The English language can be cruel to learners. Just when you think you have pronunciation rules down, a list of words like this shows up that must be memorized. On behalf of English speakers everywhere, I’m sorry.
Not all news is bad, though. This list of words shows words that are really easier to pronounce than they look.
The trick with this group of words is the of the sound of a vowel.
The most prominent word like this is comfortable.
Many learners pronounce this word like it is spelled: with four syllables. This seems natural, because one only has to say comfort, and add able. Most native speakers, however, pronounce it with only three syllables – like: KUMF-ter-bull (/ˈkʌmftɚbəl/). Listen to my pronunciation:
Practice this pronunciation a few times, and you’ll agree it is easier to get out than the four-syllable version you may have used before. Especially when used in conversation.
There are a lot of words that are used with the same effect. See if you pronounce them the same way I do.
- chocolate /ˈtʃɑːklət/
- vegetable /ˈvɛʤtəbəl/
- every /ˈɛvri/
- gorgeous /ˈgoɚʤəs/
- jewel (jewelry) /ˈʤuːl/ (/ˈʤuːlri/)
- extraordinary /ɪkˈstroɚdəˌneri/ Brit/ɪkˈstrɔːdənri/
- laboratory /ˈlæbrəˌtori/ Brit/ləˈbɒrətri/
Thank you to my wife for the British pronunciations of the last two words. I find it curious with the word laboratory, that both the Americans and the British skip vowels in this word, only they both skip different vowels.
Use these pronunciations to sound more fluent. English speakers will understand you if you pronounce all the syllables, but it is more comfortable to our ear to hear it the shorter way. You may indeed come across native speakers who pronounce it the long way. Especially (there’s another one) when used as lyrics in music, or in poetry. The rhythm may need the word to have an extra syllable to fit the music.
There are lots of words in English that have this effect. Can you think of any?