pronunciation: contractor

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How do you stress the word in question? I've always heard it pronounced with the stress on the second syllable /kən'træktə(r)/. However, I'm watching "The Mentalist" and one character from the series pronounced the word stressing the first syllable /'kontræktər/. The word was uttered in the following expression: "Private security contractors." as a reply to "Wait. You and Fisher were mercenaries?"
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I use both pronunciations.
    I tried to find a pattern to this, but I can't.
    In "private security contractor" I, too, would put the stress on the first syllable.


    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think this is a AmE vs. BrE difference. The Mentalist is set in Sacramento, California and they put the stress on the con in the US, while the (British) pronunciation site puts it on the tract.


    Senior Member
    I would say it with the accent on the first syllable. In fact, if I contracted for some work on my house I would accent the first syllable but if I said "the balloon contracted as the temperature dropped" I would put the accent on the second.

    In other words, "CON-tract", for me, is the agreement and "con-TRACT" is the action of shrinking, so I wouldn't say "con-TRAC-tor" for a person. A "con-TRAC-tor" would be something that made something else shrink, I guess, to my way of thinking.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    Contract (noun) – contract
    Contract (verb) – contract

    Contractor (noun) – contract-or


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    That is the OED pronunciation.

    Thinking about this ...
    Without any modifiers I go along with the OED - stress on the second syllable.

    With modifiers, as in the topic example, I put the stress on the first syllable.

    These are generalisations.
    I think it also depends on the nature of the modifier, but I can't find a pattern.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    Well... this isn't going to help. I just had my son read out the sentence, "He was a contractor in Afghanistan." and he said, contractor. I say contractor most of the time because the man works to a contract. But Panj has pointed out "He was a private security contractor in Afghanistan." and I agree with him that when qualified, the stress changes.


    English - United States
    I've always heard it (and said it) as contractor in the USA.

    Contract can also be one of two verbs here depending on the pronunciation:
    to contract (verb) = to shrink
    to contract (verb) = to be a contractor... e.g. "He contracts at my company. He is a contractor, not a full employee."


    Senior Member
    Italian/Albanian - bilingual
    According to Merriam-Webster, it's usually contractor for the meaning

    1 : one that contracts or is party to a contract: as a : one that contracts to perform work or provide supplies b : one that contracts to erect buildings
    and contractor for

    2 : something (as a muscle) that contracts or shortens
    Whereas British dictionaries seem to favor the second pronunciation indiscriminately.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    This is a new one for me. I've always said conTRACTor in all contexts and don't remember hearing it with the stress on the first syllable.
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