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Word ending -able | Correct pronunciation

The ending -able can transform verbs into adjectives. It may look like an ordinary word, but be careful!

As you will see later, wrong pronunciation can lead to a good deal of confusion here.

If you want to avoid misunderstandings and make life easier for yourself and other people, then listen to this post. You can practise at the end and download a PDF.

You can listen to the first part of the post here.

Here’s a sentence about the photograph at the top:
On the table there’s a plate with some vegetables.

And here’s another sentence:
They were not able to find a solution, so they consulted a notable expert.

Did you notice the difference in pronunciation?

  • table /ˈteɪbl/, not able /nɒt ˈeɪbl/, but
  • vegetables /ˈvedʒtəblz/, notable /ˈnəʊtəbl/

There are several words that rhyme with able: cable, label, stable, enable, and others. In all of these, the A carries the stress and is pronounced the way it sounds in the alphabet: /eɪ/.

However, when -able is a word ending (or suffix), the A is unstressed. As a consequence, it becomes less prominent, or weaker: /əbl/, as for example in capable or miserable.

Adverbs are derived from adjectives, usually by adding -ly.
In terms of spelling, we simply replace the final -e by a -y here.
As for pronunciation, we add an /ɪ/ sound to the adjective – /əbl/ becomes /əblɪ/. For example:

  • acceptable – acceptably
  • comfortable – comfortably
  • reasonable – reasonably
  • suitable – suitably

So,

when A is stressed: /eɪbl/
when A is unstressed: /əbl/

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

able_label

Indeed, correct pronunciation is key if we want to make sense when we speak.
Here are some examples of how communication could go wrong if we mispronounce words with -able:

  • Instead of comfortable, people might hear you saying “come for table” – very confusing!
  • Or someone may hand you a label, just because you mispronounced available.
  • And “not able” is definitely different from notable!

You can learn more about the many benefits of good pronunciation in this other interesting post.

So, if you want to sound right and avoid misunderstandings, awkward situations and bewildered faces, now’s the time to start improving your pronunciation. Move on to part 2 now.

Here you can listen to the second part.

Practise with the following sentences. Pause the audio after each one and imitate the pronunciation, repeating several times.

  1. She made herself comfortable with a vegetable pizza.
  2. There were no suitable appointments available.
  3. Housing would be affordable if prices were more reasonable.
  4. We expect our staff to be reliable and adaptable.
  5. This profitable brand has had considerable success this year.
  6. They were incapable of finding a viable solution.
  7. It was a memorable day with some unforgettable moments.
  8. The use of renewable energies has gone up noticeably.
  9. He painted acceptably and possessed some rather valuable sculptures.
  10. It was unbearably hot, making everyone feel uncomfortable.

For many more examples of words ending in -able and their pronunciation, you can download my PDF. ABLE_Wordlist It’s free! Are there any words that you would add to or take away from the list?

I hope that after working through this post, you feel noticeably more comfortable when using -able!

P.S.: Here is a post on how to pronounce the unstressed A in /əbl/.

ABLE_Wordlist

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