aberrant

Regular reader/commenter John Cowan wrote a few weeks ago to ask:

Would you consider polling your readership for their pronunciation of aberrant?  The OED2 gives only penultimate stress (the OED3 hasn't reached the word yet); m-w.com gives both initial and penultimate stress. My sense is that initial stress is far more common, partly because I've only heard that, and partly because of the frequent misspelling "abberant", which would be regular for initial stress.  But there may be an AmE/BrE factor at work here.
Unlike John, I only really know the penultimate stress version (aBERrant rather than ABerrant).  Just to prove me exceptional (doesn't that sound better than wrong?), my mother has just pronounced it with first-syllable stress.  On other recent occasions, I've heard the ABerrant pronunciation and assumed it to be from someone who's less than familiar with the word.  I know it, and have feelings about it, because  I had to learn for vocabulary quizzes in (AmE) 9th grade.  Last week I went to the funeral of the teacher who made me so judg(e)mental about other people's pronunciations.  Rest in peace, Mrs(.) Biddle!

I was interested to read the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel's take on the matter:
Traditionally aberrant has been pronounced with stress on the second syllable. In recent years, however, a pronunciation with stress on the first syllable has become equally common and may eventually supplant the older pronunciation. This change is owing perhaps to the influence of the words aberration and aberrated, which are stressed on the first syllable. The Usage Panel was divided almost evenly on the subject: 45 percent preferred the older pronunciation and 50 percent preferred the newer one. The remaining 5 percent of the Panelists said they use both pronunciations. 
 So, that's America.  What about the UK?  The Oxford BBC Guide to Pronunciation offers the older pronunciation only--but the fact that the word has made it into the guide probably indicates some insecurity about how it should be pronounced.  John Wells's Longman Pronunciation Dictionary lists both (older first) with no comment.  He's graciously responded to my email on the topic, saying:

Our stress rules for Latin and Greek words give stress on the -err- because of the geminated consonant (i.e. double in Latin and in spelling). Compare "venerate" with single r. So penultimate stress is what we expect, and the only form given in the OED.  However I have heard initial stress occasionally. I have no statistics on how widespread this might be.

So, what do you say (if you say it)?  Please remember to say where you're from when you answer!

72 comments

  1. AB-uh-runt
    US Midwest

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  2. Second syllable stress, and this is the first time it's been brought to my attention that there's another way of pronouncing it. I must have unconsciously corrected the alternate pronunciation in my head, or maybe I never happened to hear anyone use it.

    (AmE, Southwest)

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  3. SE England born and bred. I use the second syllable stress.

    Aberrated? Never heard of that one before.

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  4. I am only familiar with second syllable stress. However, "aberrant" is a word that I have very rarely spoken, or heard spoken by others. I have no idea where my conception of its pronunciation comes from. If you had told me that first or even third syllable stress was standard I would not have been that surprised.

    (Originally BrE now AmE)

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  5. Penultimate stress, from Pacific Northwest. (Uh-huh, uh-huh, rockin' the talkin'.)

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  6. RP speaker with primary stress, and I don't think I've heard the secondary stress version before, though that may be a result of poor observation. But as far as I'm aware primary stress is standard for RP and also BrE in general.

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  7. California: a-BEAR-unt
    Never heard any other pronunciation.

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  8. @Supergrunch: By 'primary stress' do you mean stress on the first syllable? (I.e. the 'newer' pronunciation?) That's not the usual way in which the term 'primary stress' is used, so I have to ask!

    For the benefit of anyone who cares:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secondary_stress

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  9. Second syllable stress, /əbˈɛɹ.ənt/ in IPA.

    I wonder, does anyone see different vowels in the stressed syllable?

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  10. I don't think I've ever heard it. But it would never have occurred to me to pronounce it with second syllable stress; I'd have unhesitatingly pronounced it to match aberration, with stress on the first and third syllables. The double r wouldn't have mattered to me; there's a double r in occurred, too, isn't there?
    Never heard or read aberrated.
    California

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  11. @lynneguist: Ah yes, sorry, got my termionology muddled up. I meant initial stress, i.e. on the first syllable so ['æ.bə.rənt].

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  12. My response is basically the opposite of Jonathan Bogart's; I've only ever said or (to my knowledge) heard first-syllable stress, and I suspect I'd have considered the original pronunciation to be an aberration. I think we can file this one under words I couldn't stop myself from saying a certain way if I tried.

    AmE, Chicago

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  13. For me (Northern California), penultimate stress. I don't think I've heard anyone say it with first-syllable stress, but it's not a word I hear often.

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  14. Second syllable stress - would have assumed that a speker using first syllable had 'got it wrong' through never having heard it spoken. From Leeds (orig) but spent 35 yrs in S.Eng and suspect it's only here that I've ever come across it - I doubt it was in my parents vocabulary :-)

    dianeb

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  15. Second syllable stress (BrE London, by no means young)

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  16. First syllable stress.
    U.S.: Northern California

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  17. Southern BrE RP. Penultimate stress. I didn't know of any alternative, though one rarely hears the word spoken. Cf. deterrent, occurrence, recurrent, abhorrent. Do Americans say any of those with initial stress?

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  18. I'm afraid I must disagree with Supergrunch. I have only ever heard second syllable stress in the UK, this is what I would say, and certainly what I would associate with RP. First syllable stress, if I heard it, I would assume was incorrect as a result of ignorance.

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  19. I would stress the second syllable (I'm from SE England but not RP). Probably because at some subconscious level I'm thinking of it as a meaningless prefix on errant. So I'm happy to pronounce aberration, aberrated with first-syllable stress as there's no matching errated, erration.

    (I would, though, pronounce the first vowel as [æ] rather than [ə] like some commenters here.)

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  20. First syllable stress. Central England.

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  21. SE England, mostly RP. I would pronounce it with the stress on the first syllable, and wouldn't have known there was any other way to do so. Mind you, as someone else pointed out, it's a word that rarely gets used in speech - I've probably encountered it much more frequently in writing.

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  22. US-upstate NY, 56. Always AB-uh-rant. NEVER heard the 2nd syllable stress.

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  23. Penult stress, Wales, 20-something, near-RP.

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  24. Second syllable. I'm from the UK and the first syllable stress sounds to me like something only an American would say.

    The comparison with 'aberration' doesn't make too much sense to me as I would stress the first two syllables fairly evenly; the stress would fall on aberrAtion.

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  25. In Western Massachusetts, I can't think of any time I've heard penultimate syllable stress (aside from the BBC), and it comes as a surprise to me that my first syllable stress is newer or indeed less common.

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  26. Penultimate stress: /ə'bɛrənt/

    Initial stress sounds very strange to me.

    Location: Ireland.

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  27. I've only ever heard second syllable stress.

    I pronounce 'aberration' with primary stress on the third syllable.

    N.English

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  28. Definitely second syllable; first syllable I would just assume the speaker didn't know the word. Also, first vowel would be /æ/.

    Martin Ball, near RP, but know in Louisiana

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  29. First syllable for me (AusE), but I can't think that I've heard the word said very often. If I think of the word as a modification of 'errant', then the second syllable stress becomes more logical, although I still don't know if it feels natural.

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  30. a-BEAR-uhnt

    AmE, New York City

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  31. I have always said it with initial stress. I had no idea that pen-ultimate was "correct". AmE, Midwest

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  32. Southern (London) BrE. Penultimate stress seems right to me.

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  33. ScE, second syllable stress unquestionably, as, to me, it is a modification of errant, and also, as John Wells said, because of the double R. But as others have pointed out, it's not a word you hear very often.

    By the way, to digress, what about Scrabble allowing proper nouns? Shocking or what?

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  34. Second syllable stress for me (BrE). I think of abhorrent which has similar pronunciation.

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  35. First syllable stress, and this is the first time I've heard any suggestion it could be otherwise. UK, Yorkshire.

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  36. I would always put the stress on the first syllable.

    (Midlands, UK; age=30)

    I think younger people would tend to put the stress on the first syllable and older people the second syllable.

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  37. Stress the second syllable.

    (M, 26, US, Tennessee)

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  38. Blimey. I wan't even aware there was a version with the stress on the first syllable. I'm so out of touch, just not down with the kids I suppose.

    BrE (estuary) 36.

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  39. First syllable stress. (US, M 27, Tennessee).

    I have never heard the second syllable stress, but it will probably stick with me now.

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  40. Penultimate stress, and like some other commenters I hadn't realised there was any other way to say it. I'm from Norfolk in England (but parents are Cheshire and Hertfordshire, and middle class so tending towards RP).

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  41. Definitely second syllable stress and æ for the first vowel. BrE (Birmingham), 32yo.

    And I didn't know there was another way of pronouncing it either. That said I haven't heard it said in a long time, I can't definitely say when the last time actually was...

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  42. Interestingly, it looks like there are people who are the same age and from the same part of the UK who pronounce it differently and didn't know there was another way to pronounce it.

    I didn't realise anyone pronounced it with a stress on the second syllable. Maybe I've been registering that way of saying it as a completely different word all this time.

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  43. First syllable stress. I had to go listen to both on dictionary.com, and I've never used second syllable stress, or even knew it was an option.

    (AmE, Northeast)

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  44. That's three of us from Northern California, and we don't seem to agree either. Not that it's that common a word, but...interesting.

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  45. First syllable, but I've also never heard it spoken.

    (Melbourne, Australia).

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  46. First syllable stress (AB-). Never heard it said otherwise. (50 yr old m., Australia)

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  47. First syllable stress, never heard it any other way.

    Early 30s, central Texas, but lived in different places in Europe for five years as an adult.

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  48. I am 25, from Long Island, NY, and pronounce it with first syllable stress!

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  49. First syllable stress, AB-uh-rint.

    (M, 37, US Colorado)

    In my crowd, the word is almost always used in the context of role-playing games, and is more often used as a noun than as an adjective: there's one game titled Aberrant, and it's a type of creature in another. Do you think that makes a difference?

    Dr. T

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  50. I don't think I've ever heard it said, or said it, out loud, but my mental voice pronounces it with 2nd syllable stress.

    Actually, my mental voice tends to pronounce it exactly the same as "abhorrent", oops...

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  51. Second syllable stress (BrE, South East, 40-ish, although I was just about to describe myself as 'young'. Whoops.)

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  52. 2nd syllable.

    US AK. And, speaking of abberations, I have no idea how Sarah Palin would pronounce it.

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  53. I don't think I've ever heard it with first syllable stress. When reading the post, it took me a while to work out how that would sound.

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  54. Second syllable stress, very mild. AmE, learned to speak English in Dutchess County, New York.

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  55. Exciting to see the international fanatic alphabet really catching on here. Its glorious imprecision and lack of a schwa means that, actually, all syllables end up stressed, as do it users.

    Initial stress on aberrant leads to two schwas (IFA \UH UH\) and then, I suggest, to virtual disyllabism as in /'æbɹnt/.

    All it needs is for aberrant to be defined in AmE as a foreign word and/or type of coffee and it will immediately rectify to trisyllabic /'ɑ:bəɹɑ:nt/.

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  56. Like RWMG and Max, I pronounce "aberrant" with second-syllable stress, with the DRESS vowel. BTW I'd give the initial "a" its full value to make it clear what word I'm saying: it's one I rarely if ever use.

    Same stress pattern as for "abhorrent" and "deterrent".

    Born and grew up in the Midlands [of England] and now live in the South-East.

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  57. 29, North Jersey English (like a previous commenter, I couldn't be influenced by my parents w/this word!)

    [ə.'be.ɹɪʔ]

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  58. Both. Actually, AB-uhr-unt seems more SON-er-uhs to me:) But that "geminated consonant" is what tips the scales in fav(u)or of the penultimate stress sometimes. It must be noted, though, that the Usage Note in the AHD might have influenced my both-are-fine attitude, since I'd read it ages ago as an ESL student. (And I lean to GA, if anything)

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  59. I meant 'lean toward' of course(TOW-uhrd? tuh-WARD?:)

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  60. Second syllable stress, first sounds well weird.

    Southern English RP by upbringing with assorted input from Hull, Manchester and Nottingham subsequently.

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  61. AB-er-ent
    VEN-er-ate

    Los Angeles (first 26 years)
    North of England (25 years)

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  62. New Jersey (Northeast US), 30 years old

    Aberrant first syllable stress
    Aberration third syllable stress
    Aberrated what the heck does that even mean? My spell checker doesn't even recognize it. My guess would be first syllable stress with perhaps a secondary third syllable stress.

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  63. AB eh rent

    Never heard otherwise. Lived in Chicago exclusively.

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  64. Second syllable stressed in "aberrant". Irish. The AHD's comment "the words aberration and aberrated, which are stressed on the first syllable" is misleading; the primary stress of "aberration" is on the third syllable, as AHD itself shows.

    There is secondary stress on the ab-, so that the stress of "aberration" matches "toleration", "refrigeration", "acceleration", etc, and hence "aberrant" might be made to match "tolerant", "refrigerant", "accelerant", etc. The difference of course is that "aberrant" is spelt with -erra- rather than -era-; why should Brits set more store by this than Yanks?

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  65. Second syllable stress - although I don't recall ever saying the word, that's just how I "hear" it in my head when I read it.

    (38yo Australian)

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  66. First syllable stress, and have never heard it any other way. AmE, 2 decades in WV, followed by 2 decades in MA.

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  67. I'd recognize either form, and having read this discussion, I'm not longer certain which syllable I'd stress spontaneously. In dialogue I'd probably accommodate to the other speaker's usage if they said it first.

    (Western New England accent here)

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  68. ABerrant. I've lived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada for roughly six decades.

    Has anyone else ever noticed both PRODuce and proDUCE as nouns? I thought that proDUCE was a Bahamian aberration (*a-hem*) until I heard "farm-fresh proDUCE" extolled on an Atlanta, Georgia, USA television station.

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  69. Native (Southern) Californian with many years of Ivy League education (not to brag, but to point out significant time spent in Boston).

    I've only ever heard first syllable stress. As others have mentioned, I had no idea there was any other way to say it.

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  70. Second syllable stress- Michigan

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  71. So my brother (18) and I (20) both said AB-er-rant. and we were raised in Kansas.
    Mom (50) said a-BER-rant. This might be a generational difference rather than geographical.

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)