Why is 'choir' pronounced kwʌɪə? [quire]


Senior Member
Malaysia English
Why is 'choir' pronounced kwʌɪə?

The pronunciation doesn't fit the spelling of the word at all.

  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    English spelling is a strange hodgepodge that often has little correspondence to the pronunciation. That's one of the more difficult parts of learning English. Our words come from many different origins and the spelling has been adjusted at different points in history.

    The Online Etymology Dictionary gives this as the origin of "choir":

    c.1300, queor "part of the church where the choir sings," from O.Fr. cuer, quer "choir of a church" (13c., Mod.Fr. choeur), from L. chorus "choir" (see chorus). Meaning "band of singers" is c.1400, quyre. Re-spelled mid-17c. on Latin model.
    As you can see, the 600-year-old spelling of "quyre" is much more phonetic. :)


    Senior Member
    English English
    The question you should really be asking, Karen, is: Why is the word kwʌɪə spelt 'choir'?
    It was originally spelt quire, and borrowed from Old French quer.
    Some time in the 17th century people started spelling it choir so that it would look more like Modern(ish) French choeur. The new spelling remained ... alongside the old/original pronunciation:(
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Well, keep in mind that French has evolved dramatically over the last 400 years or more, too. How it is pronounced now is not how it was pronounced when it entered English. The pronunciation of borrowed words can be "frozen in time", in a way, and not evolve along with the language that gave them to us.


    New Member
    Not so dramatically, Moliere is quite readable. I believe it must have entered English even earlier than 400 hundred years, English was under really strong French influence in the Middle Ages.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    The altered spelling also makes the connection to chorus (from Latin) more apparent. (This was also the motivation for the change in the French spelling.) We have had other spelling alterations for etymological reasons. For example, debt was spelt dette; the <b> was added to show the connection to Latin debitum, although we still don't pronounce the <b>. ;)


    Senior Member
    Hi friends,

    The book that I'm reading (The Temporal Void by Peter Hamilton) continues to amaze me with its extravagant spellings of certain words. This time I came across this sentence:

    A quire began to sing softly.

    Of course, I would read this quire just like I would a choir :D - /'kwaɪə/ - but I was wondering if this spelling could be legitimate... I mean, I did check a few dictionaries and did not find anywhere quire meaning a group of singers.

    Has anyone seen quire used instead of choir? Or is this a mistake similar to "their is a dog..." instead of "there is a dog..." ? :D


    Senior Member
    New Zealand, English
    To my surprise, 'quire' is given equal billing with 'choir' in the OED online. It states "The spelling quire has never been altered in the English Prayer-book", so it may be particularly familiar to Anglicans. It also makes it clear that 'quire' (or rather variants thereof) is the original English spelling, stating "since the close of the 17th cent. this has been fictitiously spelt choir , apparently as a partial assimilation to Greek-Latin chorus , or French chœur." I like that use of "fictitously" :D


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It is legitimate but highly archaic. I've never seen it in modern prose. Checking the OED, I find that choir displaced earlier quire in the late 1600s, but the English prayer-book pre-dates this, and its spelling has never been updated. So the older quire was still used as a poetic alternative (in Byron, for example).


    English - England
    And let's not forget the far more common :)rolleyes:) meaning of quire:
    Writing paper measurements
    25 sheets = 1 quire
    500 sheets = 20 quires = 1 ream
    1,000 sheets = 40 quires = 2 reams = 1 bundle
    5,000 sheets = 200 quires = 10 reams = 5 bundles = 1 bale


    Senior Member
    Ha, and there was a previous similar thread that I did not find after entering the word "quire". :)

    So, it appears, the book's editor is again getting away with it :D I really had no idea this was the old [nay, ancient] spelling. (Yes, I was familiar with the modern meaning of quire, although that, too, will become extinct one day when most of us are gone together with the book as such :) )

    Thank you all for your replies.


    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    It's pretty typical in science fiction to draw upon archaic or alternative spellings of words to produce different ways of writing familiar words. The goal is to create slightly unsettling, almost-familiar languages that the reader can understand, even as she recognizes the language as foreign. I'm thinking, for instance, of the super-stylized advertising language that Dick uses in Ubik​.


    Senior Member
    English - US
    The question you should really be asking, Karen, is: Why is the word kwʌɪə spelt 'choir'?
    ... alongside the old/original pronunciation:(
    Then there's "The Holly and the Ivy" issue:
    "Oh, the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer.
    The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir."
    The rest of the song rhymes, so I assume that this did at one time. :)
    < Previous | Next >