You Say EE-ther, I say EYE-ther: Who’s Right?

Guy With AnxietyMany of my blog posts address word use or misuse, or the wrong position of a word in a sentence. This post is about how certain words are pronounced — or mispronounced.

But not all grammar experts agree. The way you say either, often, height and palm could depend on where you live or what you heard growing up. Here is a ruthless editor’s view on how we pronounce these everyday words.

Either: Do you say ee-ther or eye-ther?

Often: Do you say of-fen or off-ten?

Height: Do you say height or heigth?

Palm: Do you say palm or pom?

What about preventive vs. preventative and oriented vs. orientated?

You can say either with an ee sound or with an eye sound; both are considered correct. The pronunciation choice often is determined by the country, the part of a country, or the region of a state where it’s spoken.

I grew up in the Midwest and always said eether and neether, pronouncing the ie just as I do niece, receive or seize. Although both of my sons learned the same pronunciation, they ended up on opposite coasts. The East Coaster now says eye-ther, and the West Coaster has stayed with ee-ther.

Of-fen (no t) generally is preferred. Terms such as oft-heard voice or oft-told story with a hard t can sound old-fashioned or stuffy. Enunciating the t in often might carry that same connotation. Saying ofTen won’t generate disdain by most people, but as in soften, you can skip the t.

The number of words related to dimension ending in th — length, width, breadth, depth — could explain the tendency for some people to say heigth. However, note that both weight and height end with a t, not a th, sound (weight + height … a possible mnemonic device?).

I had been pronouncing the l in palm — as in the palm or your hand or palm tree — for a long time. When a friend corrected me a few years ago, I checked further and found many examples of words, including palm, that multiple grammarists claim should have a silent l: balm (bom), embalm (embom), palm (pom), psalm (som), and salmon (samon).

I’m sure some of you are frowning in disagreement. I’d love to hear opinions on this.

Preventive / Preventative
Although reliable sources admit that preventative has gained ground and shares the same meaning, preventive is preferred. For me, it’s a simple case of picking the shortest word that will do the job.

Oriented / Orientated
is another word that sometimes gains an unnecessary syllable: ta. As with wanting to pronounce heigth (as in width) incorrectly, it’s easy to see how one could think of orientated as a logical fit with orientation.

Although there are sources that consider orientated acceptable usage, I say don’t do it! Stick with oriented. Don’t use a five-syllable word when you can use a four-syllable word.

Do you question the pronunciation of words you hear in everyday conversations? Let me know in the comments or email me at:

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)