The Grammarphobia Blog

Mischief-making

Q: Why do you say in your Oct. 25, 2007, blog posting that it’s wrong to accent the second syllable of “mischievous”? Both M-W and the AHD include pronunciations with the accent on the second syllable.

A: Dictionary entries can be confusing. For example, some dictionaries put the stress mark before the syllable accented and some put it after. And different dictionaries have different ways to indicate whether a variant is legit: some use symbols, others explanatory notes, and still others both. If you have the time, it helps to read the guide at the beginning of a dictionary.

As for “mischievous,” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) gives only one pronunciation – with the accent on the first syllable. (In American Heritage, the stress mark follows the syllable that’s accented.)

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) does list a four-syllable variant accented on the second syllable, but it’s accompanied by a division symbol (÷), which means the variant is widely considered unacceptable, as well as an explanatory note saying it’s “considered nonstandard.”

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