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Phonetic notation of the American Heritage Dictionary

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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (abbreviated AHD) uses a phonetic notation based on the Latin alphabet to transcribe the pronunciation of spoken English. It and similar respelling systems, such as those used by the Merriam-Webster and Random House dictionaries, are familiar to US schoolchildren.

The following tables show the AHD representations of English phonemes,[1] along with the IPA equivalents as used on Wikipedia.



The AHD uses a unary notation to represent the vowels. In a customary unary notation, every vowel is represented by one symbol except for the true diphthongs //, //, and /ɔɪ/.[2] The only difference in the AHD is that // is also represented as a single symbol. Because they behave differently among English dialects, rhotic vowels are listed separately. Many US speakers conflate âr, ăr, and ĕr; îr and ĭr; ōr, ôr, and ŏr; ûr and ŭr. Among non-rhotic vowels, many conflate ä, ô, and ŏ.

In general, long vowels are marked with a macron, and short vowels are marked with a breve. When these symbols are used is derived from the common name of the vowels listed in the third column.

A circumflex may also be used to indicate a pre-rhotic vowel. Usage of other symbols vary.

Example  AHD   IPA  Common name
bad, cat, ran ă æ short a
marry ăr ær
bait, play, same ā long a
hair, pear, there âr ɛər
father ä ɑː broad a
arm, bard är ɑr
bed, bet, end ĕ ɛ short e
berry, merry ĕr ɛr
ease, see ē[3] long e
about (reduced) ə ə schwa
enter (reduced) ər ər
city, bit ĭ ɪ short i
mirror ĭr ɪr
here, near, peer îr ɪər
my, rise, pric'e ī long i
fire īr aɪr
not ŏ ɒ short o
moral, forage ŏr ɒr
law, caught, saw ô ɔː open o
born, for ôr ɔr
go, hope, know ō long o
more, four ōr ɔər
foot, pull o͝o
lose, soon, through, tube o͞o
boor o͝or ʊər
boy, noise oi ɔɪ
house, now ou
run, enough, up ŭ ʌ short u
hurry ŭr ʌr
fur, bird ûr ɜr
Foreign  AHD   IPA 
German schön, können;
French feu, oeuf
œ ø, œ
German müde, French tu ü y
French: bon n ˜


Example  AHD   IPA 
but, ebb b b
chat, inch ch
dot, odd d d
fan, leaf f f
get, bag g ɡ
ham, ahead h h
which hw hw
joy, gin, edge j
cat, sky, tack k k
left, little l l
man, him m m
not, hidden n n
singer, ring ng ŋ
pen, spin, top p p
run, very r r
set, city, pass s s
she, ash, mission sh ʃ
ton, stab, mat t t
thin, nothing, moth th θ
this, father, clothe th ð
voice, save v v
wet, aquatic w w
yes y j
zoo, rose z z
vision, beige zh ʒ
Foreign  AHD   IPA 
loch, pesach kh x

Syllables and stressEdit

Indication  AHD   IPA 
primary stress (carried on the letter a) aʹ ˈa
secondary stress ˌa
division between syllables
(not used after a stress mark)

Note: Prime character with bold formatting (primary) and without (secondary). Unicode 02B9 used here; similar to Unicode 2032.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Houghton Mifflin, American Heritage Dictionary pronunciation key (PDF), retrieved 2016-01-21. 
  2. ^ Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. chapter 2. 
  3. ^ The sound that might be expected to be spelled ēr is instead spelled îr.
  4. ^ a b The AHD uses o͝o and o͞o in print but ŏŏ and ōō online, as these are more widely supported by web browsers.