I have found that The Free Dictionary reports two different pronunciations for the word "liveable":

  • the one that I expect (/ˈlɪvəbl/, or "lee-vable") for the US
  • and one that I have never heard (/laɪvəbl/, or "lai-vable") for the UK.

(To clarify: "lee-vable" and "lai-vable" are just my attempts to transcribe the word without using IPA, and are not accurate. In particular, I don't mean that the /ɪ/ should be pronounced as in "leeway". If you prefer, Dictionary.com suggests to transcribe it as "liv-uh-buh l")

The Free Dictionary is the only online dictionary that I am aware of to report it: all the others that I have checked, that is:

report only "lee-vable". Even an answer on this site reports only this pronunciation. And interestingly, user nnnnnn has noticed that The Free Dictionary itself has a different entry for "livable" (instead of "liveable") and in this case the pronunciation is the expected one both for British and American English.

Normally I trust The Free Dictionary, therefore I am confused. Does this other pronunciation exist? Is it widespread? Would it sound wrong, or awkward, to a non-British native speaker (or even to a British one, for that matter)?

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  • "Lee-vable" sounds wrong to me. First syllable is not "lee" as in "leeway". Anyway, I've never heard the "lie-vable" pronunciation you're asking about, but I'm Australian, not British. Note that the Free dictionary page for the spelling "livable" provides a single pronunciation for British and US speakers. – nnnnnn May 14 '16 at 13:33
  • @nnnnnn To clarify: "Lee-vable" is just my attempt to transcribe the pronunciation without using IPA. I am not implying that the /ɪ/ sound should be long. It was meant to clarify, because not everyone is familiar with IPA, but maybe it actually confuses and I should remove it. And about the spelling "livable": great catch! – Fabio says Reinstate Monica May 14 '16 at 13:39
  • Yeah, I've never bothered to learn IPA. That's why I like dictionary.com: it gives pronunciation in a way I can understand easily (e.g. "liv-uh-buh l"). – nnnnnn May 14 '16 at 13:58
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    @FabioTurati "ee" in English is a majority of the time /i/ and almost never /ɪ/ (and the only place I've heard "ee" as /ɪ/ is in "been"). – Nihilist_Frost May 14 '16 at 14:04

The suffix -able is often attached to verbs, denoting adjectives relating to the action being able to be done.

lovable, fixable, changeable, believable, teachable, punishable, allowable, ...

This suffix preserves the stem's pronunciation when used. Allow = /əˈlaʊ/, Allowable = /əˈlaʊ ə bəl/. Love = /lʌv/, lovable = /ˈlʌv ə bəl/.

Hence live (verb) + -able results in /ˈlɪv ə bəl/ and mostly never /ˈlaɪv ə bl/.

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  • Ok, but I'm still not satisfied yet. Does "mostly never" mean that The Free Dictionary is wrong? Does that pronunciation even exist, or not? – Fabio says Reinstate Monica May 14 '16 at 21:28
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    Somebody recorded the pronunciation /laɪvəbl/ that the Free Dictionary found. So somebody apparently pronounces it that way. But as far as we can tell, very, very few other people do. And for all we know, that person may have been confused by the two spellings liveable and livable into thinking that these were two different words. – Peter Shor May 14 '16 at 22:40

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