© 2011 Evan Kirshenbaum & Susan Slater

FAQ: Summary of IPA/ASCII transcription for English

[Last Modified, 12 Mar 1993]

To aid English speakers in using the phonetic transcription, this document describes the mapping onto a standard American dictionary transcription system for sounds that commonly occur in the English language. When it differs from the symbol used, I've also included a description of the IPA symbol for the benefit of non-Americans.

The table is taken from the 'Pronunciation Symbols' page of Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. In the examples, the letters which spell the sound are bracketed by '<...>'.

Note that this only describes a small subset of the transcription system. There are far more sounds (used in other languages) and nuances of sound that can be captured. See the document describing the full standard for complete details.

Phonemic (broad) transcriptions are bracketed by '/.../'. Phonetic (narrow) transcriptions are bracketed by '[...]'. Syllables that carry primary stress are preceded by "'". Syllables that carry secondary stress are preceded by ",". When giving the transcription of a single word, spaces are generally inserted between syllables (often omitted before syllables that have stress marks). When giving the transcription of a multi-word utterance, it is common to put spaces between words and omit them between syllables.

schwa (upside-down 'e').
Used in both unaccented ('b<a>nan<a>', 'c<o>llide', '<a>but'), and accented ('h<u>mdr<u>m', 'ab<u>t') contexts.

The IPA symbol is a schwa.

[British speakers often have different vowels in these two contexts. The accented one is further back and is written /V/. Its IPA symbol is a 'wedge' or upside-down 'v'.]

/l-/, /n-/, /m-/, /N-/:
Superscript schwa preceding consonant.
As in 'batt<le>', 'mitt<en>', 'eat<en>'. Signifies that the consonant is pronounced as a syllable by itself.

The IPA symbol is a vertical bar below the consonant.

shwa followed by 'r'.
'op<er>ation', 'f<ur>th<er>', '<ur>g<er>'.

The IPA symbol is a schwa with a hook.

short a.
'm<a>t', 'm<a>p', 'm<a>d', 'g<a>g, 'sn<a>p', 'p<a>tch'.

The IPA symbol is an 'a-e' digraph.

long a ('a' with bar above).
'd<ay>', 'f<a>de', 'd<a>te', '<a>orta', 'dr<a>pe', 'c<a>pe'.
a with diaeresis (two dots) above.
'b<o>ther', 'c<o>t', and, with most American speakers, 'f<a>ther', 'c<a>rt'.

The IPA symbol is a script 'a'.

a with dot above.
'f<a>ther' as pronounced by speakers who do not rhyme it with bother.
a followed by u with dot.
'n<ow>', 'l<ou>d', '<ou>t'.
'<b>a<b>y', 'ri<b>'.
ch. The dictionary notes "(actually, this sound is \t\ + \sh\)"
'<ch>in', 'na<tu>re' (/'neI tSR/). In IPA transcription, this is sometimes spelled as 'c with hacek'.
'<d>i<d>', 'a<dd>er'.
short e.
'b<e>t', 'b<e>d', 'p<e>ck'.

The IPA symbol is a lower-case epsilon. It is sometimes spelled with a small capital E.

long e ('e' with bar above).
'b<ea>t', 'nosebl<ee>d', '<e>venl<y>', '<ea>s<y>'.
'<f>i<f>ty', 'cu<ff>'
'<g>o', 'bi<g>', '<g>ift'.
'<h>at', 'a<h>ead'.
'<wh>ale' as pronounced by those who do not have the same
pronunciation for both 'whale' and 'wail'.
short i.
't<i>p', 'ban<i>sh', 'act<i>ve'.

The IPA symbol is a small capital I or a lower-case iota.

long i ('i' with bar above).
's<i>te', 's<i>de', 'b<uy>', 'tr<i>pe'.
j. The dictionary notes "(actually, this sound is \d\ + \zh\)"
'<j>ob', '<g>em', 'e<dge>', '<j>oin', '<j>u<dge'.
'<k>in', '<c>oo<k>', 'a<che>'.
k with bar below. (Same as /C/.)
German 'Bu<ch>'.
k with bar below. (Same as /x/.)
German 'i<ch>'.
'<l>i<l>y', 'poo<l>'.
'<m>ur<m>ur', 'di<m>', 'ny<m>ph'.
'<n>o', 'ow<n>'.
superscript 'n'.
"indicates that a preceeding vowel or diphthong is pronounced with the nasal passages open as in French 'un bon vin blanc' /W~ bo~ va~ blA~/"

The IPA diacritic is a tilde above the vowel.

eng ('n' with a tail).
'si<ng>' /sIN/, 'si<ng>er' /'sIN R/, 'fi<ng>er' /'fIN gR/, 'i<n>k' /iNk/

The IPA symbol is an eng.

long o ('o' with bar above).
'b<o>ne', 'kn<ow>', 'b<eau>'.
'o' with dot above.
's<aw>', '<a>ll', 'gn<aw>'.

The IPA symbol is a small open 'o' or upside-down 'c'.

o-e digraph
French 'b<oeu>f', german 'H<o:>lle.

The IPA symbol is an o-e digraph.

'o' with dot above followed by 'i'.
'c<oi>n', 'destr<oy>'. [The dictionary also lists 's<awi>ng', but I pronounce that as two separate syllables /'sO IN/.]
'<p>e<pp>er', 'li<p>'.
'<r>ed', 'ca<r>', '<r>a<r>ity'.
'<s>our<ce>', 'le<ss>'.
'<sh>y', 'mi<ssi>on', 'ma<ch>ine', 'spe<ci>al'.

The IPA symbol is an esh: a tall, pulled 's' or long, barless 'f'.

'<t>ie', 'a<tt>ack'.
'<th>in'. 'e<th>er'.

The IPA symbol as a lower-case theta.

'th' with bar below.
'<th>en', 'ei<th>er', '<th>is'.

The IPA symbol is an eth, sort of a script 'd' with the bar crossed.

'u' with diaeresis (two dots) above.
'r<u>le', 'y<ou>th', 'union' /'jun j@n/, 'few' /fju/.
'u' with dot above.
'p<u>ll', 'w<oo>d', 'b<oo>k', 'curable' /'kjUr @ b@l/.

The IPA symbol is a small letter upsilon. A small capital U or closed lower-case omega is also used.

u-e digraph.
German 'f<u:>llen', 'h<u:>bsch', French 'r<ue>'.
'<v>i<v>id', 'gi<ve>'.
'<w>e', 'a<w>ay'.
'<y>ard', '<y>oung', 'cue' /kju/, 'union' /'jun y@n/;
superscript 'y' following consonant;
"indicates that during the articulation of the sound represented by the preceding character, the front of the tongue has substantially the position it has for the articulation of the first sound of 'yard', as in French 'digne' /din;/."

The IPA diacritic is a superscript 'j' following or hook below the consonant.

'<you>th', '<u>nion', 'c<ue>', 'f<ew>', 'm<u>te'.
'c<u>rable', 'f<u>ry'.
'<z>one', 'rai<se>'.
'vi<si>on', 'azure' /'aZ R/.

The IPA symbol is a yogh: like a flat-topped '3' lowered so that the top is the height of that of a 'z'.