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Kevin Basil

Words for Readers and Other Liturgical Speakers

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Some words confound readers, choirs, choir directors, chanters, priests, and deacons, and anyone else who has a responsibility for proclaiming the word in church. The words below link to, referencing among others the American Heritage and Random House dictionaries which have excellent reputations for prescribing conservative, standard American English usage. Follow the links for sound files demonstrating the standard pronunciations. (Flash required.) The pronunciation characters follow those used on

For British speakers, the Oxford English Dictionary remains the authority for Received Pronunciation (that is, the Queen’s English).

(ăd’ vər sĕr’ ē)
(cher’ ə bim) — “Cherubim” rhymes with “seraphim” (see below). If they don’t rhyme, you are pronouncing one of them incorrectly.
(kŭm’ pəs)
(dī ăk’ ə nl)
(dī ăk’ ə nət [or nāt, chiefly British])
(ûr) ûr is the correct pronunciation; êr is an incorrect degradation which has gained ground in recent years, perhaps because of confusion with “error,” “errant,” and similar words. The American Heritage usage panel divided as follows: over half preferred the correct pronunciation (ûr); slightly over a third preferred the variant (êr); and a tenth accepted both. In an aural context, the incorrect pronunciation can be confused with the word “air.”
(ĭm pī’ əs) Although an older pronunciation (ĭm’ pē əs) can be used, this one (ĭm pī’ əs) emphasizes the meaning much more clearly, especially when the word is only heard and not read, as in a liturgical context.
(ĭn kŏm’ pər ə bəl, ĭn kŏm’ prə bəl)
(pĕs tə ləns)
(rĭ jois)
(rĭ kwīt)
(ser’ ə fim) — “Seraphim” rhymes with “cherubim” (see above). If they don’t rhyme, you are pronouncing one of them incorrectly.
(thē’ ə lō’ jən)
(thē ŏl’ ə jē)
(tū’ mŭlt)

didst (didst) It is pronounced as a single syllable; Two syllable pronunciations (e.g., did’ est or did’ əst) are incorrect.

Leave requests for words — particularly words you often hear mangled or mispronounced — in the comments. I’m still looking for reliable sources for saints’ names and geographical names.

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6 Responses to “Words for Readers and Other Liturgical Speakers”

  1. Readers’ Aid | Kevin Basil Says:

    […] updated my page on problematic words for readers. A decent resource for words of which readers seem perennially unsure (or sure and quite surely […]

  2. Tracy Says:

    How about adversaries? Is it adVERsaries or ADversaries?

  3. Dustin Says:

    Here are some words for which I often hear variant pronunciations: rejoice (re- vs. ruh-), angel (-joel vs. -gel), alleluia (all- vs. -Al [like the male name]), dost [dust vs. doost)

  4. Dustin Says:

    Oh, and these too: wreak, countenance, verdure, bedewed.

  5. Basil Says:

    Fr Dustin and Tracy: Thanks. I’ll get those up eventually. Probably after finals. :-/

  6. Basil Says:

    Quick updates until I update the page:
    adversaries = AD vuhr sair ees
    rejoice = ri JOYCE
    angel = AIN juhl
    alleluia = al luh LU yuh (like the man’s name) <== I don't buy this one yet. I think the first syllable should be pronounced like "all." The rest of the word is fine. dost = dust wreak = reek countenance = COUN tn uhnce (yes, there's no vowel, schwa or otherwise, in the second syllable; that's correct) verdure = VER juhr bedewed = buh DEWD

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