The Grammarphobia Blog

Inaugural issues

Q: All my life I’ve heard the word “inaugurate” pronounced with a “y” sound in the third syllable. Suddenly, I’m hearing on TV about politicians being in-AW-guh-rated. Is this part of Barack Obama’s “change” platform, or have I just not been listening carefully enough in the past?

A: The only pronunciations of “inaugurate,” “inauguration,” and “inaugural” we’ve ever heard have a “y” sound in the third syllable: in-AW-gyuh-rate … in-aw-gyuh-RAY-shun … in-AW-gyuh-rel.

But then, we don’t watch a lot of TV.

Those are also the only pronunciations given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

However, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) includes the non-“y” pronunciations as equal variants: in-AW-guh-rate … in-aw-guh-RAY-shun … in-AW-guh-rel. That last one sounds to us like “doggerel.”

The “y”-less pronunciations may be a relatively recent development, since my 1956 printing of the unabridged Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary (2d ed.), known as Web II, has only the “y” pronunciations.

American Heritage isn’t the only language authority that still doesn’t accept the“y”-less ones. The latest Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.), published in 2009, notes that  the penultimate syllable of “inaugural” is pronounced with a “y” sound.

But since the “y”-less pronunciations are getting around so much that they’re already accepted without reservation by Merriam-Webster’s, they probably have a future.

If you don’t like ’em, don’t use ’em (We certainly won’t).

In case you’re interested, we had a blog entry last year about another aspect of “inaugurate” – whether a frying pan can be inaugurated by making latkes!

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