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We pronounce "e" in the word "infinite" but "ay" in the word "finite".

As I'm learning this language, this disturbs me a lot because I don't know if I have to pronounce "e" or "ay" when I read.

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  • I think you are referring to the fact that "finite" is pronounced /faɪnaɪt/ (with two long vowels or diphthongs as in "I" or "eye"), whereas "infinite" is pronounced /ɪnfɪnət/ (with three short vowels)? At any rate, I'm not sure there is a good answer: even native speakers sometimes mispronounce a word if they've learnt it from a book and haven't looked up how to pronounce it. – rjpond Oct 22 '17 at 9:53
  • There may be some sort of pattern here, as there are some similar examples, e.g. "famous" / "infamous", where the "a" is long in the first one but short (in fact /ə/) in the second. Or "potent" / "impotent", where the "o" is long in the first and short in the second. – rjpond Oct 22 '17 at 9:59
  • @rjpond Yes, I'm exactly refering to what you said in your first comment. – Mourad Qqch Oct 22 '17 at 10:02
  • @rjpond Thank you for your anwser, so do you suggest I should always listen the words I read ? It's quite sad if there isn't any deterministic pattern to apply in order to know how to pronounce :/ – Mourad Qqch Oct 22 '17 at 10:04
  • "Migrant"/"immigrant" is another pair where the long vowel becomes short in the "in-"/"im-" version. However, there are others that have a long vowel in both words ("mobile"/"immobile") or short in both ("logical"/"illogical"). On the more general question see also ell.stackexchange.com/questions/59128/… – rjpond Oct 22 '17 at 10:24
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I asked this question (with a different, more phonological oriented title) in a sibling stack exchange network here.

preface: I suggest you read about the stress in English, and about the Schwa sound and the Near-close near-front unrounded vowel.

In a nutshell, English doesn't really like having "full" vowels in a middle-unstressed syllable. in this case, the vowel in that syllable will be reduced to either the schwa sound or the /ɪ/ sound.

finite: the stress is in the first syllable.
infinite - by adding the "in", we "steal" the stress to the "in" syllable, making the "fi" a middle-unstressed syllable, so it's reduced to the /ɪ/ sound.

there are more examples like this one, that by adding another syllable which "steals" or "revives" the stress from/into some syllable, the pronunciation of the word changes:

history (ˈhɪstəɹi) - historical (hɪˈstɔːɹɪkəl)
memory (mɛməɹi) - memorial (məˈmɔːɹi.əl)
famous (fməs) - infamous (ɪnfəməs).

In one of the comments, the following examples were given where an added syllable does not change the "original" pronunciation of the word: "mobile"/"immobile" and "logical"/"illogical". this is a perfect example for this pattern. in these two words the added syllable doesn't steal away the stress from the "original word" and hence, its original pronunciation doesn't change.

As I'm learning this language, this disturbs me a lot because I don't know if I have to pronounce "e" or "ay" when I read.

that what makes English extremely irritating to learn and the only way to know how to pronounce a word is too look in the dictionary.

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