My nephew is 4 and start reading a lot in English,his mother language is not English., he asked me why the “o” in the word brother is “∧" not "⊃" sorry I can't find how to type the letters, and another one is breakfast, when he was reading it was literally sounded like "break fast", but it's not right,I said just look at the symbolic phonetics,but he still ask me why? How to tell him? Thanks.

  • Are these the only two words he's questioning the pronunciation of?
    – miltonaut
    Jan 8, 2017 at 0:00
  • Yes, for now.but he has very limited vocabulary, I'm not sure if he would have any problems in the future with these type of questions about the 'strange words' again.He use 'strange' to describe the pronunciation of 'breakfast'. Jan 8, 2017 at 0:03

1 Answer 1


Prepare for the floodgates to open. Think about:

  • other vs bother,
  • head vs knead,
  • mint vs. pint,
  • was vs has,
  • most vs. cost,
  • here vs there,
  • now vs know,
  • blood vs mood

and a host of others. And wait until he asks you about words that contain or end with ough.

The short answer would be that many vowels, vowel pairs, and letter combinations have more than one possible pronunciation (often related to word origin), and that English is simply not a phonetic language where you can look at a word and be sure of its pronunciation. There are legions of exceptions and quirks, like the silent w in answer, and the way would and wood are pronounced the same.

As a footnote, congratulations on having such an observant and inquisitive nephew.

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