precocious precautious

Discussion in 'English Only' started by veracity, Jul 10, 2009.

  1. veracity

    veracity Senior Member


    When you hear:

    He is a precocious child.
    He is a precautious child.

    will you discern any difference or they sound the same?

  2. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Chicago, IL
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    The two words sound distinctly different to me.
  3. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    Although I know it exists, I've never heard the word 'precautious' used so I would most likely assume someone using it in this sentence was actually trying to say 'precocious'. The two sound quite different. Unless you're from Hull or somewhere.
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I can't think of any accent where these two words have the same vowel: 'precocious' has the same vowel as in GOAT, 'precaution' and 'cautious' that of THOUGHT. These are different vowels in all the main England, North American, Scottish, and Australasian accents.
  5. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I can't think of any American accent where the two would sound the same, either.
  6. veracity

    veracity Senior Member

    Thank you. I can't hear a difference or better to say I mix them continuously. It is frightening. I think only (well, almost) the natives can use them as separate sounds.
  7. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Listen to this pronunciation of precocious (mouse over the word in pink) and then type cautious into the box and listen to the difference. Audio helps a lot :D
  8. FurryOne Senior Member

    Massachusetts, USA
    United States, English
    It's an important vowel distinction, and if you can't hear it, you should work on training your ear to hear the difference.

    Here are some pairs of words with the same vowel difference:
    boat -- bought
    coat -- cot
    hope -- hop
    robe -- rob
    Joan -- John
    cloak -- clock

    ps: I also have never run across precautious but it is listed in the OED, which says it means "Using precaution; displaying previous or provident caution or care." That is very different from the meaning of precocious.
  9. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    veracious: as your native language is Hungarian, the difference is similar to a difference in your language. The GOAT vowel of 'precocious' is more like a Hungarian Ó, but the THOUGHT vowel of 'cautious' and 'precaution' is more like Hungarian O.

    Several things need to be said: in English both vowels are long, so you need to lengthen your Hungarian O for THOUGHT. Second, in American English THOUGHT (often) doesn't have an O-like sound at all, but is like Hungarian Á. However, British English THOUGHT is like a long Hungarian O. Finally, the GOAT vowel in many English accents moves away from Hungarian Ó - in England it's often more like something you would write ÖU in Hungarian.

    Nevertheless, whatever the accent of English, the two vowels are clearly different.
  10. Redshade Banned

    Well Sir I am from somewhere.:)

    But I agree that in flat broad northern speech they would both sound the same.Probably something like pri-caw-shus although like thee I do not recall hearing either word just of late.
  11. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    There is another issue for you to consider - isn't English wonderful? - that is exemplified in the word caution. In BrE and in many parts of the US its vowel is not the same as the vowel in cot, but in the US, particularly west of the Mississippi, they are the same (cot=caught). Therefore, be aware that the right-hand examples from furryOne's list reflect that merger. You should listen carefully and study these vowel sounds :D
  12. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    JulianStuart: are you sure? There are three words cot, caught, coat which have three different vowels in BE. In about half of AE accents cot and caught have merged. But there are no accents (that I know of) where coat has merged with either of the other two.
  13. Redshade Banned


    Not even in the north of England where vowel sounds are somewhat elastic and seem not to have partaken of the vowel shift drift endemic elsewhere.

    They would be: cot, cowt and coyt.
  14. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I wasn't trying to say that either cot or caught had merged with coat - that would be confusing.

    I was just pointing out that the sound in caution might or might not be the same as that in cot, depending on where the speaker came from. Precocious is always like coat. FurryOne's list contrasts coat with cot, as do I. I still contrast cot with caught but in other places they have merged, as in FurryOne's list.

Share This Page