159: What are non-phonetic words?

Words that aren't pronounced like we'd expect.

Transcript

Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 159th episode.

English is a phonetic language. That means that there is a relationship between the spelling of a word and its pronunciation. Teachers in the United States have the challenge of teaching kids to read by teaching them which letters and combinations of letters correspond to the sounds of English. Similarly, one of the goals of Pronuncian.com is to help English language learners understand these phonetic patterns as well. For English language learners, it is about being able to predict the pronunciation of a word based on its spelling.

However, as you have probably already discovered, the pronunciation of lots of words in English don't match their spelling. Words whose pronunciation and spelling do not match are called non-phonetic. Children learning to read are taught to memorize each of these words as a whole word instead of reading it letter-by-letter. As adult English learners, a similar memorization process is necessary. The pronunciation of words that are not pronounced as expected must be memorized. To help you, each sound lesson on Pronuncian.com includes a non-phonetic word section. This section lists the most important words of English that are pronounced with the sound, even if the spelling makes it look like it should be pronounced differently.

For example, a classic non-phonetic word is the word said. According to its spelling, the word said should be pronounced as *sayed*. It should rhyme with the word paid. But it doesn't. Instead, the word said is pronounced with a short e sound and rhymes with the word bed (as well as the word instead).

Since the word said is non-phonetic, it is included in the short e lesson, along with the words says, friend, guest, and again. As a reminder, the short e sounds like (short e). Can you hear the short e sound in those words? I'll say them again:

said
says
friend
guest
again

Not just vowels have non-phonetic words, though. If we look at the sh sound lesson, we see the words sure, ocean, issue and sugar. Why are those words non-phonetic? They're non-phonetic because letters s or c are not normally used to create the sh sound.

Repeat those words after me, using the sh sound (sh sound):

sure
ocean
issue
sugar

Let's do one more example. The or sound is pronounced (or sound). It's common spellings are o-r as in the word corn, o-r-e as in the word more, o-a-r as in the word board, and the letter w plus a-r as in the word warm. However, the words four (f-o-u-r), floor, and door are also pronounced with the or sound. Since they don't fit within the common spellings, they're considered non-phonetic.

Repeat those words after me, using the or sound:

four
floor
door

To help you remember the concept of non-phonetic words, I'll have you repeat these examples after me again.

short e (short e):

said
says
friend
guest
again

sh sound:

sure
ocean
issue
sugar

or sound:

four
floor
door

Just like kids learning to read in the United States, you'll need to memorize these special words and we've created material to help you do exactly that! First, you can find the lessons for these sounds from the links we've added to this episode's transcript page. Just go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast, and click episode 159.

Also, lessons for all of the sounds of English, including their non-phonetic words, are included in our second edition of Pronunciation Pages. If you don't want to buy the whole book, the lessons specific to the short e and or sound are also available in English or Spanish version of our Vowels ebooklet, and the lesson for the sh sound is included in the Spanish or English version of our Fricatives ebooklet. You can find information about these products by going to www.pronuncian.com and clicking "Products" on the right-hand side of the screen. Don't forget, without people purchasing our materials, we would not be able to continue this free podcast. So please help support this show by making a purchase from our Products page.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.