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The secret to pronouncing words that end in -ATE

Business associate: "-eight" or "-it"?

Sometimes the reason we say words wrong is because we don't know the right rules. Take, for example, these words:

  • communicate                  
  • chocolate
  • associate

Since these words all end with the same spelling, they should all sound the sameーlike "communicate" with an "-eight" sound, right?

Wrong.

There are actually two ways to pronounce "-ate" words: /-eit/ (as in "eight" or "ate") and /-it/. To know the correct pronunciation, you have to know the function. Is it a verb, noun, or adjective?

Verbs are pronounced  /-eit/

  • communicate 
  • negotiate
  • ​differentiate 

Adjectives and nouns are pronounced /-it/

  • chocolate (noun)
  • passionate (adjective)
  • corporate (noun/adjective)

But wait, what about words that function both as a verb and a noun and/or adjective? How would you say these sentences: 

  • I don't associate with my associate
  • Let's delegate it to a delegate
  • Let's approximate the height. I'd say it's 150 centimeters, but that's just an approximate measurement.

The rule still holds. Even if the word looks the same, the pronunciation is not. Verbs still end in /eit/ while nouns and adjectives end in /it/. 

Here are a list of common words with an -ate ending, can you say them correctly? 

  • passionate
  • corporate
  • negotiate
  • passionate
  • corporate
  • negotiate

All that being said, there are words that don't follow this guideline. Short words like late and skate end in /-eit/, as well as when two words are combined, like classmate. 

This is one case where studying written English will not help you with with speaking. You need to practice with a native speaker. Please check with your friend or teacher to see if you are saying these words correctly.