Is there any difference in pronunciation between the American and British speakers?

  • 5
    Just an FYI that people normal use the phrase 'Native Americans' to mean "the indigenous population of America" rather than English language "native speakers" in America. Jul 13, 2021 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


My go-to source on the idiosyncrasies of English spelling has the following entry:

Page 947

English Pronunciation 1500 - 1700 by E J Dobson

As the quoted entry says, the version with /ʃ/ arose as a dialectal pronunciation and then spread in other dialects. Dobson says that Cooper preferred the spelling licorish to liquorish which alludes to the fact that the latter was an alternative spelling of liquorice. (Cooper's Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae was published in 1685.)

According to Google Ngram, there are many instances of liquorish from 1585 onwards.

In Modern English, 'liquorice' has two possible pronunciations:

  • /ˈlɪk(ə)rɪs/
  • /ˈlɪk(ə)rɪʃ/

The second one is by far the most common and widespread pronunciation of liquorice. There's also a difference in spelling:

  • liquorice is mainly used in the UK and some other varieties of English
  • licorice is mostly used in the US

Both pronunciations are common in the UK and the US. As per this blog post by J C Wells:

The oldest American dictionaries I have to hand are the big Random House (1967) and Kenyon & Knott’s Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (1953). Both include /-ʃ/ while prioritizing /-s/. More recent American dictionaries generally prioritize /-ʃ/. It may well be the case that /-ʃ/ gradually spread in the States before spreading here in Britain.

[Emphasis mine]

There's a comprehensive entry on liquorice in More Word Histories And Mysteries From Aardvark to Zombie Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2006) (American Heritage Dictionary), it says that the (original) Middle English pronunciation of liquorice seems to have been the version with /s/. It goes on to say that:

The first indications of the new pronunciation [with /ʃ/], through spellings like likerish, begin to occur in the 18th century. The great American lexicographer Noah Webster, for instance, criticized the spelling of the word licorice as lickerish in his influential and popular spelling guide published in 1783. Webster himself advocated the spelling liquorice in this work, rather than licorice. (In this regard, it is interesting to note the existence of a now almost obsolete adjective lickerish meaning “delicious” when applied to food and “fond of good food” when applied to persons. Although this fact suggests the tantalizing possibility that the adjective lickerish influenced the pronunciation of licorice, the ultimate origins of the pronunciation with (sh) have yet to be determined.) Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, commentators on linguistic usage disparaged the pronunciation with (sh) as lower-class or uneducated, but it nevertheless remains widespread in the United States today—despite the usual spelling of the word with the letters —ce, which most often indicates the sound (s) at the end of English words [as in face, ice, nice etc].

  • 3
    For what it's worth, since 1893, the spelling "licorice" has been more common than "liquorice" Jul 13, 2021 at 15:50
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    @JeffZeitlin In the US, and also Canada I think. I believe "liquorice" is still more common in the UK and other English-speaking places. Jul 13, 2021 at 15:58
  • 6
    @JeffZeitlin: I've never in my entire life seen licorice until today.
    – Void
    Jul 13, 2021 at 16:00
  • @DarrelHoffman - Just using the default English corpus from Google NGram, so I don't know about AmE/BrE bias. Jul 13, 2021 at 16:02
  • 2
    pronouncing liquorice with an /s/ sounds really weird to my British ears (Modern RP-speaker from SE England, late 20s) so I'd say the /ʃ/ pronunciation has either won out, or pretty close to it
    – Tristan
    Jul 13, 2021 at 16:02

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