Ozzie in Oregon

Separated by a common language


Last updated:    October 23, 2009 (PST)


You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to

This well-known song holds true with most of the other words, too.  My American friends say "EE-ther" while I say "EYE-ther".  But I'm not ready to call the whole thing off just yet!

The signature accent of Americans (with the exception of Boston) is the sounding out of the "r" in every word, even when it is followed by a consonant or is at the end of the word.  This is called a "rhotic" accent.  So you get "CARR-d" for "card" and "mot-RR" for motor.  I feel weird saying "Starrt your carr".  Like a pirate!  "Ha-harrr, me hearrties!!"

Another typical difference is due to the different way vowels are pronounced over here.  It will vary a bit depending on which state people are from (e.g. Boston and New York may have a more British sound to their "o's"), but you are going to find that the "o" sounds more like "ar", e.g "pot" is pronounced like "putt" but sounds slightly nasal - PAHT.  And the "aw" sound in "talk" is pronounced as "ar" as well, making the word sound like "tuck" but with a longer vowel - TAHK.  Be careful when talking about "pawn shops" as Americans will be thinking you're into porn!!

As well, the "ar" sound that we often use in "castle" and "France" becomes a short "a" sound as in "cat".  Someone telling me that their "ant" died last week would have me thinking that it is no big deal, but they really meant that their "aunt" died!  I have to listen very carefully to work out if someone said "can" or "can't" as the only difference is the final "t", which is usually not sounded.  And who can forget the Cadbury ads with Professor Julius Sumner Miller putting "a GLAS and a HAFF of full cream dairy milk into every 200 gram BLAHK".

The "u" sound is different over here. For example, "tune" is spoken as "TEWN" in Oz, but here it sounds like "TOON". "Newspaper" and "tuna" are more examples.  Conversely, some Americans will say "KEW-pon" instead of "KOO-pon" for "coupon".

The middle "t" sound in words such as "bottle", "party" and "water" is voiced, making a "d" sound.  Admittedly, Aussies do this too with some words ("better" and "forty", for example).

I feel awkward whenever I try to say the words the American way, so I usually don't unless people are having trouble understanding me.  One of my worst experiences was when I first ever came over here in 2003, and was on my flight from LA to Mazatlán.  The flight attendant at first could not understand my request for a GLAH-s of WAR-ta, but after repeating myself, I heard her say, "Oh, a GLAS of WA-drr!"

Names are another minefield.  For instance, I have to pronounce my neighbor's daughter's name "Tara" as "Terra" to get it to sound like how her mum, er, mom calls her.  I am lucky that my name Sheryll sounds the same when Americans pronounce it.  But when someone is called "Sherry", they are often really "Shari".  And try to pick the difference between "Don" and "Dawn" when an American says it!

Other pronunciation differences

Here is a list of some of the different pronunciations I have come across.  A few vary, depending on the speaker and the region.

Emphasis on a different syllable

Word Oz pronunciation How it's said over here
address (postal) a-'DRESS 'AD-dress
adult 'A-dult a-'DULT
advertisement (advertizement) ad-'VER-tiss-muhnt 'AD-ver-tize-ment
aluminium (aluminum) al-YEW-'MIN-ium a-'LEW'-MIN-um
ballet 'BAL-lay bal-'LAY (French pronunciation)
buffet 'BUF-fay BUH-'FAY (French pronunciation)
controversy con-'TROV-uh-see 'CON-tro-VER-see
defense (sport) duh-'FENCE 'DEE-fence
detail 'DEE-tail de-'TAIL
fillet (often spelled filet over here) 'FIL-let fi-'LAY (French pronunciation)
insurance in-'SHUR-ance 'IN-shur-ance (some accents, more east coast?)
laboratory lab-'O-ra-tree 'LAB-or-a-TOR-y
macramé ma-'CRAR-may 'MA-cra-may
oregano or-e-'GAR-no o-'RE-guhno
permit 'PER-mit per-'MIT
pretence (pretense) pruh-'TENCE 'PREE-tence
Renaissance Re-'NAI-sohnce 'RE-nuhsohnce

Different pronunciation of car and camera manufacturers

Product Maker Oz pronunciation American pronunciation
Nissan 'NIS-suhn 'KNEE-sahn (more like the Japanese pronounciation)
Mazda 'MAZ-da 'MUZ-da (ditto)
Fiat 'FI-uht 'FI-aht
Renault 'Re-NOH (the French pronunciation) 'Re-NAULT  (pronounced the way it's spelled)
Sony 'SONN-y 'SEW-nee
Nikon 'NI-kon 'NYE-kon


Again, note that pronunciation varies by region, and even native Oregonians will pronounce the same word differently. For example, many here say "APE-ricot" while my husband says "AP-ricot".

Word Oz pronunciation American pronunciation
11223334 double 1 double 2 triple 3 4 1 1 2 2 3 3 3 4
Sheryll s h e r y double l s h e r y l l
albino al-'BEE-noh al-'BYE-noh
alimony 'A-li-muh-nee 'A-li-MOW-nee
almond 'AR-mond 'AL-mond
apricot 'APE-ricot 'AP-ricot
awful AW-ful OFF-al
basil 'BA-zil 'BAY-zil
buoy 'BOY 'BOO-EE
caramel 'CA-ra-mel 'CAR-mel (west coast?)
ceremony 'SE-re-muh-nee 'SE-re-MOW-nee
charade cha-'RARD cha-'RAID
compost 'COM-post (rhymes with lost) 'CAHM-poast (rhymes with toast)
decal 'DE-kuhl 'DEE-CAL
derby (horse race) 'DAR-bee 'DER-bee
dew, due JEW DOO
dynasty 'DI-nas-tee 'DYE-nas-tee
era 'EE-ra 'E-ra
fertile, futile 'fer-TILE, 'few-TILE 'fer-TUHL, 'few-TUHL
forehead 'FORR-ED (sounds like "forest") 'FOUR-HEAD
gala 'GAH-lah 'GAY-lah
herb HERB (a herb) ERRB (an herb)
hostile 'hos-TILE 'hahs-TUHL
hover 'HO-vuh 'HAH-vrr
khaki 'CAR-'KEY 'CACK-Y
legislative 'LE-jiss-luh-tiv 'LE-jis-LAY-tiv
leisure 'LE-zure 'LEE-zure
lever 'LEE-vuh 'LE-vrr
library 'LIE-bruhr-ee 'LIE-BRAIR-ee
lieutenant LEF-'tenant LOO-'tenant
margarine 'margar-'EEN 'margar-IN (almost swallow the "IN")
marry, carry, etc MA-rry, CA_rry, etc ME-rry, KE-rry, etc
matrimony 'MA-tri-muh-nee 'MA-tri-MOW-nee
mayor 'ME-uh 'MAY-rr (some accents, more east coast?)
measure, treasure 'ME-zure, 'TRE-zure 'MAY-zure, 'TRAY-zure (some accents, more east coast?)
medicine 'med-suhn (especially the discipline) 'med-UGH-suhn
military 'MI-li-tuhr-ee 'MI-li-TAIR-ee
mirror, horror, terror 'mir-UH, 'hor-UH, 'ter-UH MEERR, HORR, TERR
mobile 'mo-BILE 'mo-BUHL
nauseous 'nor-SEE-us 'nah-SHUS
often 'off-EN (more common? ) 'off-TEN (more common?)
produce (fruit & veg) 'PROD-YOOSS 'PRO-DOOSS ("pro" rhymes with "go")
repartee rep-ah-'TEE rep-ah-'TAY
roof ROOF (vowel sounds like "rude" ROOF (vowel sounds like "book"
schedule 'SHEDJ-ule 'SKEDJ-ule
semi (large truck) 'SE-MI 'SEE-MY
simultaneous 'SI-multaneous 'SYE-multaneous
sterile 'ster-ILE 'ster-UHL
strawberry, raspberry, blackberry 'straw-BRY, 'ras(p)-BRY, 'black-BRY 'straw-BERRY, 'RAZ-BERRY, 'black-BERRY
strychnine 'strick-NUHN 'strick-NINE
versatile 'versa-TILE 'versa-TUHL
via 'VIE-ah 'VEE-ah
zed, zebra ZED, 'ZE-bra ZEE, 'ZEE-bra
Aaron 'A-RUHN 'E-REN
Graham crackers GRAY-am crackers GRAAM crackers
Saint (as in "Mount St Helens", "St Louis", etc) SNT SAINT

Commonly mispronounced words

Aarrgh!!  And yep, my husband uses all of these!

American version Correct spelling/usage
nucular nuclear
Artic/Antartic Arctic/Antarctic
acrosst across
heighth height
double-u (w) dubya

Ozzie in Oregon