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Some words just don't like being boxed in by a single pronunciation. Students often ask whether there is a more or less correct version of certain words.The fact is that the idea of correctness is often defined by popularity, so here are 10 words with alternative pronunciations where either will do nicely.

CELTIC

In England and Wales it’s usually pronounced /ˈkeɫtɪk/, whereas in Scotland you're more likely to hear /ˈseɫtɪk/ – the Scottish football team is known as /ˈseɫtɪk/. All the dictionaries agree; either pronunciation is acceptable, though "keltic" is usually listed first.

EITHER, NEITHER

Students often ask which pronunciation is correct – /ˈiːðə/ or /ˈaɪðə/? /ˈniːðə/ or /ˈnaɪðə/? The answer is you can use whichever one you like better; there is no difference in the meaning, even in the most formal speakers. If you want to sound British, say EYE-ther; if you want to sound American, say EE-ther. Or you can vary the pronunciation to suit the phonetic context and your current mood. 

ENVELOPE

The more English pronunciation /ˈenvələʊp/ is more common than the French-influenced /ˈɒnvələʊp/. As the OED says, "this pronunciation, or rather some awkward attempt at it … is still very frequently heard, though there is no good reason for giving a foreign sound to a word which no one regards as alien, and which has been anglicized in spelling for nearly 200 years." That said, both pronunciations are still accepted.

PRIVACY 

In BrE, the more common pronunciation is to use the short vowel /ɪ/ in the first syllable, /ˈprɪvəsi/, but you can also use the diphthong /aɪ/ and say it as /ˈpraɪvəsi/. While the US pronunciation of "privacy" is gaining currency in the UK, traditionally Brits have pronounced the first syllable ‘priv’ while Americans have pronounced it ‘prive’.

OFTEN

According to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary the commonest pronunciation of "often" is with a silent "t", /ˈɒfən/, but you can also say it with the 't', /ˈɒftən/. Some educated speakers certainly do use it, others consider it unacceptable. And they will often correct you. 

OUR

This can be pronounced /aʊə/, to rhyme with "hour", or, in reduced version in connected speech /ɑː/ like the strong form of "are". Both pronunciations are used - the "hour" pronunciation would be used to stress the word, and the "are" pronunciation when it's less important. 

SCHEDULE 

The more traditional British pronunciation uses a "sh" sound at the beginning of this word, /ˈʃedʒuːɫ/, but the American "sk" sound /ˈskedʒuːɫ/ is becoming more popular. It seems that it is not possible to argue that any variant is more appropriate than the other.

SCONE 

This word sends Britons into bitterly entrenched disagreement with one another. Those living in the north of England and in Scotland overwhelmingly use the "gone" pronunciation, while those in the Midlands and London are significantly more likely to go with the "bone" option. Overall, more people opt for /skɒn/ rather than the posher-sounding /skəʊn/, but whichever way you choose to say them, you can enjoy them with clotted cream and jam!

TOMATO 

The diverging pronunciation is primarily one of regional dialect - /təˈmɑːtəʊ/ is the standard pronunciation in the UK and is accepted in the US regions of New England along with parts of the lower East Coast, while /təˈmeɪ toʊ/ is found almost everywhere else.

VASE

In BrE, "vase" is pronounced to rhyme with "Mars". Head over to America, and there are a few options – two of the most common pronunciations rhyme it with "place" or "maze", neither of which are in use in BrE. For many American speakers though, "vahz" sounds like a contemptible genteelism, much like extending one's little finger when holding a tea cup. Others believe a "vahz" is a larger, more costly, and more elaborate vessel than the ordinary and utilitarian vase.


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