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One of the common problems that a language learner often faces is searching for a word knowing only the pronunciation. Usually it is possible to guess the correct spelling, but sometimes not.

How should one go about searching for a word, knowing only the pronunciation?

  • Most recently, I was searching for the word indictment. I typed "enditement" into Google and found this: english.stackexchange.com/questions/90760/… I was lucky that the question has been closed only after it was answered. – user7610 Nov 14 '14 at 18:12
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    If your diction is good enough, you could use Google's voice input search facility. It works for me (sometimes!) – FumbleFingers Nov 14 '14 at 18:22
  • Agree with FumbleFingers. Google seems to keep getting better at this--the "Did you mean" feature. For example, Google will ask "Did you mean: student" when we type stoodent, or "Did you mean: indictment" when we type enditement, or "Did you mean: scrupulous" when we type scripolous. The closer you can guess, the better chance Google can guess it right. – Damkerng T. Nov 14 '14 at 18:36
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    Voice input works for me, it correctly found "indictment" in four out of five tries. I used a mic in laptop lid. – user7610 Nov 14 '14 at 19:12
  • Homonyms would be a struggle though - would need some extra dictionary research.... "There, they're, their" she said, patting me on the shoulder, kindly... – Tetsujin Nov 14 '14 at 19:24
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You can try to do a soundex match, like at this site. Soundex indexes words by pronunciation so you can often use it to find similar-sounding words.

  • Doesn't work for "enditement" – user7610 Nov 14 '14 at 21:59
  • @user7610 True, but it's better that no help at all! :) – Araucaria Nov 15 '14 at 1:36
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This can indeed be a problem. When I read this question I was immediately reminded of the time several decades ago when I was looking for the word "aisle" in a dictionary. I didn't know how to spell it, and I assumed it started with an "i", so I searched in vain without finding it.

The only way I know to find a spelling from a pronunciation is to know all the conventional English pronunciation rules, so that you can guess at alternate spellings. From the pronunciation "in-dite-ment" you could pretty readily guess that it must start with an "i" or an "e", those are the only two letters commonly pronounced with the short "i" sound. Even if you thought it was more of a schwa, "i" and "e" are the most likely possibilities for the beginning of a word. The next letter is almost surely "n" -- no other letter in English makes an "n" sound. Similarly next is "d". The long "i" sound could be made with "i", "ae", "ay", or "ey". Etc. Yeah, the silent "c" is going to trip you up. Etc.

It would be very nice if there were dictionaries or web sites that had some sort of cross index by pronunciation. Maybe there are: I don't know of any.

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I'm working on such a pronunciation dictionary. It can search by pronunciation or spelling. It uses CMUdict (American English) as its data source. It's a freeware Windows app.

I've just reached the stage to release it for the first time. I hope it's OK to provide a link to it here: PronunDict (EDIT: link updated).

EDIT: Here's an example screenshot of searching for words that are pronounced /hir/:

Search by pronunciation

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