American accent Geography Pronunciation Lesson

  • If you want the confidence of clear and powerful speech, contact AccentsOff today.

Names of American cities and states can be tricky for non-natives to pronounce.

American accent how to pronounce US city state namesHere are a few classics that we see our students having trouble with, over and over.

Raleigh, NC: This city being recently ranked #10 of best places to live in the U.S., you may want to move there soon. So pronounce it correctly: RAW – lee.

Albuquerque, NM: For sure, this name is of Indian origin, with a spelling like that. A U.S. city with one of the highest elevations (over 5000 feet), it was also where the hit TV series “Breaking Bad” was filmed.  Pronounced AEL – b’ – ker – kee.

Tucson, AZ: Looks like TUKK – sun; no…it’s TOO-sahn. And it wins the award for “sunniest” US city: Tucson gets 360 days of sunshine per year!

Phoenix, AZ: Like the mythological bird who rose back to life from the ashes, this city’s name is pronounced FEE – niks.  An odd spelling…you can always spot words of Greek origin a mile away.

Chicago, IL: Several explanations as to the origin. Originally coined “Checagou” by the French explorer Robert de la Salle, we need to use French CH pronunciation. It’s shih – KAH – go. No “chi” in this name.

Illinois: Algonquian Indian roots, again Francophiled when the French came through, thus the silent S: ih – l’ – NOY.

Indianapolis, IN: Home to the largest single-day sporting event in the world (the automobile race Indy 500, held every Memorial Day weekend) the pronunciation of this city’s name often crashes.  The stress is on the “A”:  in – dee – uh – NAE – p’ – lis (not POU – lis).

Missouri: Not “misery”. Pronounce it meh – ZER – ree (The “ZER” rhymes with “her”).

Arkansas: Surprisingly, not “AR” + “Kansas”. It’s AR – kin – saw. French explorers were spending time there, but not in Kansas. Kansas is KAEN – zis.

Greenwich, CT. Pronounced the same as “Greenwich Village” and “Greenwich Mean Time”. No “green” in this name. It’s GREH – nitch. (Although some sources indicate that the old English pronunciation used to be GRIH – nitch.) But never “green witch”.

Vermont: Named by French explorer Samuel de Champlain (originally “Verd Mont”, describing the Green Mountains), you should not say it the French way with the stress on “Verd”. Stress should be: ver – MANT.

Montpelier, VT: Mais oui, but it looks so French. True, the capital of Vermont, Montpelier is named after the French city of Montpellier. But pronounce it à la Super-American:  mant – PEEL – yer. Many of my family members live in Vermont, and I still remember the moment my brother totally cracked up when I pronounced it the French way.

Notre Dame, IN: Another one…probably the most butchered French name of them all!  The way Americans pronounce it, it should be spelled: Noderdame (no – der – DEIM). The university of the same name is pretty hot stuff as far as athletics go, but still!

Omaha, NE: Pronounce it OU – m’ – ha. Known as the “Oracle of Omaha”, investor magnate Warren Buffet was born in Omaha and still resides there now. Fun WB fact: On his first income tax return in 1944, Buffett took a $35 deduction for the use of his bicycle and watch on his newspaper delivery paper route (Wikipedia).

Houston, TX: Most people know the pronunciation is HYOO – stin. Unfortunately, Houston Street in New York City deviates. It’s HAU – stin Street. If you mispronounce it, we smile and assume you are new to New York. 🙂

Staten Island, NY: “Staten” does contain the word “state”, but it’s “STAE – tin”, not “STATE – in”. Rhymes with “Latin”.

New York: Surprising to many, but always on the list. If you, like so many non-natives, mis-stress it, you may end up with your driver taking you to Newark (NEW – werk). It’s New YORK.


Also keep in mind:

Place names that end in “-ton” (Washington, Hamilton, Southampton ): say “tin”

Place names that end in “land” (Maryland, Staten Island, Ireland): say “lind” (exceptions being Thailand and Disneyland)