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From Cambridge Dictionary, the word "comfortable" is pronounced /ˈkʌm.fɚ.t̬ə.bəl/, while some native speakers would pronounce it /ˈkʌm.ft̬ə.bəl/, which means "for" in the word is pronounced /f/ rather than /fɚ/.

However, Merriam-Webster gives /ˈkʌmftɚbəl/, which is exactly the common pronunciation.

Does it imply, this feature is more common in AmE while BrE tends to pronounce full sounds.

Is my understanding correct?

  • No. Some words have more syllables in AmE and others have more in BrE: you can't generalise. A mathematician friend used to say that both he and his American colleague said the phrase interesting problem with 5 syllables; but for him the five were divided 3 and 2, whereas for his colleague they were 4 and 1. (He was referring to an AmE pronouncation of problem where the "bl" almost disappears). – Colin Fine Jul 17 at 13:37
  • No one says: con-for-table. – Lambie Jul 17 at 17:28
  • Je dis « confortable », moi. Tout à fait comme ça. – Michael Harvey Jul 17 at 17:39
  • You can't generalise about British pronunciations, either. They vary between north & south, London & the rest, England/Wales/Scotland/Northern Ireland. – Michael Harvey Jul 17 at 17:41
  • The transcription given by Merriam Webster is incorrect. I've never heard anyone pronounce comfortable as /ˈkʌmftɚbəl/. Also, listen to their pronunciation, it's not /ˈkʌmftɚbəl/, rather, it's /ˈkʌmftəb(ə)l/. Don't use your eyes, use ears. – Void Jul 18 at 9:06
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Your first link from the Cambridge Dictionary appears basically correct:

comfortable
adjective
US /ˈkʌm.fɚ.t̬ə.bəl/ UK /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bəl/

Note what this says, with the funny character "ɚ". Namely, the US version includes an "r" sound. Although not always since there are many regional dialects.

Next, the Merriam Webster dictionary, "America's most trusted online dictionary for English word definitions", proposes:

comfortable /ˈkʌmftɚbəl/ adjective

Which corresponds with the US version from the Cambridge Dictionary. It again includes the character "ɚ", implying an "r" sound.

Actually, that's fascinating... There is a difference between them.

While both dictionaries get there's an "r" sounds, Merriam is showing a more relaxed pronunciation which flips the letters around. "fter" instead of "fort". This depends on whether the word is strongly enunciated, or whether it's spoken quickly.

Then, from wiktionary:

(General American, Canada)
enPR: kŭmf'təbl, kŭmf'tərbl, kŭm'fətəbl, kŭm'fərtəbl
IPA(key): /ˈkʌmf.tə.bəl/, [ˈkʰʌɱ.ftə.bɫ̩], [ˈkʰʌɱ.fɾɚ.bɫ̩]

Which indicates the "r" is by no means guaranteed.

So, I believe that in the most standardized American English, as seen on television news, the "r" is there. In BrE, it's not.

while BrE tends to pronounce full sounds.

Wouldn't this be backwards? In this particular case, BrE is dropping the letter, so not "full" pronunciation of the spelling.

Re-reading your question, it may be you were not concerned about the "r", and were asking about # of syllables.

com-for-ta-ble or comf-ter-ble

I believe this depends on how quickly you are speaking, and whether you are trying to carefully enunciate every syllable. The same person might say it both ways. And, it varies with regional dialect.

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There are some words which have a different pronunciation in British English to American English, but remember that within both British and American English there are many different regional accents. Don't expect every native BrEng or AmEng speaker to pronounce every word the same. Yet both British and American dictionaries will only carry one pronunciation guide.

Here in the UK, a number of terms exist for the form of British English generally considered 'correct'. You may have heard of Received Pronunciation. The dictionary pronunciation for the word "comfortable" does pronounce all 4 written syllables as kuhm·fuh·tuh·bl. However, many BrEng speakers would pronounce the shorter, 3-syllable kuhmf·tuh·bl.

This doesn't mean that dropped syllables are never the "correct" pronunciation - for example, the standard dictionary guide to the word "every" is eh·vree (not eh·veh·ree).

If you follow the dictionary pronunciation guide you will never be wrong, and you will always be understood. If you are with native speakers and you want to imitate their pronunciation, then by all means do so.

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In English, when a stressed syllable is followed by two (or more) unstressed syllables, the vowel immediately following the stressed syllable is usually dropped in colloquial/fast speech (not every accent/dialect and not in every individual's speech). The pronunciation varies from individual to individual.

It is called elision.

Elision is defined as the deletion of one or more sounds in a word. The sound may be a consonant or a vowel.

Examples:

  • When t comes between two consonant sounds, it's often elided. Can't think [kɑ:nt θɪŋk] in normal speech would be pronounced as [kɑ:n θɪŋk] (try both when you're speaking fast). It's for the sake of ease.
  • Comfortable is pronounced /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bəl/ in slow speech (not every individual's speech) but in fast/casual/colloquial speech (not every individual's speech), it's usually pronounced /ˈkʌmf.tə.bəl/ and thereby the number of syllables reduces by 1.

Elision is a normal speech phenomenon and comes naturally to native speakers of the language in whic it occurs.

Moving to OP's question:

There are lots of words in which the vowel is dropped when it occurs in an unstressed syllable immediately following the stressed syllable.

Examples: Comfortable, temperature, family, vegetable, chocolate, every, nursery, average, business, evening, favourite, interest, general etc.

The vowel following the stressed syllable was once pronounced but then it got reduced and eventually dropped (syncopated). This is a special kind of elision known as syncope.

Syncope is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, typically the loss of an unstressed vowel (often [ə]).

In the above words, it's post-tonic syncope.

Post-tonic syncope is only permissible in English if the schwa [ə] is followed by a single consonant and an unstressed vowel as in comfortable /ˈkʌm.fə.tə.bəl/. If the vowel after the following consonant is stressed or if the schwa is followed by a cluster or by a word-final consonant then syncope is not permissible.

In many common three-syllable/four-syllable words, the second syllable is often dropped in casual/fast speech for the sake of ease. However, it's not be true for every accent/dialect.

Does it imply, this feature is more common in AmE while BrE tends to pronounce full sounds.

I don't think so. It depends on dialect, speaker's mood and the context (formal or informal).

Transcription note: I've used the standard Southern British English transcription.

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