The pronunciation rules of words which begin 'Com-, Col-, Cor-' or 'Con-'

Originally, this question here didn't necessarily seem well put. It wasn't clear exactly what aspects of the pronunciation of the cor/com/con/col prefix the Origninal Poster should be worried about. I've had a bit of an edit of the question. I think that from a phonetics and phonology point of view, it's actually got some gristle worthy of a site for linguists and enthusiasts of English. Here's the text of it for you:

Very often these words have an /ɒ/ vowel, like in the word hot - in Gen American, I think it's the vowel /ɑː/. Other times they may have a schwa, /ə/, like the first vowel in amazing. Sometimes they seem to have a syllabic consonant, /n/.

Sometimes there even seem to be two words which are spelled the same but have a different pronunciation. For example content meaning "happy" and content as in "the content of the lecture", for which Cambridge Dictionaries gives the transcriptions /kənˈtent/ and /ˈkɒntent/ [US:/ˈkɑːntent/] respectively.

Here are some examples with transcriptions from Cambridge Dictionaries Online:

  • common /ˈkɒm.ən/
    • commercial /kəˈmɜː.ʃəl/
    • colleague /ˈkɒl.iːɡ/
    • collection /kəˈlek.ʃən/
    • correlate /ˈkɒr.ə.leɪt/
    • correct /kəˈrekt/

So my question is:

  1. Is there any rule for whether a schwa or full /ɒ/ or /ɑː/ is used?
  2. Are there generalisations that can be made which will help me have a good guess at which to use.
  3. Are there any rules that will enable me to tell in certain restricted situations.
  4. If I'm unsure about a particular example, would I be better to go with a schwa or a full vowel. Why?

Any chance of your reopen vote here?

  • 2
    As long as you're willing to put the work in to provide a solid answer, you have my re-open vote (just cast it).
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 27, 2015 at 18:50
  • 1
    It's now reopened. Go get it, Araucaria!
    – Sven Yargs
    Aug 27, 2015 at 23:20
  • 1
    If that had been the original question I would have thought to myself: "Any person who is capable of asking a question in so much detail, with so much background knowledge is capable of finding the answer themself." I would never vote to close but I wouldn't be surprised if nobody answered. "Good" questions allow users to demonstrate their expertise and experience, where an answer cannot simply be found in a dictionary or doing a Google search.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 29, 2015 at 19:00
  • @mari yes. The original question was good enough on it's own, imho. Will write at some point this BH weekend... Aug 29, 2015 at 22:10

1 Answer 1


I really don't think this was worth re-opening in its present form, because of three problems, all mentioned in the comments there, that you have chosen not to address:

  • It is not, and never has been, the case that there is just one pronunciation for a word in English. Different countries, areas, and social groups have different dialects, and pronounce words differently.
  • It is doubtful, to say the least, whether words go from spelling to pronunciation. Historically, of course, spelling was merely a rough attempt to represent the spoken word: Shakespeare famously spelt his name a dozen different ways, without worrying about whether this meant 'changing his name'.
  • There is no reason to believe in the existence of a 'rule' for any aspect of English, in the sense that words must follow certain regulations. It is sometimes possible to deduce generalizations in restricted areas, such as common etymologies or impossible phonemes; but 'every instance of these three letters' is not such an area.

Since others seem to think this is a useful question, I won't vote to re-close it just yet; but you do need to consider these points.

  • I understand your concerns, agree with some of the factual content but disagree with your general approach to the question, your conclusions and some of the content. There are some absolute facts here. For example, we cannot use a schwa if the prefix is stressed. This generalisation is so reliable, it should be considered a rule here. Also the question asks about the prefix 'col/com/con/cor' not the letters. The prefix is the sound, so to speak, not the letters. The letters are just a way of representing the sound. Regarding the fact that different varieties ... Aug 28, 2015 at 12:35
  • ... of English will have different realisations of this prefix, that's surely part of any decent answer to the question. We wouldn't say not to bother with questions about syntax or lexis just because there are differences between regional varieties and individual speakers. That would be silly. So part of the motivation for the question is how we might be able to predict the pronunciation this part of word if we've never seen it before. Well, there are useful generalisations that we can use here in certain instances too. Aug 28, 2015 at 12:44
  • ... So, I might be wrong. So I'm wondering if you know of any varieties of English that would use a schwa in a stressed syllable here? Also do you know of any varieties that have more than two different vowels for any instance of this prefix (i.e. with the same third /l,r,n,m/ - i.e. three different exclusive vowels in three different words (not free variation between two alternatives). There are of course varieties which use 1 vowel regardless of the stress. But this is just part of the answer. In particular it provides a clear answer to part (4) of the question. Aug 28, 2015 at 13:02

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