I just can't pronounce it properly..

How to pronounce the AmE's "em" in "them"? I always pronounced it like the "un" in "fun" or the "um" in dumb.


If stressed, it's the ordinary ‘short e’, IPA /ɛ/, as in dress:

I gave it to them, not him.

If unstressed, it takes a reduced vowel, the ‘schwa’ (/ə/) heard in the first syllable of about and the last syllable of coda. This is very close to the /ʌ/ in fun, as that is pronounced in General American; but various dialects pronounce /ʌ/ differently, so you can't make that a general rule. Usually, too, the initial consonant is dropped:

Give ‘em hell, Harry!

And that phrase, in fact, where the /v/ and the /m/ are articulated at the same point, will often elide even further, eliminating the /v/ (and the /h/) and reducing the schwa to a barely discernible glide:

Gi'mell, Harry!

  • Don't forget about the pen-pin merger. In the South, a stressed "em" is /ɪm/, not /ɛm/. – dan04 Sep 30 '13 at 5:03
  • 1
    @dan04 In my part of the South it was a diphthong, /ɛɪm/, before /m/. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 30 '13 at 11:26

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