There are two different versions of British pronunciation for the word "tremendous" on Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries respectively, which one is correct?

Oxford: /trəˈmendəs/
Cambridge: /trɪˈmen.dəs/

2 Answers 2


What is involved here is less the pronunciation than the dictionaries' different standards for representing the pronunciation.

The vowel here is ‘reduced’: that is, it is not only unstressed but largely deprived of any character which distinguishes it from similar vowels. For a long time all such reduced vowels were regarded as allophones of a single phoneme, conventionally represented with the schwa, /ə/; and that is to this day a very common dictionary representation, as in your Oxford citation.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, however, it was recognized that in one context there is a meaningful contrast between different realizations of this ‘phoneme’—in final syllables. The parade minimal pair (two words or phrases which differ in only one phonological element) is the contrast between Rosa’s and roses, which almost all native speakers of English pronounce differently. The reduced vowel in Rosa is the mid central vowel represented by /ə/; that in roses is a distinctly higher, a ‘near-close central unrounded vowel’. According to Wikipedia:

In the British phonetic tradition, the latter vowel is represented with the symbol /ɪ/, and in the American tradition /ɨ/.

Wikipedia says that the OED and The Oxford Dictionary of Pronunciation for Current English have recently introduced yet another symbolization:

A symbolization convention recently introduced by Oxford University Press for some of their English dictionaries uses the non-IPA "compound" symbol [ᵻ] in words that may be pronounced with either [ɪ̈] or schwa. For example, the word noted may be represented [ˈnəʊtᵻd].

So your two variant notations represent the same range of pronunciations in different ways. In your own speech it probably doesn’t matter at all which you use; nobody is likely to notice, unless you exaggerate. After all, even professional phoneticians didn’t care much about it for a hundred years.

  • Yeah - this is the right answer. Although, as @5arx comments, there is the possibility of a circus ringmaster/boxing commentator "Treeeee-mendous!", that's an extreme exaggeration that doesn't really relate to normal speech. Although as you say, there are contexts where these two vowel sounds could be semantically significant, in practice I doubt most native speakers would be able to both notice and recall which one you'd just used if you unexpectedly asked them immediately after casually including the word in conversation. Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 22:16
  • @FumbleFingers In fact, in my experience, if you point out to someone that they say /roʊzɨz/, not /roʊzəz/, they will indignantly deny it and insist that what they actually say is /roʊzɛz/! Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 23:29
  • Asuming they can read/write, people often spuriously assume they're reflecting written forms in speech. I'm constantly amazed by the number of people who insist they pronounce prints and prince differently. Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 23:49
  • In General American, this is the difference between the names Aaron and Erin — and it can easily lead to confusion, since some speakers don't distinguish between /ə/ and /ɨ/. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 16:04
  • @PeterShor The Aaron/Erin collapse, however, is complicated by the fact that it also involves a Mary/merry collapse. The example I kept running across in the literature was BE Lennon/Lenin. But for me, both pairs are sort of theoretical: the unstressed <i> in both Erin and Lenin is for me a full vowel, not a reduced one. Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 16:14

Here in the UK they are both correct and used pretty much equally. My perception is that the latter pronunciation (tree-mendus) can also be used for emphasis.

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    I don't think articulating the first vowel as /ɪ/ rather than the neutral schwa /ə/ has any real relevance in terms of emphasis, which is normally achieved by simply exaggerating the existing stress on the second syllable. Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 13:04
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    I disagree. Think of the 'circus ringmaster' or boxing commentator style of delivery: "Treeeee-mendous!"
    – immutabl
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 13:43
  • oic. Yes, you could use that form. But it's a "quirky" delivery, that wouldn't be the most common way of emphasising the word. Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 14:39
  • I agree. But the OP asked which was correct, not which was most commonly used.
    – immutabl
    Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 14:42
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    Surely. I was just making the point that OP's alternatives are the unstressed schwa /ə/, and "short" vowel form /ɪ/ (as in kit, bid, hymn). If you [over-]exaggerate the first vowel, you'd probably inevitably end up with something even longer than /iː/ (as in meet, see, fleece). Commented Mar 4, 2013 at 14:49

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