What’s the Correct Pronunciation of ‘February’?

In the U.S., the way you pronounce the word ‘February’ can get language purists all worked up.
It’s not straightforward.
It’s not straightforward. / KaanC/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (February), desifoto/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (blue background), Jon Mayer/Mental Floss (thought bubble)

In the United States, the most common pronunciation of the word February is “FEB-yoo-air-ee.” Both Merriam-Webster and American Heritage dictionaries consider the common pronunciation correct, along with the less common, more traditional standard “FEB-roo-air-ee.”

This irritates fans of the traditional standard. But the loss of the first r in February isn’t some recent habit propagated by lazy teenagers. People have been avoiding that r for at least the last 150 years, and probably longer than that.

All About Dissimilation

Given certain conditions having to do with word stress and the other sounds in a word, we simply do not like to have two r’s so close to each other. The name for the linguistic process where one sound drops out because another of the same sound is too close to it is dissimilation, and it affects lots of languages.

Consider your pronunciation of the following words, and be honest about whether you really say the r’s in parentheses:

  • su(r)prise
  • gove(r)nor
  • pa(r)ticular
  • be(r)serk
  • paraphe(r)nalia
  • cate(r)pillar
  • southe(r)ner
  • entrep(r)eneur
  • p(r)erogative
  • interp(r)etation

Not everybody drops these r’s, but at the same time, nobody seems to get too upset when they hear others do it.

There are, however, a few cases of r dissimilation that get people very worked up—namely, in the words lib(r)ary and Feb(r)uary. Lib(r)ary attracts attention due to its association with commonly disparaged dialects. Feb(r)uary only seems to attract attention when someone asks what the proper pronunciation should be.

Here’s a little help from the (parody!) guide Pronunciation Manual:

Pronouncing February in the UK and Australia

Things are a little different when you cross the pond—in certain British accents, the pronunciation of February includes a version of the “r” sound but shortens the syllables to three, so it’s pronounced “FEB-ruhr-ree.” You can see a detailed breakdown of how it’s pronounced in the video below. (And if you’re curious, check out the pronunciation of library in a British accent here.)

Australia, meanwhile, switches things up, going with something close to the “FEB-yoo-air-ee” American pronunciation but shortening it to three syllables, so it’s “FEB-yuh-ree.”

Now that you know all about to pronounce February in the U.S. and beyond, check out these common English words you might be saying wrong, and learn the right way to pronounce names in Irish, French, German, Arabic, and Spanish.

A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2024.