Bryan Garner on Words

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

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1. (a). The pronunciation stressing the first syllable is a relative newcomer.

2. (b). Here, the second-syllable stress is relatively new.

3. (a). Believe it or not, this is the traditional Anglo-American pronunciation, used mostly by very traditional old-timers. The usual and fully acceptable pronunciation is (c). If you’re unsure, just say cert.

4. (a). This one, like No. 21, is a linguistic marker for educated speech.

5. (b). This one surprises many people. The “spelling pronunciation” is traditionally considered incorrect. The history is a strange one: medieval Latinists tried respelling the word controller based on false etymology (thinking the root count- [Latin compt-] came into play, when in fact it was just the prefix con-). They didn’t intend to have the word’s pronunciation change, but the spelling pronunciation became widespread in the second half of the 20th century.

6. (a). The second choice is just an overpronunciation.

7. (b). This mispronunciation here is similar to saying /fuh-KAYD/ for façade.

8. (a). It’s a schwa in the final syllable. For some reason, law professors often accent the last syllable with a short -a-, perhaps to help their students spell the word correctly on exams.

9. (a). There’s no parrot in this word.

10. (a). Think of election, with the accent on the second syllable. The word is often misspelled and mispronounced as if it were electorial.

11. (a). The old pronunciation may be a lost cause, given the analogy to the noun error (which is pronounced only one way).

12. (a). First syllable, not second, is stressed.

13. (c). This word is seen more often than heard, and people seem to guess at its pronunciation.

14. (a). It rhymes with pain us.

15. (b). Think of the initial stress in integrate.

16. (b). There’s a strange tendency to making this three-syllable word into four. Think of principal and interest. Nobody would say /IN-tuh-rest/.

17. (a). Some lawyers seem to want to call to mind the related word revoke.

18. (b). As with pastoral /PAS-tuh-ruhl/.

19. (a). The -t- is traditionally silent, as in fasten and listen. Sounding the -t- makes for another so-called spelling pronunciation.

20. (d). Yet most doctors, I’m assured, say /op-/, not /off-/. In fact, opto is a slang shortening often used in hospitals.

21. (b). See No. 4.

22. (a). Two syllables, not three.

23. (b). See No. 17.

24. (a). The word has little to do with the modern sense of the word vague, even though they both derive from the Latin vagus “wandering.”

25. (b). The first syllable is accented, and the -h- is silent.


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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