For native English speakers, they can speak out most of the words they saw.
Without the help of international phonetic symbol system.

I've searched on-line and find some of the rules which helps spell-pronounce a word.
But they are not complete.

Where can I find a complete guide-book or reference for such spell-pronunciation rules?


2 Answers 2


You will never find a “complete” guide-book because no such thing is possible in English:

The connection between English spelling and pronunciation is one of the most complex mappings between written letters and spoken pronunciation of any language. The reasons for this are many, of which the Great Vowel Shift is probably the single largest contributing factor: English froze its spelling long before it stopped shifting its pronunciation — and in fact, has not stopped yet.

Other factors are many, including loanwords left in the original spelling, historical confusion, and regional differences. English spelling tells a complex tale, and its job is not merely that of pronunciation; it also gives hints to a word’s origin, history, and relationships with other words that would all be lost were a “phonemic” spelling ever somehow adopted.

But even that would be impossible. There are only 26 letters in the current English alphabet, but the number of phonemes in its repertoire is probably in the neighborhood of half again that. And even then you would not know the pronunciation of word, because each phoneme has numerous allophones, many of which are quite different in different parts of the world. No phonetic spelling would ever work, and no phonemic spelling would ever tell one how a word is actually pronounced where you happen to be. Plus we would lose a great deal, so that is never going to happen.

Yes, there are some rules, but there are more exceptions than there are rules. No one who has not seriously studied Middle English, French, Latin, Greek, and a good many other languages from which Modern English derives its words and spellings will be able to have a good grasp of just what the connection is between spelling and pronunciation for any given word, and this takes years of hard study that nearly no one ever pursues.

In the meanwhile, you should learn every new word just like every native speaker does: by listening to others speaking it. And if you chance upon a written word you have never seen before, you will have to look up how to say it in a good pronouncing dictionary (read: nearly nothing made in America, where sadly the International Phonetic Alphabet is virtually unknown).

The spelling of a word and the pronunciation of that word are two very different things in English, each with its own unique history. Nor is there necessarily only one of each: many words have several possible pronunciations; others have several possible spellings, and some have both.

You must therefore learn a word’s spelling and pronunciation separately. Trying to guess one from the other leads to two classes of error. Using the wrong pronunciation of a word based on its spelling is called a spelling pronunciation, while using the wrong spelling of a word based on its pronunciation is called eye dialect. The former is unintentional error, but the latter is occasionally used deliberately by experienced writers to represent the quirks of dialectal speech in writing.

Eventually you come to develop a feel for these things, but there will always be many that you get wrong no matter what putative rules to attempt to apply. See the poem included with the linked posting above.

Native speakers have their own ears to guide them: having heard the words spoken long before seeing them written, they usually know what a word sounds like already before they actually see it. If you spend more time listening to English, this will become easier than if you only read it.

In isn’t quite as difficult as learning a different pronunciation for each sinogram one encounters, but it is probably harder than in any other language that uses the Latin alphabet. You really do need to look things up in a quality dictionary, for there are otherwise too many surprises that will confound any possible attempt at applying a finite set of rules to them.

  • Then why on my kindle Oxford-English-dictionary, some words have pronunciation, meanwhile the majority of words doesn't have pronunciation symbols. I guess it suggests these words can be speak out by sort of common sense. But where should I find detailed informations about such common sense?
    – ZengJuchen
    Commented Mar 13, 2015 at 12:26

It's almost impossible to find such thing. Native speakers simply feel how they should pronounce something. The same happens with non-native speakers who use English actively for years.

What helps me to pronounce words I see for the first time:

  • Origin: Latin, French (like "au" always pronounced as [o]), etc.
  • Prefix or suffix to a known word: I know how to pronounce "get", so I know how to pronounce "forget", or "given" and "forgiven". The same can apply to most of complex words as well.
  • Feeling that something should be pronounced that way

But even then, I will make a mistake maybe 2 out of 10 new words. Sometimes you simply cannot use any logic to guess pronunciation, like pronouncing "Leicester".

In the end, the best way to get the "feeling" is to use English actively corresponding with native speakers. There is no book which can make a better job.

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