Court, caught, coat

I know these three do not sound like each other at all for natives; I can distinguish these three words when I hear native speakers speaking. BUT… when it come to pronunciation, I have difficulty pronouncing “court”.(I also have trouble in relatively short words which include “R” in the middle, such as "Lord"and “sorry” ).

My question here is, however, not about how to improve my pronunciation.( because I know how! “Practice”! ) What I’d like to ask is how importantly correct pronunciation plays a role in order to make ourselves understood in English conversations.

The reason I ask this is that in Japanese almost all you say could be understood even if you mispronounced some words; ohashi or ohasi,and etc.( this might be mainly because our language is not so rich in vowels as English is.)

I am always curious how largely pronunciation counts for English conversations, compared with syntax or grammar.

In my view, there is no danger that anyone would misunderstand you if pronounced all three words the same way. In fact, in some versions of English there is practically no difference between court, and caught. We can usually tell the meaning from the context, just as in Japanese.

If I think of my own pronunciation I differentiate between these three as follows, in terms of the vowels.

court, four, for, lord, more, fourth, fourteen, sort, or, bore, soar, boar, oar, are more or less the same.

caught, taught, not, sought, brought, hot, not, lawn, fawn, saw, are very similar

coat, mope, hope, throw, over, mow, slow, spoke, boat, wrote are the same sound

Other native speakers would pronounce these differently. If you pronounce them the same, no problem.

In short, I report, that the way I was taught
There is no problem for you, perish the thought.
So take hope, speak forth and allow yourself a gloat,
If you spoke all the words that here I did wrote.

I’m a native English speaker (Western US). I don’t think that mispronouncing those words would cause much of a problem to the listener if the rest of the sentence could be understood. Despite the fact that all three can be used as verbs and two can be used as nouns, their meanings are far enough apart that context should take care of things.

For example, “The basketball players are on the coat (court)” is not likely to be understood as “the basketball players are standing on someone’s jacket.”

Moreover, there is enough variation in English pronunciation that I’m sure there are native speakers somewhere that would make those words sound the same to me.

However I am not used to listening to Japanese-accented English so I could be missing something here!..

Reading your post made me think of the book “Anguish Languish” written by a language professor to show his students the importance of INTONATION in languages. In the book he writes fairy tales (in English), but he replaces the real words with other words that sound like the real words but have completely different meanings. If you read the stories out loud, they are quite easily understood. A widely known excerpt is “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” (Little Red Riding Hood).

@ Cherry6120

On a personal level:

As no doubt all your tutors on LingQ will write: I know that you will not be misunderstood! Cosmetic pronunciation wobbles would not deter from understanding the meaning of your communication!

On a more general level: Both examples illustrate the wide range of sounds which still make sense to us. (I didn’t know Steve was a poet!). Intonation really seems to be the clincher.

Curiously enough, I have found that foreign speakers of English tend to be better at deciphering another foreign speaker’s English and that some native speakers appear to have a fairly closed ear and at times appear to have difficulty understanding others. (I don’t know to whether education plays a role in this.)

The only way to improve your pronunciation is, as you point out, to practice it. This in itself, however, doesn’t mean much, if you don’t know what to practice exactly. In that case, you won’t be spending time practicing; you’ll be wasting it.

Here are a few resources you can use:

The first link is a video with a few tips on practicing the the /r/ sound. The second link should give you a basic idea of what’s going on in your mouth when you’re speaking.

Don’t rely on these two links alone. Keep looking for more material on that subject. And don’t limit yourself to video and audio.

I thought thought, court, and caught contain the same pronunciation.

I have just come home from my work. What was waiting for me was…Such nice comments from steve, Jingle, SanneT, astamoore and tora3!

Thank you all for your useful, warm, funny, encouraging, eye-opening and even anatomically-based replies.

No grammar book or linguist can beat the LingQ forum!

It depends on the regional accent. I’m from the middle of the UK, and as you say, I do pronounce “caught” and “court” exactly the same.

Thank you for your comment. I am very relieved to read your explanation. :slight_smile:

Even native English speakers sometimes have trouble understanding one another. I am a Midwestern U.S. native. Several years ago, I was volunteering in another part of the U.S. The person in charge asked me to get a pin from her desk. When I told her I couldn’t find a pin, she went to her desk and picked up one of the many “pens” there.

That’s the “pin/pen” merger. It’s common in parts of the South, but usually you can get the meaning from the context…unless you work in a store where they sell fabrics or office supplies. On the other hand some Southerners differenciate between “Don” and “Dawn”.


Are you saying there are many, many who do not differentiate between Don and Dawn? It’s getting curious and curiouser… :))

I’m not a linguist. At best I’m an observer. I suspect that most Southerners differentiate between “Don” and “Dawn”, but some do not. I think you caught my error. Thank-you.

Do you “suspect[sic]” that “most” of them differentiate between the two words?

Wikipedia has an article about “Phonological history of English low back vowels”:

Back on topic, “court” and “caught” may sound alike when uttered by a speaker of a non-rhotic accent. However, ‘coat’ usually has a diphtong (the same vowel sound as in ‘go’, ‘boat’, ‘Joe’), so if you perceive the three words as the same sound, your native language probably has a lot fewer vowels.

“Do you “suspect[sic]” that “most” of them differentiate between the two words?”

I’m not sure what you are trying to say and I don’t wish to guess at what may be contained between the lines there. If I made a spelling error, a logical error or a grammatical error, please feel free to correct me as a native speaker would.

Although I try to write well in English, I am not a well-educated person.

You can read about mergers in the link Jeff provided.

I mean that I did not attend Yale…

Thank you everyone so much for your unique contributions tot his thread.

@V8 “dif·fer·en·ti·ate”
I am always wondering whether every native can instantly put a hyphen in the right place based on a syllable, like “dif·fer·en·ti·ate”. If so, it is amazing, at the same time, I feel a bit discouraged with being a non-natve, because for me it seems to be impossible to know the right place to put a hyphen, especially a long-spelling word, like es-pe-cial-ly. ( I checked it out in the dictionary).

tot his thred →to this thread. The devil made me write this wrongly…