The Grammarphobia Blog

Adult entertainment

Q: I would love it if you could comment on the proper pronunciation of “adult.” Is it a-DULT or ADD-ult?

A: There are two correct pronunciations of “adult.” The more common one is “a-DULT,” with the accent on the second syllable, and number two is “ADD-ult.” Both are considered standard English.

I checked this in two modern dictionaries, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), as well as in an old unabridged Webster’s New International Dictionary (2d ed.) from the early 50s.

The word “adult,” a noun or adjective meaning grown-up, has been around since 1531, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The use of “adult’ as a euphemism for sexually explicit (as in “adult cinema” or “adult entertainment”) dates from only 1958, according to the OED. The earliest published reference for “adult” used to refer to the elderly (as in “adult home”) dates from 1968.

The word “adult” comes to us from the Latin adultus, the past participle of the verb adolescere (to grow up), which has of course given us “adolescent.”

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