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I've been hearing this everywhere. The American pronunciation of "accept" is awfully close to "except", I'm wondering if there is any reason behind it.

In Cambridge dictionary, accept (American version), is distinctly different from accept at the first phoneme. The same phenomenon happens to "accessory".

In other words like accord, American version appeared to be the same as British version.

  • There is no real correct way of pronouncing words. Everyone has their own "dialect" and differs from one person to another. Having said that, geography also plays a huge role in word pronunciation. I wouldn't worry about the actual pronunciation of the word itself. Any interesting study was conducted by William Labov on how people change the way the talk based on social standings: Department Store Study - William Labov – Dimitri Dec 10 '13 at 5:14
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I am not a native speaker, but I think I can help a bit.

You are right: 'the American pronunciation of "accept" is awfully close to "except"'. This is quite true because the sound of unstressed syllables in English will generally shift toward the center vowel, the schwa (ə).

But if you look up a dictionary, many of unstressed syllables will still be transcribed distinctively, because if you listen carefully you can still hear the difference between that vowel and the schwa sound. (Also note that they will get even closer to the schwa if the entire word is unstressed.)

According to my Free Dictionary app (AmE), accept is pronounced [ak-sept], and except is pronounced [ik-sept]. Another app (BrE) transcribed accept as either [ik'sept] or [ak'sept], and except as either [ek'sept] or [ik'sept].

  • Your first sound clip (accept.mp3) is [ak-sept], and the other one (ukac___020.mp3) seems to sound like a schwa ([ək-sept]).

Both dictionaries transcribe the unstressed syllable of accord similarly (though with different symbols): [uh-kawrd] in AmE, and [u'kord] in BrE. (This [uh] or [u] sound is similar to the sounds of the first syllable of ado and about.)

One thing to keep in mind about English pronunciation is that it could vary very widely among English accents, especially the vowels. This IPA chart of English dialects might provide a little too much information, but it captures the differences among various English dialects quite well.

Hope this helps.

  • Thank you, and could you elaborate about the different transcriptions in dictionaries? Cambridge dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/accept_1?q=accept transcribe it as /əkˈsept/, while my oxford says: |akˈsept|. These dictionaries didn't list alternative pronunciations. This always confuses me. If, like you said, the first one is 'aksept', then how come it's different from say, 'accident'? – He Shiming Dec 10 '13 at 10:42
  • On the different between /əkˈsept/ vs. |akˈsept|, I believe that both are acceptable, depending on how the transcriber looks at that unstressed syllable. (There are two reasons that I can think of that could make both transcriptions valid. One is it's depending on the dialect, which could vary very widely among English accents, especially the vowels. The other reason is the transcriber can group the phonetic sounds differently, based on their judgement, e.g. some might consider this [ak]cept as a schwa, other might consider it as the [ak] sound.) – Damkerng T. Dec 10 '13 at 10:51
  • As for the difference between the pronunciations of accept and accident, you must be a little careful with this (I can still get confused sometimes). The word accept is stressed on the second syllable, where the word accident is stressed on the first syllable (so the [ak] sound is never reduced to a schwa). Generally (but not always), two-syllable verbs are stressed on the second syllable, and most nouns are usually stressed on the first syllable. The best way to know this is to listen to native speakers or check your dictionaries. – Damkerng T. Dec 10 '13 at 10:54
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    I added this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPA_chart_for_English_dialects to the answer. I hope that it could help you see how different the pronunciation can be, comparing one dialect to the others. – Damkerng T. Dec 10 '13 at 11:21
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Remark: I am an American and just learned from your question that in other dialects these two words were not homophones. In fact I often misspell "accept" as "except" when I am writing quickly (like on an instant messaging system) and I have seen others make this mistake as well.

In American English, the sound /æ/ always reduces to /ə/ in unstressed syllables. If you are trying to adopt an American accent, you should err on the side of making too many ə's, not too few!

  • by the way, the first syllable of accord is a schwa for me too. – hunter Dec 17 '13 at 16:34

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