What Is the Correct Pronunciation of 'February'?

Twenty ninth february on a wall calendar
  Image Source / Getty Images 

While "Feb-RU-ary" is still considered the standard pronunciation, most dictionaries recognize the pronunciation of February without the first "r" ("Feb-U-ary") as an acceptable variant.

Varying Opinions on Pronouncing February

Not everyone is so tolerant. In his Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations (2005), purist Charles Harrington Elster defends the "traditional and cultivated pronunciation." February, he says, "is a different word and a different month, with a peculiar spelling, a peculiar pronunciation, and a very peculiar number of days, all of which adds up to the fact that we must treat the creature with particular respect."

Yet in common speech, the shortest month has long been abused. In The New Schoolmaster, a one-act play that appeared in Sargent's School Monthly in May 1858, Mr. Hardcase says of February that "there is a prejudice in favor of an 'r' at the beginning of the second syllable; but if you choose to drop it, where's the harm?"

Why People Drop the "R" in February

The loss of the first "r" in the pronunciation of February is (in part) the result of a process called dissimilation (or haplology), where one of two similar sounds in a word is sometimes changed or dropped to avoid the repetition of that sound. (A similar process sometimes occurs with the pronunciation of library.)

More simply, as Kate Burridge points out in Weeds in the Garden of Words (2005), the standard pronunciation of February "takes considerable effort, and in normal rapid speech we're likely to drop the first 'r.'" Also, the pronunciation of January has probably contributed to the simplified pronunciation of February.

There are, of course, many discrepancies between spelling and pronunciation in English. As David Crystal reminds us in The English Language, "[S]peech came first, in the history of our species," and "English spelling hasn't been a good guide to pronunciation for hundreds of years."

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is the Correct Pronunciation of 'February'?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/correct-pronunciation-of-february-1691019. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What Is the Correct Pronunciation of 'February'? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/correct-pronunciation-of-february-1691019 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is the Correct Pronunciation of 'February'?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/correct-pronunciation-of-february-1691019 (accessed August 1, 2021).