the beginning or the end of a word we all know about the confusion between estate and state (similar troubles about spin, skin, smile, and snow) and the rhyming of film with alum (similar troubles about bolt, farm, bulb). Others get out of the difficulty by dropping consonants or changing their order ask becomes axe and texts becomes ['teks] in place of ['teksts]. If you detect any trouble about conjunct consonants (many North Indians have it) in your own English, you should make a list of the words that trouble you and practise the correct pronunciation daily for some months.


Do not worry too much about the habit of some native speakers of English of dropping their rs at the end of the word (making tidier rhyme with idea) or when not protected by a following vowel (making farther exactly like father). Speakers of English are not agreed upon this they drop their rs in London and Boston but not in Chicago or Glasgow; in New York they do not seem to have made up their mind. Most Indians use them and this helps them to spell better.


English spelling leaves many points unsettled and misleads you on others. Your pronouncing dictionary is your best friend dont take any chances. If someone were to tell you that gesture and exaggerate have a [g] sound and that target has a [dз] sound, he is wrong. The sounds of th can be a problem [θ] in thin, wealthy, [ ] in then, breathing, smooth, but [t] in Thomas, Thames. Other bad cases are ch (orchard, Chicago, Michael), s (use as noun and verb, loose, basis, bases, assert, dessert), x (exit, exist, luxury, luxurious with four different sounds), cc (succumb, succinct). Look up all these words and see for yourself. Finally, do not pay any attention to the silent letters h in honour, ghost, rhyme or d in judge (not ֛͕ but ֕ ['dзΛdз], Wednesday ['wenzdi] and so on.


The Vowel Phonemes and Word Accent


The heading of this section tells you that you cannot understand and master English vowels without understanding at the same time the accent in a word. When you learn the phonetic spelling of a word, you not only take in the consonants and the vowels and their arrangement but also the rhythm and balance of the word. The rhythm and balance of the word is shown in phonetic spelling by two things by showing the beginning of the accent in the word' (for example ['bi]], [ɔz'mousis]) and by the choice of vowels. The English vowels fall into two groups full and reduced. Full vowels are found in al accented syllables and the some unaccented syllables. The remaining unaccented syllables have reduced vowels. Some typical examples of word rhythm are given below ( r shows a reduced vowel, f a full vowel; the capital letter shows the vowel bearing the accent) :


F pot, paw, pawed

Ff issue, programme, record (noun), coupon

Fr potter, injure, accent (noun), marriage

Frr lovable, relative, separate (adjective), parliament

Frf gratitude, alcohol, separate (verb)

fF cartoon, intense, payee

rF retire, accent (verb), record (verb), relate

frF refugee, represent

fFf chimpanzee, osmosis

rFr external, relation, develop, advantage

frFr economics, advantageous

rFrr economy, particular, photography


Read this list aloud with the guidance of your teacher or your pronouncing dictionary. Then it will be seen how tricky the whole thing is there are rules about word accent, but they are so many, so complicated, and with so many exceptions that the best single rule to adopt is to look it up. Even words of the same family do not go alike look at: record (noun and verb); relate, relation, relative; accent (noun and verb); separate (adjective and verb); etc.


Now we are ready for the table of the full vowel phonemes of English; some of these are checked vowels:



[] short

[e] short

[i] short

[Λ] short



[ ɔ ] short


[u] short

The checked vowels are always checked by some consonant that follows them, as in : cut, cat, cot, get, kit, put. The remaining full vowels can be called non-checked; they may or may not be followed by a consonant in the same syllable :




[ei ] long

[i:] long



[ɔ:] long

[ou] long

[u] long





Examples are: baa, paw, bay, beau, bee, boo, buy, bough, boy. Notice that these non-checked vowels are either long (the phonetic mark is [:]) or lengthened by a very very short finishing vowel which may be of the [ ] type or of the [u] type. The finishing vowel should not be turned into a full or a full fine ['fain], final ['fainәl] should not be turned into և, ևֻ ; or rail ['reil] into . The non-checked vowels also occur with [ ә ] as a finishing vowel:




ә ] long with






[ә:] long



[ɔ:] long

[ɔә] long









Most of the examples will have an r following : starry, Laura, dairy, story, furry, hero, tourist, Irish, dowry, coir.


Errors about full vowels are of various kinds. Some Indians confuse checked vowels with non-checked vowels


[ Λ ] with [ә: ] (rhyming must with first),

[ e ] with [ ei ] (wet with wait),

[ɔ ] with [ɔ: ] and both with [ ou ] (cot with caught, and both with coat),

[ i ] with [ i: ] (live with leave)

[ u ] with [ u: ] (full with fool).

Some have other confusions

[ ] with [ e ] ( sand : send ),

[ ] with [εә ] (marry : Mary).


Some drop the finishing vowel [ә]. South Indians do not open their mouths enough at the beginning of [ ai ], [aiә], [au], [auә]. Others insert unwanted and : ָ for [flauә] in flower, ָ for [louә] in lower.


English spelling is likely to give you wrong ideas : consider the group plough, dough, cough, rough or the group tear (2 words), fear, bear, pear, wear or the group row, sow, bow, (2x3 words), now, know or the group live (2 words), alive, enliven or the group nation, national or the group due, true, blue, flew, dew or the group matter, material.


The table of reduced vowel phonemes is much smaller.


[ ә ] short

[ o ] short

[i] ? [ u ] short



Examples in the last syllable of a word are : sofa, lovers; sorrow, sorrows; berry, landed; into. Examples in other syllables are : accept; obey; except; today. The question mark after [ i ] reminds you that the vowel is not quite like nor like short but something in between , short, and short. All these vowels are rather short so reduced sometimes that they change into consonants as in


William [ wiljәm] ( [ i ] into [ j ]),

Casual ['kзwәl] ( [ u ] into [ w ]);


sometimes they make consonants vowel-like as in


little ['litl ] not ׻י,

sudden ['sΛdn] not ֛,

prism ['prizm] not ׯϕ̴ ;


sometimes they disappear altogether as in


business ['biznis ] by the side of busyness ['bizinis ] with a different meaning.


If we put full vowels in place of reduced vowels or reduced vowels in place of full vowels, the whole rhythm and balance of the word is disturbed even if we place the accent correctly : principal should be like principle [ 'prinsipәl ] or ['prinsipl ] and not end like Paul; coupon should be ['ku:pɔn ] and not ֭ . Indians make the first of these two errors more commonly.


Building Phrases and Sentences


We have already seen how each word has a rhythmic pattern in English; some words have the pattern rF, some Fr, some Frr, some frF and so on. We now come to larger units like sentences.


Every sentence has at least one sentence accent, which can be shown as [ " ]. If the sentence is very short and has only one word in it, the F syllable in that word will take this sentence accent :


" Yes

" Better


If the sentence is not very long, but has two or more words in it, what happens to each word? One word gets the sentence accent it is the centre of the sentence. Out of the remaining words, the important ones will get only the word accent especially nouns, verbs, adjectives, and most adverbs these carry the load of meaning. The remaining words will get attached to these important words carrying word accent; their F syllables will not carry even the word accent. In the extreme case there will be no full vowel in such attached words.


'head F; but baldhead Ff (meaning person with a bald head; compare his- ' bald ' head was- " shining)


berry Fr, but "strawberry Frr ['strɔ:bәri]

' did F, ' he F; but rrF did he - ' come


'in F, 'some F; but rrF in some - 'books

'not F, 'at F; but frF not-at-'all

'a F, 'of F; but rFr F a -'piece-of ' chalk

'for F but F rF 'tea for - ' three


Some determiners (like a, the), some pronouns (like he, him, his), some helping verbs (like is, has, did), some adverbs (like there in there is/are, like not in isnt), some prepositions (like to, of, from), and some conjunctions (like and, that) are commonly used in such weakened forms and attached to other words. The examples above with did, he, etc. illustrate this point.


Here are some more example of how each word is fitted into the whole with ["], or with ['], or with no accent.


' John-was ' walking a"bout. (about has the sentence accent)

It-is-about-a-"mile. (about is rf, not weakened)

' What-is-he " talking a'bout? (about has only the word accent)

We-shall-'move 'on "Saturday. (on is accented)

We-shall-'move on-"Saturday. (on is f, not weakened)


The placing of the accents and the grouping and attaching of words help the listener in understanding the grammatical arrangement of words.

Indians speaking English very often completely ignore this side of pronunciation and put the word accent and the sentence accent in the wrong place and group the words wrongly. Once you become conscious of these features, listen to good speakers, and try to imitate their phrases. This will help you to improve your pronunciation. In a sense this is even more important than getting the consonants and the vowels right. If you get the accent right then errors of vowels and consonants very often do not interfere with the understanding by your listener; also the grammar of your sentence becomes more transparent to your listener.


There is one last point intonation. If we compare speaking to singing, the features of accent and rhythm are like ֻ in music and the features of intonation are like - both ָ and ָ. It will not be possible to describe even the main features of English intonation here. Some very very broad comments are made here :


(1) We have already seen the distinction between attached words and important words. As a rule the last important word in the sentence gets the sentence accent. The syllable bearing ["] is the centre of the intonation piece. If there are two or more sentence accents in a sentence, this simply means that the sentence has correspondingly two or more intonation-pieces in it.


We-shall-'move 'on "Saturday \ (one piece)


We-shall-'move "on \ "Saturday (with the same meaning but with two pieces).


(2)      Statements normally end in a fall. The fall begins at ["].


Ive-not-'met-her so-"far \

But if the statement conveys some suggestion the fall is capped with a rise.


Ive-not-'met-her so-"far \ /

(Suggestion : I may meet her, however, in future.)


(3) Commands normally end in a fall.


"Leave-me a'lone \

But if the command is to be softened down to a request the fall is capped with a rise. (The fall in request begins on the verb.)


"Leave-me a'lone \ /


(4) Questions are of two types : yes-or-no questions and question-word questions. Yes-or-no questions end in a rise.


Have-you-'met-her so-"far /

(5) Question-word questions beginning with who, what, when, etc. end in a fall. Indians frequently go wrong on this point.


'What-do-you " think-of-it \

" What-do-you 'think-of-it \

If the person that receives this question merely throws it back like an echo, he will say :


" What-do-I 'think-of-it /


This is an echo-question which means : Are you asking me what I think of it? The rise belongs to this hidden yes-or-no question. Your own language probably has a similar distinction.


(6) If some item in the sentence is to be specially emphasized, the sentence accent [ " ] will be placed on that word rather than the last important word which would normally get it.


" Ive-not ' met-her so' far \

( We can call this spoken italics or underlining. )

Have " you met-her so" -far\

" Leave - ' ' me-alone

(7)               When a long sentence is broken up into convenient intonation-pieces, one of them will carry the main intonation and the other pieces will be tied to it through intonation.

Have " you met-her \ in-the "last-few" years-

Do-you-pre" fer tea \ or-cocoa \

I-go-to-bed " early \ as-a-" general "rule

As-a-" general " rule \ I- go-to-bed "early \

I-can't "work \ he said " angrily --' when the' radio is " -on\

My-" father " bought a-" house \ / " but he -"had to "sell it " later\



A general warning to Marathi speakers speaking English may be given here : for special effect Marathi frequently converts an ordinary plain intonation into an intonation with a drawl ( ). This should be avoided at all costs in English. If your voice falls or rises, let it fall or rise evenly and not with a stair-case-like effect. Even if your pronunciation is good in other ways, this drawl of the Marathi type spoils the effect completely.




Practice more practice, and yet more practice practice in listening first, then practice in speaking by the side of it. When in doubt, look it up.




Published as Appendix III to Learning through English, Pune: University of Poona, 2nd ed. 1968.