Collect your colleagues

colleague_484_252A word which non-natives often pronounce differently from native speakers is colleague. The native pronunciation is stressed on the first syllable, cólleague:

Non-native learners and users of English, even very proficient ones, often put the stress on the last syllable, colléague:

The simple way to get the native pattern right is to remember that colleague isn’t a verb. (A verb is a ‘doing word’.) All of the 2-syllable coll- words with final stress are verbs. Here they are, in descending order of frequency on the web:

collect, collapse, collate, collide, collude

Each of those verbs begins with a weak syllable containing the little colourless vowel ‘schwa’, ə. The most common by far are collect and collapse: in Oxford Dictionaries transcription, /kəˈlɛkt/ and /kəˈlaps/.

2-syllable coll- words with initial stress are generally nouns (‘naming words’), and colleague conforms to this pattern. The most common are:

college, Collins, colleague, collar

(The last of these can be used informally as a verb, meaning ‘to stop someone, as if grabbing them by their collar’ – for example, he was collared by the police. In this usage collar keeps its initial stress.)

So a handy phrase for remembering this might be Colléct your cólleagues.

3 replies
  1. Helen
    Helen says:

    Good tips Geoff. Everyone has trouble with this and for the (Business Engligh) clients I see, it’s an important word. A couple of mine have an imaginary colleague called Colin, and he helps them remember the stress pattern, which is nice of him I think ….

    • Geoff Lindsey
      Geoff Lindsey says:

      Yes, Colin’s a good tip too. Of course with ‘colleague’ the pronunciation itself is tricky because that ‘heavy’ second syllable attracts the stress.

  2. Helen
    Helen says:

    oops, sorry about the duplication … I was having trouble with the Capcha verification, which asked me to tick all the pictures that included bread. I didn’t think I got them right but I must be better at bread identification than I thought.
    p.s. now I’ve been asked to identify sandwiches! you could do a blog post on this Geoff!

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