Respelling symbols


09 July 2012 | Last updated 15 May 2018

By the Editors of Learn English or Starve

PRONUNCIATION respelling is the alternative to the IPA and has a much longer history of use.

Editorial and other professions who work in non-linguistics fields generally don’t use the IPA, and indeed, tend to avoid it altogether.

This is because most people are normally more comfortable with ‘make-do’ pronunciation spellings — commonly found in newspapers and other non-technical writing. Pronunciation spellings make use of well-known words and spelling conventions of the mother tongue and avoid difficulties such as diacritics or non-alphabet symbols. For example, the actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s surname is—

/ˈdʒɪlənhɔːl/ in IPA

jĭl′·ən·hôl in old-fashioned dictionary transcription

jill-in-hall in a newspaper

Most people don’t need one-to-one mapping between symbols and sounds and, for most general purposes, the IPA just hinders rather than clarifies understanding.

Pronunciation ‘spelling’ vs. ‘respelling’

A pronunciation spelling is an ad hoc spelling done for the specific task at hand and has no standardisation. Most are one-time coinages, but some have become standardised (even institutionalised) into mainstream English and finding their way into dictionaries:— arentcha, dontcha, fella, gonna, helluva, kinda, milord, missus, sonofabitch, sorta, ’twas, wanna, whodunnit, wot, yer, etc.

A pronunciation REspelling IS a regular phonetic respelling of a word. It does have a standard format to indicate sounds. Most monolingual dictionaries designed for native-speaker use employ pronunciation respelling. One of the more famous dictionaries that uses pronunciation respelling instead of the IPA is Webster’s New World Dictionary of American English, Third Collegiate Edition (1988).

Our policy

Learn English or Starve uses both phonetic respelling and the IPA whenever possible. Failing that, we make do with newspaper-style pronunciation spelling because, honestly speaking, most people find it’s good enough. After all, this is a blog — not a flippin’ linguistics textbook or dictionary or a peer-reviewable research paper. Wakey wakey!


Traditional Respelling Symbols

Below is a generic list of pronunciation respelling symbols commonly used in most monolingual dictionaries for native English speakers. The sounds are based on a compromise and dialect-neutral English pronunciation. Most adhere to the one-symbol-per-sound principle.

Remember, no transcription system is ever accurate and can only approximate the sounds spoken. The most accurate way is to listen to an audio file.

As you can see, symbols without diacritics are very easy to write and type.


(IPA in square brackets. BrE = British English. GA = General American)

b [b] — bay, back, baby, job

ch [tʃ] — church, match, nature

d [d] — day, ladder, odd

f [f] — fun, fat, coffee, rough, photo

h [h] — hat, hot, whole, ahead

hw [hw] — when (N BrE), where (GA cf. BrE), which, why (GA cf. BrE) : see also w (below)

j [dʒ] — judge, age, soldier, garbage

(χ) or KH [x] — loch (Scottish) (“hard kh”)

kh [x] — gog (Welsh) (“soft kh”)

hl [ɬ] — llan (Welsh)

g [g] — game, tag, regal, get, giggle, ghost

k [k] — king, key, clock, school

l [l] — light, valley, feel

m [m] — more, hammer, sum

n [n] — nice, know, funny, sun

ng [ŋ] — gnocchi (Italian), ring, anger, thanks, sung

p [p] — pay, pen, copy, happen

r [r] — right, wrong, sorry, arrange, ‘luser

s [s] — simple, soon, cease, sister

hshsia (Chinese), Xerxes (“teethy s”)

sh [ʃ] — ship, sure, dish, ration, national

t [t] — talk, tea, tight, button

th [θ] — thin, thing, thigh, author, path, beneath (“soft th”)

dh [ð] — this, thy, other, smooth (“hard th”)

v [v] — vine, view, heavy, move

w [w] — way, one, queen, when, where (BrE cf. GA), which, why (BrE cf. GA) : see also hw (above)

y [j] — yes, use, beauty, few

z [z] — zoo, zero, music, roses, pleasure (BrE), fusion (GA, science), fission (GA, science), vision (GA), buzz


(IPA in square brackets. BrE = British English. GA = General American.)

a [a] — ami (French)

ă or a [æ] — pat, lad, cat, fat, rat, trap, bed

ā or ai [eɪ] — pay, day, face, break

ār or air [eə or ɛər | GA: ɛr] — care, hair, there, square, fair, various

ah or aa [ɑː | GA: ɑ] — father, palm, calm, start

ar or aar or ahr [ɑr] — arm

ě or eh [e or ε] — let, head, dress, bed, many

ē or ee or iy [iː | GA: i] — bee, see, fleece, sea, machine, happy, radiate, glorious

ēr or eer or ihr [ɪə or ɪər | GA: ɪr] — pier, near, here, weary

ǐ or i [ɪ] — pit, bid, city, kit, hymn, minute

ī or eye [aɪ] — item, pie, price, high, by, my, try

ǒ or o [ɒ] — odd, orr, lot, pot, not, wash, wasp

ō or oh [oʊ or əʊ] — toe, no, goat, show

aw [ɔː | GA: ɔ] — caught, law, paw, thought, north (GA), war (GA)

awr [ɔr] — north (BrE), war (esp. BrE)

awr or ohr [ɔər | GA: or] — force, wore

oi or oy [ɔɪ] — noise, boy, choice, buoy (BrE ‘bwoy’ cf. GA ‘boo-iy’)

oo or uu [ʊ | GA: ᴜ] — took, put, foot, good

oor or uhr [ʊə or ʊər | GA: ᴜr] — tour, poor, jury, cure

oo or uw [uː | GA: u] — boot, soon, through, goose, two, blue, group, thank you, influence, situation

ow [aʊ | GA: aᴜ] — out, now, mouth

ǔ or uh [ʌ] — cut, strut, mud, blood, love, run, enough

er or ər or ur [ɝː or ɜr | GA: ɜr] — urge, term, firm, word, heard, learn, bird, nurse, stir, refer

uh [ə] — about, item, gallop, circus, about, common, standard

uh or i (BBC)| GA: ɪ or ə] — rabbit, edible, garbage (‘gahbij’)

uhl [l̩] —middle, metal (“l with under-dot”)

uhn [n̩] — suddenly, cotton (“n with under-dot”)

er or uhr [ər | GA: ɚ] — butter, winner

ū or yoo or yuw or ew or iew [juː | GA: ju] — pupil (‘piewpul’)

oe [øː or œ | GA: œ] — feu (French), schön (German), zwölf (German)

ue [yː or ʏ | GA: y] — tu (French), über (German)

awɴ or o(ng) [ɔ̃ | GA: õ] — bon (French)


Traditional respelling system don’t usually indicate stress or glottal stops. The objective is simply to present an intuitive manner for the reader to deduce pronunciation rather than giving a precise representation. When respelling does give stress indicators, these are the conventions:—

a or á [ˈa | GA: ˋa] — primary (tonic) stress

(a) or à [ˌa | GA: ˊa] — secondary stress

(a-) [a] — tertiary stress (no indicator)

(glottal stops not indicated) [ʔ] — department, football



English Phonetic Transcription Converter | Project Modelino

A straightforward free only converter from normal English into generic IPA. Maximum 700 words for unregistered/guest users.

PhoTransEdit – English Phonetic Transcription Editor |

Another free online converter that outputs a choice of Received Pronunciation (BrE) or General American (AmE) transcription. Max. 300 characters (not words).

Learn to speak lolcat: the lolcat translator |

Learn to speak lolcat — the language of all animals, not just cats, dogs, kittens and puppies. Communicate with your pet dog or cat. Docta dolittle eat ur hart out!

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© Learn English or Starve, 09 July 2012. Last updated 15 May 2018.

Cite this page as:—

LEOS. (2012). Respelling symbols. Learn English or Starve. 09 July 2012. Last updated 15 May 2018. Shortlink:

Created and published 09 July 2012
Updated 10 July 2012 (minor typographic fixes)
Updated 21 Nov 2012 (minor amendments, extra text on respelling, typos, link fixes)
Updated 26 May 2014 (link updates)
Updated 14 Aug 2015 (link updates, minor amendments)
Updated 21 Apr 2016 (format fixes)
Updated 15 May 2018 (format fixes, typos)

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