pronunciation: Will Merry marry Mary?

spodulike

Senior Member
English - England
Hello

If the hobbit decides to propose to his girlfriend we could say, "Will Merry marry Mary?"

I was once told that in US English these three M words are indistinguishable in pronunciation. Is this true?

P.S. In British English they all sound different.
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm pretty sure this has been discussed before: you might like to try a search:)

    Here's Wiki on the subject:
    One of the best-known pre-rhotic mergers is known as the Mary-marry-merry merger,[4] which consists of the mergers before intervocalic /r/ of /æ/ and /ɛ/ with historical /eɪ/.[5] This merger is quite widespread in the American West, Inland North, Midland, and in Canada (cf. sample 1). A merger of Mary and merry, while keeping marry distinct, is found in the South and as far north as Baltimore, Maryland, and Wilmington, Delaware; it is also found among Anglophones in Montreal.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Acapela and AT&T let you type text in and hear it in different voices which can be helpful for comparisons like this. At AT&T compare Crystal (US - almost completely merged) with Charles where Marry is very distinct and Merry and Mary differ mainly in length.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    In New York City, they are three distinct sounds.
    They were different when I lived in Maryland, and in Pennsylvania, and in N.Y., and in Connecticut, and in New Hampshire. They remain distinct in Maine.

    That said, in some regional varieties of AE, they tend to merge.
     

    missMD

    Member
    US
    Vietnamese
    These words sound the same to me. Do they really have the same pronunciation or is it just because of my non-English ears? What is the biggest difference in their pronunciations and how to properly pronounce them?
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    It depends a great deal on where in the United States you are. In some places, all three are pronounced alike. In other places, two are identical while the third is different. In my part of the country, each is different from the other two. It is therefore possible that the people you hear speaking really are saying the same thing -- which would also mean that it is unlikely that you are in the northeastern United States.
     

    涼宮

    Senior Member
    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    As Green said it depends upon the region, but it seems there is something general about their pronunciation, if you know IPA, it's really helpful with those little details.

    Mary can be pronounced / ˈmeri / or / ˈmeəri/

    Marry / ˈmæri/ (It uses a schwa)

    Merry / ˈmeri/

    In a nutshell, Merry and Mary are the same, but marry is quite different because of the schwa. If you do not know IPA, I suggest you to learn it, it helps a lot for pronunciation and you can take the most of a dictionary :) In English a single vowel can change the whole meaning, like cut /kʌt/ vs cat /kæt/
     

    panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In my variant, the three words sound quite different.

    Marry is /ˈmari/ - the /a/ sound as in trap.

    Merry is /ˈmɛri/ - the /e/ sound as in pet, ten.

    Mary is /ˈmɛːri/ - the /a/ sound as in fairy.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    In my variant, the three words sound quite different.

    Marry is /ˈmari/ - the /a/ sound as in trap.

    Merry is /ˈmɛri/ - the /e/ sound as in pet, ten.

    Mary is /ˈmɛːri/ - the /a/ sound as in fairy.
    The same is true in my variant of English as well, whch means that around here, "merry" and "Mary" are certainly not the same.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    In New York City, they are three distinct sounds.
    In reply to EWhite (post #6): That hasn't been my experience. I say (and hear) "Merry" and "Mary" as identical (both rhyming with "fairy"), "marry" as different (rhyming with "carry"). But perhaps my perception's colored by my own pronunciation. (My childhood was spent in southeastern Pennsylvania.)
     

    Sprache

    Senior Member
    English/inglés
    They're all homophones in my accent. In fact I can neither produce nor even hear the difference between "merry" and "Mary" in British English accents, though "marry" is distinct if I pay attention.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I grew up in the south of England and have the following distinctions.
    Mary matches vary, fairy, scarey (a = the longer-lasting vowel from mare , care, hairy, etc)
    Marry matches carry, parry, (e = short vowel of bad, patty, fat)
    Merry matches very, berry (e = short vowel of bed, petty etc)

    I've been aware of the various mergers but only in terms of these three specific words. If the three question words Mary, Marry and Merry are homophones in your speech, are, for example, scarey, carry and berry also homophones?
     

    mathman

    Senior Member
    English-American/New England
    Here's another vote for the three words sounding quite different (grew up in eastern PA, have lived in CT and MA most of my adult life). I'm actually surprised that other Americans are saying they sound the same.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    In a nutshell, Merry and Mary are the same, but marry is quite different because of the schwa.
    For those who make a distinction, the important point is not the schwa (which tends to be used less in contemporary BrE pronunciations), but the length. Short vowel for merry and long vowel for Mary. Similarly, ferry and fairy. (This is how I distinguish between them anyway.)
     

    Adge

    Senior Member
    USA- English (Southern)
    I've been aware of the various mergers but only in terms of these three specific words. If the three question words Mary, Marry and Merry are homophones in your speech, are, for example, scarey, carry and berry also homophones?
    The three M's are all homophones to me, as are scary, carry, and berry. They all have the same vowel as bare, which I think means they all sound like your pronunciation of Mary (with the long vowel).
     

    ribran

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Thank you, adge , for closing my loop :D
    Yes, bare ​for me, too, although I have occasionally noticed that when speaking with my mother, who grew up on the East Coast, I very naturally use different vowels for Mary, merry and marry. Many of my friends can't hear the differences between the three.
     
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    stormwreath

    Senior Member
    English - England
    They're all homophones in my accent. In fact I can neither produce nor even hear the difference between "merry" and "Mary" in British English accents, though "marry" is distinct if I pay attention.
    Can you hear the difference between "ferry" and "fairy"? The vowel sound in BE is identical to merry/Mary.
     

    cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    s
    I've been aware of the various mergers but only in terms of these three specific words. If the three question words Mary, Marry and Merry are homophones in your speech, are, for example, scarey, carry and berry also homophones?
    For me (New York City native), they are distinct: "Scary Mary, marry Carrie, merry berry." I had no idea that anyone could pronounce them with the same vowel until the subject came up in linguistics class.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    For anyone who's interested in the accent map of the USA, have a look at this page, which also gives the results of a survey of 11,422 respondents:
    all 3 are the same (56.88%)
    all 3 are different (17.34%)
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    I'm a lifelong resident of the central US. All the words on this thread are exactly the same to me except for the initial consonant, as well as Larry, Jerry, hairy, Derry, terry, bury, very, vary . . . and anything else I can think of. I had no idea anyone pronounced them differently.

    Edit: Just looked at the map posted by natkretep. I see that Chicago (or nearby) is marked on all of them. That's Chicago for you. :)
     

    missMD

    Member
    US
    Vietnamese
    In reply to EWhite (post #6): That hasn't been my experience. I say (and hear) "Merry" and "Mary" as identical (both rhyming with "fairy"), "marry" as different (rhyming with "carry"). But perhaps my perception's colored by my own pronunciation. (My childhood was spent in southeastern Pennsylvania.)
    I've always pronounced Kerry and carry the same :confused:
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I've always pronounced Kerry and carry the same :confused:
    So does a large portion of the U.S. population. :) You're not alone. Many East Coast (U.S.) accents have the distinction but large portions of the Midwest and all of the West (as far as I know) don't.

    Back to the original question, I have a friend who grew up in New York who clearly distinguishes between merry, Mary and marry. In that order it goes from a tighter, more "eh"-like sound (to my ear) to almost the same sound as the "a" in cat for marry. She demonstrates the same distinction in ferry, fairy and O'Farrell.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I don't know. I can ask her. We don't talk much about caries. :)

    I'm sure she would say the name "Kerry" differently from "carry". She has lived in California for the last 30 years but her New York accent still carries on. It's softer than when I first met her but it's still very distinct.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...If the hobbit decides to propose to his girlfriend we could say, "Will Merry marry Mary?"
    I was once told that in US English these three M words are indistinguishable in pronunciation. Is this true?
    P.S. In British English they all sound different.
    Here's what the Harvard Dialect Survey, which concluded in 2003 says about the pronunciation of these three words across the US.

    How do you pronounce Mary/merry/marry?
    Harvard Dialect Survey, which concluded in 2003 (Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department).
    http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_15.html

    It shows that more than half of US citizens think that all three sounds are the same.

    Edit - Apologies to natkretep who I now see made exactly the same point in #28
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm from the NE USA (Pennsylvania, NYC) and pronounce in all cases the sound as that in "fairy" and I really do not hear and differences in any other AE speakers, or in BE speakers for that matter.
    In RP British English, only "Mary" rhymes with "fairy". "Merry" has a similar vowel sound but much shorter and "marry" has a different vowel altogether.

    It makes me wonder whether Prince Harry sounds to you like Prince Hairy !!!!:eek::D
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, Prince Hairy, same sound, and Harry was my father's name, and despite having read previous threads on this and then subsequently having listened super carefully to BE speakers I still :D do not hear any distinction!
    This is fascinating!

    I wonder if you would be willing to try a small experiment?

    Could I ask you to listen to the AE and BE pronunciations of 'carry' as provided by our in house dictionary. http://www.wordreference.com/definition/carry. To my ears they sound completely different and the US pronunciation almost rhymes with British 'fairy'. Would you also mind listening to 'fairy'? http://www.wordreference.com/definition/fairy. This time the two variants have a similar vowel sound to my ears but the BE vowel is much more drawn out (and that is the difference between BE 'merry' and 'mary').

    Finally, it is a bit more of a chore because you have to switch between the above links, but can you hear a difference between BE vowels in 'carry' and 'fairy'?

    If you were kind enough to carry out the experiment, did you hear any differences?

    Thanks
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I definitely hear a difference between "carry" and "fairy" in the BE recordings. There is a tiny difference between the AE versions, not enough to me to call it an actual difference -- but this is only one AE accent. In New York or Boston you would often hear a distinct difference.

    In fact, yesterday we were out with a couple who grew up on opposite coasts. The woman, who grew up in New York, burst out laughing when her husband said, "The Falkirk Wheel was designed mainly to carry ferries." The vowels were the same. She heard, "The Falkirk Wheel was designed mainly to carry fairies". :)
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    I am from AE North East all three are different but as one travels north the three are the same.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Julian,

    Yes, for me, they all have the same vowel sound.
    So in the song, "Distant Drums" by Jim Reeves, the chorus
    So Mary marry me, let's not wait
    Let's share all the time we can before it's too late
    Love me now for now is all the time there may be
    If you love me Mary, Mary marry me
    is a mystery to you? :D
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    Could I ask you to listen to the AE and BE pronunciations of 'carry' as provided by our in house dictionary. http://www.wordreference.com/definition/carry. To my ears they sound completely different and the US pronunciation almost rhymes with British 'fairy'. Would you also mind listening to 'fairy'? http://www.wordreference.com/definition/fairy. This time the two variants have a similar vowel sound to my ears but the BE vowel is much more drawn out (and that is the difference between BE 'merry' and 'mary').

    Finally, it is a bit more of a chore because you have to switch between the above links, but can you hear a difference between BE vowels in 'carry' and 'fairy'?
    Listening carefully to the words pronounced singly, as they are there, I can hear a difference. I doubt I would notice a difference in the middle of an ordinary conversation, though.

    Add me to the list of Midwesterners who have the full merger - I use the Mary vowel in all of the words given as examples in this thread.
     
    I finally had the chance to follow Biffo's suggestion and listened to the house dictionary pronunciatons, and felt I was forcing myself to hear a difference where I wouldn't notice one in conversation at all, as RM1 has stated above. That said, while the the BE vowel here in this recording seems more extended--I hear differences very well under duress to pass the course --I otherwise would have attributed that to an individual's manner of speaking, not to an AE/BE difference. I could speculate the BE vowel also to my ear could be on some sort of slippery slope vowel elision between carry-curry, but so much toward the first as to make no semantic difference whatsoever. Maybe I can find some BE speakers here in El Paso and can pay them $5 just to pronounce these vowels. :D
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Fascinating thread!:)

    My pronunciation is standard BE and I therefore pronounce all three words differently (no surprise there). Out of curiosity, however, I checked it out on the Internet I discovered that the US pronunciation of Mary, marry and merry has been the object of great discussion. I thought you might be interested in reading an article (source: huffingtonpost.com - here) about Dialect Maps in the US: one of the questions that was asked was "How do you pronounce Mary/merry/merry?" As you will see one, the vast majority said there was no difference.;)

    @Dale. Give me $5 and your phone number and you're on!:D
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I finally had the chance to follow Biffo's suggestion and listened to the house dictionary pronunciatons, and felt I was forcing myself to hear a difference where I wouldn't notice one in conversation at all, as RM1 has stated above. That said, while the the BE vowel here in this recording seems more extended--I hear differences very well under duress to pass the course --I otherwise would have attributed that to an individual's manner of speaking, not to an AE/BE difference. I could speculate the BE vowel also to my ear could be on some sort of slippery slope vowel elision between carry-curry, but so much toward the first as to make no semantic difference whatsoever. Maybe I can find some BE speakers here in El Paso and can pay them $5 just to pronounce these vowels. :D
    Maybe you should ask them to say "Will Mary Murray marry Merry?" :D All those sounds are different in RP English! (and it's a dollar a word!)
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No more than a Brit would be confounded by "The miner bought the minor a mynah." :) (The last word isn't a homophone to the other two in AE.)
    Absolutely true. All those sound identical to me.


    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
    EDIT On second thoughts I would pronounce the "r" in "minor" because it precedes a vowel.

    Given the sentence "The miner showed the minor the mynah." I would pronounce them all the same. If it was recorded and then played back months later, I wouldn't know exactly what I had said.
     
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    Palabrarista

    Member
    Español ecuatoriano
    Hi everyone,

    I want to know whether the pronunciation of these 4 words, in American English, is the same. As far as I know, the vowel in "marry" is the same as in "apple," so I can distinguish "marry" very well from "very," "merry," and "Mary." However, the other three words sound exactly the same to me, as if they all shared the same vowel. I mean, words like "very," "merry," "Mary," sound the same to my ear(at least in American English). Is the vowel in these three words pronounced the same?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello Palabrarista

    See this previous thread: pronunciation: Will Merry marry Mary? {EDIT: link removed as threads now merged.}

    (I found it by putting marry mary into the search box at the top of the page:).)
     
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