It is often difficult to tell how a word is pronounced from its spelling. For example, in bat, late, any, and above the letter a stands for a different sound in each word. In addition, there are many words that are pronounced in more than one way, even though there may be only one accepted spelling.

In order to represent the sounds of spoken English in a written form, a special set of pronunciations symbols is used. Each symbol stands for only one sound and each sound is represented by only one symbol.

The pronunciation of most entry words is shown immediately following the boldface entry. To make it clear that pronunciation symbols are being used and not regular letters, the symbols are always shown between slant lines \\.

A complete list of pronunciation symbols used in this dictionary appears on page 18a. A shorter list of symbols you may need to be reminded of is printed at the bottom of the right column on odd-numbered pages throughout the dictionary. After most of the symbols in the chart are words containing the sound of that symbol. The boldface letters in these words are the letters which have the same sound as the symbol.

For example, following the symbol j are the words job, gem, edge. The boldface j in job, the g in gem, and the dge in edge are all pronounced \j\.

At the beginning of the list of pronunciation symbols is the symbol , called a schwa \ˈshwä\. This symbol often represents the sound of an unstressed vowel (as the first and last vowels in America), but it may also represent the sound of a stressed vowel (as the first vowel of brother).

Hyphens are used in the pronunciation to indicate the syllables of a word.

noisy \ˈni-zē\ (2 syllables)
no*tice*able \ˈnōt-…-s…-b…l\(4 syllables)
Of course, the syllables of words are not separated when we speak. One sound follows right after another without pause. It is obvious in the example noticeable above that the number and position of hyphens are not the same as the number and position of dots in the entry word. Only the hyphens show syllables; the dots mark acceptable places to divide the word at the end of a line.

Some syllables are spoken with greater force or stress than others. In this dictionary the primary (strongest) stress is shown by a high-set vertical mark \ˈ\ placed immediately before the stressed syllable. Secondary (slightly weaker) stress is shown by a low-set vertical mark \ˌ\ also placed immediately before the stressed syllable. In the word notify, for example, the first syllable receives primary stress and the last syllable receives secondary stress. The middle syllable receives weak stress and is not marked in the dictionary. All of this is shown in the pronunciation \ˈnōt-…-ˌfī\.

Many words can be pronounced in more than one way. Variant pronunciations are separated by commas, and sometimes groups of variants are separated by semicolons. When the word also separates variant pronunciations, the one following the also is not as common as the one preceding it. All the variant pronunciations shown in this dictionary are quite acceptable and are used by educated speakers of English.

Sometimes when a variant pronunciation is shown, only part of the pronunciation of the word changes. When that happens, only the part that changes may be shown. To get the full pronunciation, add the part that changes to the part that stays the same.

ec*o*nom*ic \ˌek-…-ˈnäm-ik, ˌē-k…-\
1ei*ther \ˈē-th…r also ˈī-\
ex*pi*ra*to*ry \ik-ˈspī-r…-ˌtōr-ē, ek-, -ˌtr-; ˈek-sp(…-)r…-\

If a variant is used mostly in a particular region of the U.S. or a part of the English-speaking world outside the U.S., that location is identified.

1sure \ˈsh(…)r, especially Southern ˈshō(…)r\
1sched*ule \ˈskej-ü(…)l, -…l, Canadian also ˈshej-, British usually ˈshed-yü(…)l\

When a pronunciation symbol is enclosed in parentheses, that sound may or may not be pronounced.

1ear \ˈi(…)r\
The parentheses at 1ear indicate that ear may be pronounced \ˈir\ or \ˈi…r\.

If an incomplete pronunciation is given for an entry word, the missing portion may be found at a preceding entry.

cat*bird \ˈkat-ˌb…rd\
cat*boat \-ˌbōt\
Thus, the full pronunciation of catboat is \ˈkat-ˌbōt\. In the case of homographs, if the pronunciation is the same for each homograph, the pronunciation is given only for the first.
1cheer \ˈchi(…)r\ n
2cheer vb
1her*ald \ˈher-…ld\ n
2herald vb

Many entries for compounds made up of two or more separate words will also have missing pronunciations. Look at the entries for the separate words to determine the pronunciation. If one of the words has no entry of its own, however, the pronunciation of that word will be shown at the entry for the compound.

monarch butterfly n
hog*nose snake \ˌhg-ˌnōz-, ˌhäg-\ n

Some undefined run-on entries show no pronunciation. In these cases, the pronunciation of the run-on is the pronunciation of the main entry plus the pronunciation of the suffix, which may be found at its own alphabetical place.

bossy \ˈb-sē\ adj …— boss*i*ness n
Thus, the pronunciation of bossiness is \ˈb-sē-n…s\; it is not shown because it is simply \ˈb-sē\ plus \n…s\.