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Can these phrases be used interchangeably?

  1. "English accent"
  1. "Accent of English"
  1. "Accent in English"

Context: What I try to mean is, pronunciation of English. I don't try to mean a particular British accent by, "English accent." For example, let's say some nonnative English speaker speaks English a lot like Americans, can I say those three phrases interchangeably to refer to his English? Like in "I like his English accent/accent of English/accent in English" I think 1, and 2 are okay, but 1 can be ambiguous depending on the case. I am not as sure about 3. I am not very sure about 2 either actually.

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  • "His accent when speaking English". – Kate Bunting Dec 11 '20 at 9:21
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The first thing you need to understand is that 'English' is both a nationality and a language. I'm English, because I was born in England. I'm also British, because England is part of Britain. I speak English, so I'm a native British English speaker.

How you use expressions like 'English accent' is all relative. An American might say that I had either an 'English accent' or a 'British accent'. But someone from Scotland, which is also part of Britain, would definitely say I had an 'English' accent.

Speaking with an accent is not the same as the language you use. In American English there are some words used differently from British English, but you could still say an American word in a British accent, and vice-versa. For example, an American calls the front of a car a 'hood' while we call it a 'bonnet', but both these words exist in both languages and different accents put differing inflections on them.

Someone from a non-English-speaking country may not be able to differentiate between different types of accents, such as British English and American English. They may not comment on the accent of someone speaking English and just say "they are speaking English". But if the same person spoke their language, they may say, for example, "he speaks French with an English accent".

To sum up, an "English accent" could mean that someone's accent reflects their English nationality, or it could mean that someone is speaking another language with the accent of someone whose native language is a type of English. Of your three options, only the first is really idiomatic in true reference to someone's accent while speaking English. If you were more specific about what you were really trying to say there may be other idiomatic ways to express that.

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It will be easier to make a judgement if we switch to another language.

For example:

"He has a very good accent when he speaks Italian."

OK

"He speaks with an excellent Italian accent." (1)

OK

"I like his Italian accent." (1)

OK

"I like his accent of Italian" (2)

No, definitely not.

"I like his accent in Italian" (3)

No, although it sounds less wrong than "of Italian".


There's another issue with your original question, which is that you asked about English.

Let's say the speaker is Chinese. Rather than saying he has a good English accent, it's more common to say "He speaks excellent English, he doesn't have much of an accent. (a Chinese accent)." When speaking English, an accent refers to the foreign accent. If someone speaks perfectly, then they have no accent.

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  • "I like his accent in Italian" almost implies that he has several accents that he can choose between at will. Like how you might like a car in red instead of blue. – DKNguyen Dec 11 '20 at 3:11
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"English accent" would be by far the most common.

You would never hear "accent of English". Not necessarily because its wrong. It's not really wrong as much as it is in a form no one would ever use. I know some languages work that way like Japanese for nouns and adjectives in general, but for this particular example, English does not.

I am pretty sure "accent in English" is just wrong. It never occurred to me that someone might put it that way. Weirdly enough though, "What accent does he speak in?" doesn't sound so bad to me, natural even. But "what accent does he speak with?" sound better if I actually have to stop to think about it.

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  • Thanks. I thought they might say "Accent of English" because they say "pronunciation of English". I mean native English speakers do. – Fire and Ice Dec 11 '20 at 2:59
  • @FireandIce There are no hard fast rules in English, heh. You can say walk of shame but never shame walk, not because it's wrong but because no one says it so it sounds weird. Maybe it just doesn't sound grandiose enough. You can be the king of the hill, but never the hill's king. – DKNguyen Dec 11 '20 at 3:01

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