What's the difference between how once and wants are pronounced? I don't hear a difference- is there one?

  • There is a difference, though obviously not the way you and your milieu pronounce it. I suggest you look in a dictionary, preferably an online one with audible pronunciation.
    – Robusto
    May 4, 2017 at 20:53
  • There is definitely a difference in my dialect (Northeastern US) although it is small. The vowel sound is slightly different (sort of "ah" vs. "uh") and the /ts/ of wants is distinct from the /s/ of once.
    – stangdon
    May 4, 2017 at 20:53
  • 2
    In my AmE dialect, they are indistinguishable.
    – TimR
    May 4, 2017 at 21:44
  • 2
    Central Ohio for the last 50 years (grew up here). I wuhnt one. He wuhnts two. I came here because somebody asked me what I said, "Once what??" And I realized it is the same vowel sound! Weird!
    – Joy
    Oct 16, 2020 at 0:48

2 Answers 2


They are quite similar, but the vowel sounds are different.

Regional dialects may vary, but I think once rhymes with "dunce", whereas wants rhymes with "haunts."

  • 2
    As I hear wants it rhymes with nonce. Midwestern by way of New England.
    – Robusto
    May 4, 2017 at 20:54
  • In my dialect (Northeastern US, specifically NYC) wants doesn't sound like haunts at all. wants is very distinctly WUHnts and haunts is HAWnts.
    – stangdon
    May 4, 2017 at 20:54
  • 1
    @stangdon: WUHnts ... I've never heard that pronunciation, or else never noticed it if I did.
    – Robusto
    May 4, 2017 at 20:56
  • @stangdon - So it seems like you view the O.P.'s words more like homophones than I do. Interesting.
    – J.R.
    May 4, 2017 at 20:57
  • 1
    Chipping in from Australia; I pronounce them as once/dunce and wants/nonce. May 4, 2017 at 21:34

JR's answer focuses more on the vowels, I'm going to explain what happens to the consonants in word pairs like wants/once.

Actually, both once and wants are usually pronounced with a /t/, but we may not realise it whilst speaking fast.
Other word that are usually pronounced the same include prince/prints, deviance/deviants, innocence/innocents etc.

So what happens here?

There are loads of English words that contain a nasal (/n m ŋ/) followed by a fricative (/s f ʃ θ/ etc). For instance, once /wʌns/.

Here's a good explanation from English after RP by Geoff Lindsey:

The /n/ is a stop sound, which means that the oral airflow of speech is stopped; the tongue blade is held against the alveolar ridge while breath is re-directed through the nose. As /n/ changes to /s/ [which is an oral consonant i.e the air comes out through the mouth], airflow must be switched from nasal to oral, and at the same time the stoppage at the alveolar ridge must be released,


Epenthesis is more likely if the fricative after the nasal is voiceless, when the articulatory system has an additional voicing change to handle [i.e. moving from a voiced sound like /n/ to a voiceless one like /s/]. It’s less likely if the fricative is at the beginning of a stressed syllable, e.g. inˈsane [not *in[t]sane].

(pp 63-64)

And it results in an epenthetic stop (/t p k/), homorganic (having the same place of articulation) with the nasal and creates [wʌnts] in this case which may be indistinguishable from 'wants' in some accents (not all). Another common example is prince which is usually pronounced the same as prints. Epenthetic stops between a nasal and a fricative are very common and natural and may be barely perceptible.

This phenomenon is called epenthesis (excrescence).

Other examples include len[k]th, stren[k]th, youn[k]ster etc.
Bilabial examples would be warm[p]th, Thom[p]son, some[p]thing etc.

In many varieties of English, once and wants have the same vowel, so both of them may be indistinguishable.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .