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For the word terrible, there are two different ways to pronounce it on Merriam-Webster online dictionary as showed in the picture above. And this question has been confusing me for a very long time. When the R-controlled vowel followed by a vowel in a word, should we pronounce the R-controlled vowel as in the same syllable or the r sound should be pronounced with the vowel after it?

I think for the first pronunciation, this video on Youglish is the way how it sounds like and for the second one, this one is the way how it pronounced. Is that correct?

  • 2
    Both of your links go to the same place. I think you need to provide links to the source Youtube videos, rather than to the Youglish site. – sumelic Apr 18 '17 at 3:04
  • The video sounds close to tur-ble (tur rhyming with fur, and two syllables or with an almost non existent middle syllable. There are some people who pronounce it like that, but the "correct" and common pronunciation is te-ri-ble. youtube.com/watch?v=IhMUmNfZGkA – fixer1234 Apr 18 '17 at 6:38
  • I know that this issue has confounded you for a long time, but why couldn't both be acceptable? As for yourself, I would just find someone whose pronunciation I trust and feels most natural for me and go with that. – Teacher KSHuang Apr 18 '17 at 7:53
  • There is considerable variation in how "terrible" is pronounced by English speakers. It's one of the things my wife teases me about, since I habitually say "tur-ble" not "ter-ri-bull". However, it would be considered good diction to clearly enunciate the double "r" sound, and not swallow the second syllable. – Andrew Apr 19 '17 at 20:49

Fortunately, Merriam-Webster provides a "Guide to Pronunciation" in PDF form (https://assets2.merriam-webster.com/mw/static/pdf/help/guide-to-pronunciation.pdf, linked from https://www.merriam-webster.com/help), which explains all of its notations with additional information. Salient points from that guide:

  • Not all dialects allow \e-r\; speakers of some dialects have \er\ even in words where Merriam-Webster gives \e-r\. This means that in some dialects, the two listed pronunciations are actually the same.
  • \e-r\ denotes the vowel \e\ (as in bet) plus the consonant \r\ (as in red).
  • \er\ denotes a diphthong where the first part can be anywhere from \e\ (as in bet) to \ā\ (as in day) and the second part is \ər\ (as in singer).

Neither listed pronunciation is the one that fixer1234 and Andrew mention, where the terr- is pronounced as in terrific or terrarium. Maybe Merriam-Webster needs to add that one!

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