Pronunciation Symbols

Our dictionaries provide helpful information about the pronunciation of words. On this page you can find a list of symbols used in our range of dictionaries, in the form of an interactive chart, as well as information about stress and alternative pronunciations.

Pronunciation guide

Below you can find an interactive version of the well-known phonemic chart put together by author Adrian Underhill for his book Sound Foundations. The British English editions of our dictionaries use these symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), plus the symbols /i/, /u/ (e.g. friendly, actually) and /x/ (e.g. loch).

You will need Flash player installed on your machine to view the chart. If you are unable to open the file directly from the link, please save the file to your desktop and open from there. Depending on the speed of your computer this may take up to 20 seconds to load.

Download the Phonetic Chart – small/windowed version (.exe)

Download Phonetic Chart – full screen version (.exe)

More about pronunciation in our dictionaries

The main stressed syllable in an entry is shown by the symbol / ˈ /, and the second-most important stressed syllable is shown by the symbol / ˌ /, for example correspond / ˌkɒrɪˈspɒnd /. Compound entries that are made up of two or more separate words have stress marks on them if the pronunciation for each individual word is already given in the dictionary, for example ˌice ˈcream.

Alternative pronunciations
Our dictionaries show alternative pronunciations for entries only if the second pronunciation is so different from the main one that it might not be understood easily, for example at cervical / ˈsɜː(r)vɪk(ə)l, sə(r)ˈvɑɪk(ɛ)l /.

Weak forms and strong forms
Some grammar words (common words like prepositions and pronouns) have more than one pronunciation. The weak form is used when the syllable is unstressed, and the strong form is used when the syllable is stressed. These two forms are shown like this in our dictionaries: but / weak bət, strong bʌt /.

Normal rapid speech
Pronunciations of words often change in normal rapid speech. The schwa / ə / often disappears between certain consonants and the sounds / d / and / t / can often not be heard when they are found between two other consonants. If these sounds are given in brackets, it means that they are often not pronounced by fluent speakers of English, for example station / ˈsteɪʃ(ə)n /, friendly / ˈfren(d)li /, and postman / ˈpəʊs(t)mən /.

The symbol (r)
The symbol (r) indicates that / r / is always pronounced in American English. In British English it is only pronounced when final / r / is followed by a word that starts with a vowel sound, for example wear and tear / ˌweər ən ˈteə(r) / or computer-aided design/ kəmˌpjuːtər ˌeɪdɪd dɪˈzaɪn /.

Sounds: The Pronunciation App

If you’d like to work on your pronunciation whilst on the move, why not download Macmillan’s brand-new sound app (available for both Apple and Android operating systems). Sounds: The Pronunciation App is a useful tool to learn about and improve pronunciation. You can find out more about this product on this page or by watching this video:


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