How to Pronounce Words that End in -OUS

What kind of words in end -ous?

There are countless adjectives in the English language that end in -ous, a suffix that denotes the nature or character of something.  The tricky part is knowing how to pronounce words that end in -ous. In fact, this is especially true of the following combinations: -ious, eous, and –uous. Why? We sometimes pronounce the vowel cluster as one blended syllable, as the schwa. In other cases, however, we pronounce the first vowel as a distinct syllable and then follow with the schwa sound.  We’ll also take a look at where the syllable stress typically falls in these words.

When to pronounce -ious, -eous and -uous as 2 syllables 

In the following words, the syllable stress will fall on the syllable just before the -ious/eous/uous combination. Notice how the first vowel in that combination is pronounced distinctly and then followed by a schwa sound in these words that end in -ous.

Abstemious          Ambiguous
Ceremonious       Conspicuous
Courteous            Glorious
Hideous                Impetuous
Inconspicuous    Industrious

When to pronounce -ious, -eous as 1 syllable

Notice how when i follows c, g, t or x, the result is a sh sound.   You will also notice a few “ge” combinations below. This ge combination results in the g producing a “soft” sound /ʤ/. (A g must be followed by e, i or y to produce this soft sound).   The stress in the following words falls on the syllable before the consonant + ious/eous combination.

Ambitious                Malicious
Anxious                    Advantageous
Cautious                   Courageous
Contagious               Judicious
Delicious                  Righteous

All about schwa in words that end in -ous

We mentioned how words that end in -ous all end in the schwa + s sound. To work on that schwa sound more specifically, check out this video to get some tips on its exact pronunciation.

Need help?

Now that you’ve mastered the rule for pronouncing words that end in -ous, time to learn some other suffixes!  To learn more about patterns of syllable stress and vowel sounds in words that share the same suffix, check out these articles:

For more on syllable stress, check out this article and for more on perfecting your schwa sound, check out this video!   To get your specific pronunciation issues addressed and practice English, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional and experienced English teacher.  In fact, the first week is free for you to try it out!

Anita Collins

Anita Collins

Anita is a long-time English teacher and language enthusiast from Canada, currently living in the multilingual city of Montreal. She majored in linguistics, dabbled in translation, and has been teaching students from all over the world for over a decade. She now spends each morning trying to balance her two loves: planning the next trip and spoiling her beagle. The rest of her day she spends on curriculum design and language classes, with the beagle underfoot.
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