My obsession with the word please keeps leading me to new discoveries. This time: a spelling difference!

One particular use of please is to be dismissive of something someone else has said or done, as in: 

     Please! You don't really imagine we want to read about please again, do you?

But when people say that please, they often elongate the pronunciation, including putting a bit of vocal 'space' between the P and the L, creating a two-syllable please. And because people pronounce it with two syllables, they sometimes spell it with something syllable-indicating between the P and the L.

So I went looking for such spellings in the Corpus of Global Web-based English. Since I didn't know the exact spellings I was looking for, I put in various key letters/punctuation and asterisks after them, like pu*lea* and p-le*: the asterisks are wildcards that stand for any number of characters. So, pu*lea* gave me relevant results like puhlease and puuuleazz and irrelevant ones like purpleleaf. Sorting through the results (thanks to Becky Hunt for doing the table for me), we've got:






puh-leaze, puhleese, puhleez




puleeze, pulease, puleasssse




puulease, puuulleeeeezzz




pu-lease, pu-leeze




p-lease, p-leeease




purlease, purleese, purleeze



The US column has a lot more of these spellings. That's to be expected—that 'dismissal' usage is more common in AmE and so the re-spelling of it will be too. But what's super-interesting is the contrast between the preferred AmE use of puh or pu to represent the first syllable versus the BrE-only use of pur.  

Echoes of a previous post! The one where I had discovered that when Americans say "uh" on British television, it gets close-captioned as "er" because an r after a vowel in English-English spelling does not signal the /r/ sound, but rather a kind of vowel quality. 

Purlease in BrE spelling does not indicate a different pronunciation from puhlease: it represents one way that a non-rhotic (non-/r/-pronouncing) speaker can represent the schwa sound that's been inserted in the elongated word. 

Not what I thought I'd discover when I started looking for please spellings, so a fun little extra for me! (And now you too!)


  1. Replies
    1. Hey Lynne.

      I don't have Twitter, but I was interested in the poll that you did about the NHS notice. It got me thinking about the positioning of "please" and whether it makes a difference to the overall tone a sentence. For example:

      Can you show me your new book?
      Can you show me your new book, please?
      Can you please show me your new book?
      Please can you show me your new book?

      I have always used "please" at the beginning of my sentences because I always feel that putting it at the end of a sentence makes it sound like an after-thought, but I also know that I am pedantic, so my thoughts are probably an exception.

      What's your take?

    2. I think I'll have to assume you're not American, Anonymous. In AmE, 'please' at the beginning of a question is very rare and is generally not used by adults. It therefore generally sounds extra pleading or extra bossy, depending on the tone. I know I've written about this somewhere, but I'm not finding it at the moment!

      'Please' at the beginning of an imperative (e.g. 'Please come in') is the norm in both Englishes.

    3. Whereas I, British, see "Please can you show me your new book" as polite, but "Can you please show me.." as slightly exasperated ("I've asked you twice already!").

    4. Yes, that's my reaction too

    5. @Lynne, I'm Mr. Anonymous. Apologies for not leaving my name in the last comment. You're right to assume that I'm not American. I'm British. You're very good at your job!

      Perhaps the manner in which we speak and how we emphasise words can often hold more weight than their actual meaning. I suppose the same can be said for words like "sorry" and "thank you"...

      @Mrs. Redboots, I definitely read your example as they were intended. I'd be interested in knowing if all British folk would read those sentences the same way if there wasn't any explanations. English is such a fluid language. People can get overly sensitive towards the way things are said. Then again, there are people who use "please" passive aggressively. I know plenty of folk who do that. Do you think that it's a British trait, or just a general people thing?

    6. I would think of 'please' at the end as polite, in the middle as exasperated and at the beginning (possibly) as pleading.

  2. Similarly, the interjections/hesitations commonly rendered "Um" and "Uh" in AmE are typically rendered "Erm" and "Er" in BrE. (Looking back, I realise you tackled the second of these in your post.)

    1. I tackled both of them in the post I linked to in this post.

    2. So you did! My bad.

      I should add that I've often wondered whether these spelling differences suggest a significant pronunciation difference: in my mind, "Um" rhymes with "bum" whereas "Er" rhymes with "Her". I suspect the answer is that the vowel sounds in "bum" and "her" differ between BrE and AmE.

  3. Please --- and this is the polite version, not the exasperated one --- could you set your table's background to an opaque colour that contrasts with the one you used for the text? My browsers (Chrome and Firefox) render both text and background as black. I guess you chose transparent for the background? I am visually impaired, and if my PC displayed dark text on a bright background, it would cause actual pain to my eyes trying to read it. That's why I use dark mode.

    1. Sorry about that, Rosie. Is it better now?

  4. Ever since I first was aware of the American use of uh to represent [ə] I've thought it extremely peculiar, because the sound is nothing like what u suggests, and the h ought to be irrelevant, as it is in "oh". I can see that "er" poses a problem for rhotic people, but surely something more evocative than "uh" could have been found.

    I don't what sound most people think of when they see "huh?" in written dialogue, but I normally interpret it as [hʌ], i.e. like "hut" without the t. Maybe it's supposed to be [hə], i.e. like non-rhotic "her" but shorter.

    1. David Marjanović06 April, 2023 19:16

      The trick is that for most Americans [ʌ] and [ə] are the same phoneme – [ʌ] is the default stressed allophone, [ə] the unstressed one. That's why they don't maintain [ʌ] when /l/ follows (unstressed: difficult; stressed: culture, vulture, Vulcan), but instead go for [ʊ ~ o ~ ɔ] or zero (so that the /l/ becomes syllabic). In nonrhotic BrEng, the unstressed [ə] has not one, but two potential counterparts that are always stressed, namely [ʌ] and [ɜ], and so it doesn't get interpreted as the same phoneme as either.

  5. Very interesting to read about how certain sounds are rendered differently when written for British or American English. Another sound that puzzles me is represented as 'ugh'. While watching cartoons on TV here in Australia in the 1960s (so presumably created in the 1950s or earlier), I got the impression that Native Americans said 'ugh' a lot. My memory is that the word is pronounced like 'ug' to rhyme with 'rug', and I can't remember where I would have got the spelling from, perhaps comics. Anyway, several years ago I read 'The Last of the Mohicans' and the Mohicans often say 'hugh'. The narrator even says that it is very typical of them. But I would pronounce 'hugh' as in the name (eg Hugh Grant), giving me 'hyoo', which is a long way from 'ug'. I'm confused.

  6. Can't speak for James Fenimore Cooper or his spelling of "ugh", other than to note that the popular stereotype of Indians saying that (spelled without an h in the front) has been pinned to his book, where he got it is not known but in any case native American languages are a pretty diverse lot, Hollywood depictions aside.

    Now in the UK, is the rendering in subtitles of the US "uh" as "er" (pronounced like a Danish "ø" - my own last name was, pre-Americanization, "Mørk", pronounced "muhhk", sort of - is it related to the UK spelling "arse" for the US preferred ass? I had thought the UK word had an "arr" sound in it, but maybe I'm wrong, and "arse" is spoken more like "ahhs" - thoughts?

    1. There's a blog post to answer that question: https://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2006/08/arse-ass-and-other-bottoms.html

  7. In Patrick O'Brian's 'The Fortune of War', Dr Stephen Maturin habitually greets the Native American porter at a hospital in Boston with "Ugh" in the belief that it is 'the usual greeting in the language of [his] nation'. The man sees that he means no offence, but asks why? Stephen claims that he has seen it in 'many authors, French and English'. This is 1812, fourteen years before Cooper's book - but O'Brian, though a remarkable researcher, wasn't infallible.


The book!

View by topic



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