The Grammarphobia Blog

Is it ih-RACK, eye-ROCK, or whatever?

Q: My 9-year-old son listens to a lot of NPR with me, and he would like to know if Iraq and Iran are pronounced ih-RACK and ih-RAN or eye-RACK and eye-RAN. We have heard both on NPR, and he really wants to know which is right.

A: Pronouncing “Iraq” with a long “i” (as in “eye”) is incorrect, according to both The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), the two dictionaries I consult most often about U.S. pronunciations.

The dictionaries list two acceptable pronunciations. In both, the “i” in the first syllable is short, as in “pit.” The second syllable, which gets the accent, can be pronounced correctly as either “rack” or “rock.”

As for “Iran,” it has three possible correct pronunciations. In the first, the “i” is short, as in “pit,” and the “a” is short, as in “pack.” In the second, the “i” is short and the “a” is pronounced as in “father.” In the third, the “i” is long, as in “eye,” and the “a” is short, as in “pack.” In all cases, it’s the last syllable that’s stressed.

So, Iraq can be pronounced ih-RACK or ih-ROCK, and Iran can be pronounced ih-RAN or ih-RON or eye-RAN.

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