Bryan Garner on Words

How do you say it? Try this quiz to evaluate your pronunciation skills

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In all types of English, there has always been a group of words with sundry pronunciations—not all of which are considered equally good for standard spoken English. True, you might well decide to depart from a standard pronunciation to fit in with your own linguistic community just to avoid coming across as bookish, pedantic or supercilious. But it’s always best to depart from a norm not inadvertently but knowledgeably. The question is whether you can identify the traditional norm.

In the quiz that follows, choose the traditionally standard pronunciation, by which I mean the pronunciation overwhelmingly favored by American manuals printed in the late 19th century through the 20th. (Yes, there were dozens of books on pronunciation published in the days when a lot of people cared about such things.) Granted, these words have been undergoing some degree of shift, and you’ll occasionally hear them pronounced differently. Your mission is to try to identify the traditional forms—even if perhaps only the stodgiest speaker would use every one of them.

For the most accurate results, try saying the word first and then choose the pronunciation that matches your own. In the pronunciations, /uh/ simply represents a schwa: Don’t overpronounce it.

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Bryan A. Garner, editor-in-chief of Black’s Law Dictionary and author of many books on advocacy and legal drafting, is the distinguished research professor of law at Southern Methodist University. His most recent book is Nino and Me: My Unusual Friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. Follow on Twitter @bryanagarner.

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