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I found that the suffix "-less" can have different pronunciations, for example:

borderless /ˈbɔːdələs/
hopeless /ˈhəʊplɪs/
helpless /ˈhɛlplɛs/

So, is there any rule for the pronunciation of this suffix?

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    It's not that the final consonant is enunciated differently in those specific words (the full OED gives just the /ɪs/ ending for all three of your examples). It's just that some speakers, in some contexts reflect the standard pronunciation of the single-word form less in these "combined" forms. And others just reduce the vowel to a schwa. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 13:52
  • Thank you, FumbleFingers. So, if I understand well, that's because people use the schwa sound /ə/. I have another question. It's better for me (english learner) to pronounce the words with the sound /ɪs/ or to use the schwa sound /əs/ ? – NN2 Oct 29 at 14:00
  • It won't make much difference. The reason native speakers are so "variable" about this one is they don't really care (there's no real chance of the intended word being misheard and interpreted as something else), so they won't pay much if any attention. I suggest you plan on enunciating /ɪs/ - but don't try too hard. You'll probably find that once you settle in to a rapid speech delivery, it'll tend to become more "schwa-like" (get closer to /əs/). And specifically, DON'T make a conscious effort to fully articulate the "standalone" /ɛs/ in such compound words. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 14:15
  • I understand. Thank you very much, FumbleFingers. Could you answer the question so that I can rate it? – NN2 Oct 29 at 14:41
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It's not that the final syllable is enunciated differently in those specific words (the full OED gives just the /ɪs/ ending for all three of your examples).

It's just that some speakers, in some contexts will reflect the standard pronunciation of the single-word form less (/ɛs/) in these "combined" forms (especially if they're concentrating on the written form, rather than simply echoing back what they usually hear from others). And some people just reduce the vowel to a schwa / "neutral" vowel (/əs/) because it's "easier". But most speakers in most contexts will use ɪs/ (as indicated by the full OED, and probably most other dictionaries).

One reason native speakers are so "variable" about this one is they don't really care. There's no real chance of the intended word being misheard and interpreted as something else, so they won't pay much if any attention to something that's essentially an irrelevant detail.

  • Sorry FumbleFingers. I voted your answer but "Thanks for the feedback! Votes cast by those with less than 15 reputation are recorded, but do not change the publicly displayed post score." – NN2 Oct 29 at 16:35
  • Oh, I'd forgotten about that restriction on new users! Does that also mean you can't "accept" the answer (I thought the asker also got rep points for accepting an answer). Anyway, I've given your question an upvote, which along with forthcoming votes from others should soon have you fully equipped with voting and commenting rights. :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 16:44
  • ...there you go! You've just got 5 points for upvoting, and another 2 for accepting. Nearly half-way there! – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 16:57

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