When I use phrases starting with (May I), I notice some people don't get what I say the first time; I have to repeat. I believe the reason is that I don't sound "I" out naturally in the proper unstressed form in connected speech.

It would help me a lot if someone wrote the phrase in IPA symbols or in anyway for that matter. A recording would be a great service too.

I prefer (May I) with words that start with the letter t, letter h and letter r such as:

(May I take off) my belt now?

(May I recommend) this too?

(May I have) a look?


1- I do not have a problem pronouncing the individual words perfectly.

2- I have added two more requests for pronunciation

Edit 2:

I've found this Youtube video but it'd be great if I could hear or know how to sound ones with words beginning with r,h or t: May I speak to Cathy?

3 Answers 3


I am going to have to disagree with the other answers.

Of course in isolation or in carefully enunciated speech, I is pronounced "eye". But in rapid, everyday, casual speech, you will find that the "I" is, as you describe, a lighter sound that blurs into the previous vowel. The phrase "May I take a seat?" will come out "May-ah tak-ah seat?" (where "ah" represents a reduced vowel or schwa). In extreme examples, the "I" might not even be pronounced at all.

There are two issues here: first, most native speakers don't notice this phenomenon. We know exactly what's being said, so our brains fill in the sound we expect to hear, which is a nice, long, independent "I". Variations on the same phoneme (called allophones) tend to get filtered out in our brains when the sound difference does not make a distinction between words in our native language.

Second, this pronunciation difference is situational. Different regional dialects, and even different speakers, in different contexts & at different times, will show this phenomenon to a greater or lesser extent. I tend to talk fast, so I do it often. Someone who speaks more slowly probably won't show it as much in their speech. Also, the vowel reduction will go away when someone is speaking carefully and clearly--which makes it even harder for native speakers to realize it's happening, because when they stop to listen, they pronounce things carefully. It also means you are less likely to see it in actors, who tend to enunciate more when reading their lines. Your video "May I speak to Cathy?" does show this phenomenon (your ears are not wrong!), but it's actually not nearly so strong here as it usually is, precisely because he's an actor reading a line and being careful to pronounce it correctly. (Well, and also, the character is trying to be respectful to the father of a girl he's calling--so he would likely take some pains to sound as clear and "proper" as possible.)

Finally, you mentioned that you feel people don't understand you. I can't say whether that's true, but I do not believe most English speakers would have an issue understanding "I" pronounced "eye" in this context. (It is what they expect.) There may be some other issue in your pronunciation of these words, but we can't really diagnose that through the Internet!

  • 1
    Dialect reference: /aɪ/ ungliding
    – user230
    Sep 16, 2014 at 17:36
  • I'm puzzled by this answer. Yeah, as a native English speaker, I'd understand; even if "I" was mispronounced. Sep 16, 2014 at 17:56
  • Jolene, that's my point--it isn't a mispronunciation. It's just how the pronunciation changes to accommodate rapid speech in many dialects--the "I" is frequently reduced or even omitted. This is distinct from a strictly dialectical (such as Southern US) pronunciation though, because it disappears when the speaker is being formal or carefully enunciating. Something our asker needn't bother consciously emulating, but should definitely recognize.
    – Tiercelet
    Sep 16, 2014 at 18:34
  • These kinds of answers I like "In extreme examples, the "I" might not even be pronounced at all.". Thank you, you've answered my question, and confirmed what I noticed.
    – learner
    Sep 17, 2014 at 9:45
  • "It also means you are less likely to see it in actors, who tend to enunciate more when reading their lines" I noticed this difference between sort of formal/standard and near "realistic life" English language movies. But the difference on average is immense between movies and dubbed animes.
    – learner
    Sep 17, 2014 at 9:54

The word "I" is always pronounced "eye" and always as a distinct word. In some contexts it could be stressed more than it would be stressed in other contexts.

Read the following sentence carefully:

My son didn't break your window.

By stressing any single word in that sentence, you subtly change the meaning of the sentence.

My son didn't break your window; Frank's son did.

My son didn't break your window; my daughter did.

My son didn't break your window, and I'm indignant that you would suggest such a thing.

My son didn't break your window; he only cracked it.

My son didn't break your window; he broke the other neighbor's window.

My son didn't break your window; he broke your mailbox.

It is only in that sense that the word "I" should be stressed or pronounced any differently than in any other case.

  • Even though I am aware of this and I came across it in the course of studying intonation, I like your clear example.
    – learner
    Sep 16, 2014 at 9:47
  • And, "My son didn't break your window? I thought that he did." Sep 16, 2014 at 17:51
  • @AbraCadaver That only works with the question mark. Sep 16, 2014 at 17:53
  • Yes, that's why I used a question mark :-) Sep 16, 2014 at 17:58
  • Ah, Ok, I get it. Sep 16, 2014 at 18:00

'May I' is pronounced 'meɪ aɪ'.

  • I am not sure about that, I think "I" should sound "lighter". I need others to confirm. Just in case, I'm interested in how to pronounce the phrase in natural English which is kinda fast paced speech. Hopefully I'll get an answer with a word starting with r following "May I"
    – learner
    Sep 16, 2014 at 9:01
  • 3
    As a native speaker, I am sure. 'I' is always pronounced like 'eye', wherever it's found, regardless of what comes after it. I is a separate and distinct word, not just a vowel sound.
    – user8543
    Sep 16, 2014 at 9:08
  • 3
    As another native speaker (I'm American, user8543 is a Brit) 'I' is always pronounced 'eye'. Sep 16, 2014 at 9:13
  • Could you then listen to the dialogue in the Youtube video I've added above, please, and check again. I don't doubt how you speak as a native speaker, but to my ears, "I" alone sounds /eye/ but in the sentence it sounds more unstressed. There's a difference between word stress and sentence stress. So would you still agree with me?
    – learner
    Sep 16, 2014 at 9:15
  • 1
    What does "I is a separate and distinct word, not just a vowel sound" mean? I agree that it is a word, but I'm not sure what point you're trying to make when you say so. The claim that I is always pronounced like eye is factually incorrect, by the way. Although they have the same basic sound, I is a function word and subject to more reduction in relaxed or connected speech than eye.
    – user230
    Sep 19, 2014 at 11:17

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