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I've checked and can't find any answers. What is the grammatical or unwritten rule for the pronunciations of the suffixes "man" and "men". How do we know if a word is pronounced as /mən/, /mæn/ or /men/. Some examples are freshman, freshmen,policeman, policemen, marksman,Breman, Coleman, German, human etc... If you have any idea please let me know. Thank you.

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There are a range of accents out there, but in my experience:

  • The "-man" suffix is pronounced /mən/ - this is true of "freshman", "policeman", "marksman", "workman", "chairman", "tradesman", "swordsman", "postman", "dustman", "foreman", for example.
  • The "-men" suffix is pronounced /men/ - this is true of "freshmen", "policemen", "marksmen", etc.

Exceptions:

  • "Handyman" and "bogeyman" are pronounced with /mæn/. The plurals in "-men" are /men/ as usual, though.
  • "Placeman" is /mæn/ in Oxford, /mən/ in Collins and Merriam-Webster. "Madman" varies too. The plurals in "-men" are /men/ as usual.
  • "Superman", both as a philosophical term and as the name of a character in popular culture, is /mæn/.

Note:

  • "German" and "human" aren't examples of the "-man" suffix, but both are pronounced /mən/ in line with the usual rule, and their plurals are /mənz/.
  • The word "woman", on the other hand, is etymologically connected with the word "man". Again it is pronounced with /mən/ in line with the usual pattern, although the plural "women" is pronounced with /mɪn/.
  • Family names such as "Coleman" are usually pronounced /mən/ too, although there may be some variation.

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