38: idea--a troublesome little 4-letter word

A few tips about adjacent vowel sounds for this 3-syllable word that help for even more words.


Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 38th episode.

I hope you're enjoying our words of the week. We'll continue with this format until January 1, when I'm going to start video podcasts!

Today I'm going to talk about the word idea.

Idea is a short little word that causes a lot of problems for multiple reasons. First, the word is three syllables long. I-DEE-YA. If you are saying it as two syllables, it will be very hard for people to understand what word you're saying. So, repeat the word after me to notice all three syllables. Idea.

Then, the first sound of the word is a long i sound. If you remember from way back in episode 8, about long vowels, the long i sound ends in a very quick y sound. Listen to just the long i sound (long i). Say the sound, and feel you tongue go toward the top of your mouth. (long i).

The next troublesome issue with this word is that there are two vowel sounds next to each other. There is a long e, then a schwa that sounds like short u sound. Remember, schwa has no distinct sound of its own. It often sounds like a short u, short e, or sometimes a short i. It usually happens next to a stressed syllable. In the word idea, the middle syllable is stressed, and the letter a at the end is said as (schwa).

When there are two vowel sounds next to each other in a word, native speakers add a very quick w sound or y sound between the vowels. If you don't do this, one of two things will happen. You will tend to blend one vowel sound into the next, which we just don't do. Or else you will add a glottal stop between the vowels. A glottal stop is the sound in the middle of "uh-oh". If you do that, it will sound like ide-a. It sounds choppy and less fluent.

So, for the word idea, we add a very quick y sound between the vowels. Can you hear it? Idea. Repeat the word after me, idea. Say it again. Idea.

If you're curious for other examples of words with this little y sound added, here are a few more. See if you can hear it.


react, science, chaos, stereo, reality


By the way, the dictionary usually will not show you this little added sound. That always surprises me, but they just don't note it. I sure wish they did.

All right, that's all for today, everyone!

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Thanks for listening!