Suffixes: pronunciation for teachers

It seems to me that my posts here have, unintentionally, turned into a pronunciation series. I’ve been keeping my eyes /aɪz/ and ears /ɪərz/ open to things to write about. Last week, I worked with the pronunciation of different suffixes in different places. Because of that, I thought this would be an appropriate topic and I’ve chosen three that I think are particularly mispronounced.

ful

Adjectives that take the suffix -ful are sometimes pronounced by Brazilians the same way the word ‘full’ is pronounced: /fʊl/. However, the vowel sound here should be a schwa /ə/ and if you check out Cambridge Dictionary, they go as far as using a small schwa in a word like ‘wonderful’.  Other dictionaries show a regular schwa, but regardless of that, the suffix in words such as wonderful, awful and hopeful should be pronounced /fəl/

-ate

This is a suffix for adjectives and nouns that is often pronounced /eɪt/ when it should also be pronounced with a schwa /ət/. The origin of the confusion here is easy to explain, as verbs that use the same suffix are pronounced /eɪt/. Therefore, to graduate /ˈɡrædʒ.u.eɪt/ and a graduate /ˈɡrædʒ.u.ət/ are pronounced differently. Common words that English teachers may mispronounce are ‘intermediate’, ‘certificate’ and accurate.

-ous

I saved this for last because I’m sure this is the one I had problems with for the most time. It is natural to look at the spelling and assume this suffix is pronounced with a diphthong /əʊs/. It should come as no surprise at this point, though, that only the schwa is used and the suffix should be pronounced as /əs/. Say the word famous /ˈfeɪ.məs/ out loud. Did you say it with one or two vowel sounds in the suffix? Other similar words are ‘dangerous’ and ‘adventurous’ (the second of which comes up a lot during my lessons, for whatever reason).

Finally, youtube can be a good source of information when it comes to pronunciation. There are plenty of videos from foreigners, but I’d like to highlight two Brazilians. If you want to learn more about the schwa, check out Carina Fragozo’s video. For a more detailed explanation of two of the suffixes described here, I recommend watching Higor Cavalcante’s video.
Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading.

Ricardo Barros

Ricardo Barros is a CELTA tutor and freelance teacher trainer based in Jundiaí–SP. He has taught English since 2003, working as a teacher, teacher trainer, academic coordinator and Cambridge examiner. He holds the DELTA, CELTA and a BA in History from Unicamp. He is a moderator for the BrELT facebook group and advisory council member for BRAZ-TESOL. He also blogs at ricardobarroselt.wordpress.com

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