Why are words like privacy pronounced like /ˈprɪv.ə.si/ in British and /ˈpr.və.si/ in American English (short vowel in the first case, long in the latter one)?

I read that determining whether a vowel is short or long, one must split the word in syllables, and then if that vowel is the only one in the syllable and is not succeded by a consonant is long, but if that vowel is still the only one in the syllable but is followed by a consonant in the same syllable is short. In the case of privacy I think it is because of the different spellings (priv-a-cy in British and pri-va-cy in American). If so, do you know other words that have different spellings in British than in American?

  • The word is spelled the same in both languages. In priv-a-cy, for example, the hyphens have nothing to do with spelling. They are merely phonetic guidelines indicating syllables used (and, thereby, suggestive of pronunciation). So, you've almost answered your own question: refer to regional dictionaries. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 19:04
  • 1
    A previous question about this topic on the ELU Stack Exchange site: Pronunciation of “priv-” in British English and American English
    – sumelic
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 19:16
  • 1
    @JasonBassford: I meant "syllabled" if there is such a terminology
    – Alex S
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 19:35

2 Answers 2


As far as I remember, 'privacy' was an exception to Trisyllabic Laxing (TSL) in American English. It was a phonological process that shortened certain tense vowels when they were followed by two or more syllables.

Privacy → /ˈpr.və.si/

The first syllable is stressed, has a tense vowel and is followed by two syllables, so it should, by TSL, yield:

  • /ˈprɪ.və.si/ (we know that /aɪ/ gets shortened to /ɪ/)

It's true in British English whereas in American English, TSL doesn't apply.

Another exception is 'dynasty', which, in American English, is:

  • /ˈd.nə.sti/ — TSL doesn't apply

In British English, it is:

  • /dɪ.nə.sti/
  • Some Brits do say /ˈpraɪ.və.si/ - Lexico gives both variants for British English. Whether it is an imported pronunciation or a survival I'm not sure. (I have never heard a Brit say /ˈdaɪ.nə.sti/ , though.)
    – rjpond
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 14:57
  • @rjpond: Probably Americanisation.
    – Void
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 15:02
  • @rjpond: And now /ˈdaɪ.nə.sti/ has made its way into BrE (he says /ˈdaɪ.nə.sti/ throughout the video.)
    – Void
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 19:08

There are many - but lists don't make good SE questions, I'm afraid.
Basil, oregano, cigarette, Bernard, advertisement, garage, gourmet, ballet, brochure, address...

bazil bayzil
origarno oreggano
cigarette cigarette
Berna'd Bernaard
advertissment advertizement
garage [or even garridge] garahge

The British have a joke about it, they say that
Americans put the emph-ah-sis on the wrong syll-ah-ble.

One thing I've noticed, though never researched, is that the main differences would tend to be in 'newer' words; words that more likely came though French than early Germanic/Nordic or directly from Latin.

I also found this - 22 Words with British and American Pronunciations that may Confuse you - which includes a lot of even single syllable words where the pronunciation changes even if the emphasis doesn't. Too many to list here.

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