How to pronounce English words with CON-

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American English Pronunciation Course

A student recently asked me how to pronounce English words starting with CON- such as content, contest, and conduct. My answer was – “It depends!”

These three words are interesting because they each have two forms, with different pronunciation. The CON- is pronounced to rhyme with the word “on” when that syllable is stressed, and CON- is pronounced to rhyme with the word “sun” when that syllable is unstressed.

CON-tent (n.) = something that is “contained” inside an enclosed space or limits

  • Ex) The security guard asked to see the contents of my backpack

con-TENT (adj.) = satisfied

  • Ex) I don’t need any more money; I’m content with my current salary.

CON-test (n.) = a type of competition

  • Ex) I entered some of my work in a poetry contest. The first prize is $500!

con-TEST (v.) = dispute, try to disprove, call into question

  • Ex) The opposition party is contesting the election results, saying there was voter fraud.

CON-duct (n.) = behavior

  • Ex) I was shocked by your disrespectful conduct.

con-DUCT (v.) = manage, control, lead, or guide

  • Ex) Scientists conduct experiments to develop new technology.

Usually, when the CON- is stressed, it is pronounced to rhyme with “on”, and when the “con-” is unstressed, it is pronounced to rhyme with “sun.” However, there are some exceptions!

Let’s practice the pronunciation of more words with CON-

Words with CON- (like “on”):

  • concentrate (v.) = think hard, focus
  • concert (n.) = a musical performance
  • concept (n.) = an idea
  • condiment (n.) = an extra flavoring for food, like ketchup/mustard
  • console (n.) = a control panel for a mechanical or electronic system
  • conference (n.) = a gathering of people
  • congregation (n.) = a gathering of people for religious worship (usually Christian)
    Note that the stressed syllable is “A,” but we still pronounce CON- as in “on”
  • consequence (n.) = a result
  • contact (n./v.) = touch someone/something or talk with someone
  • contract (n.) = a formal document defining an agreement
  • controversy (n.) / controversial (adj.) = a topic about which people hold different/opposing opinions
    Note that the stress changes – in “controversy” the stressed syllable is CON, but in “controversial” the stressed syllable is “VER” – yet the CON- is still pronounced like “on”

Words with con- (like “sun”):

  • conceal (v.) = to hide
  • concerned (adj.) = worried
  • conclude (v.) / conclusion (n.) = bring to an end
  • concur (v.) = agree
  • concussion (n.) = when you hit your head hard and injure it
  • condition (n.) = a state of being; existing circumstances
  • congratulate (v.) = express happiness at someone’s good fortune
  • connect (n.) = link two things together
  • consecutive (adj.) = one thing following another
  • consider (v.) = think about
  • construct (v.) = build
  • consult (v.) = seek advice or information from someone/something
  • consume (v.) = use or eat
  • contain (v.) = keep inside
  • continue (v.) = go on with an action or situation
  • control (n./v.) = have complete influence over
  • convenient (adj.) = easy and simple

More words that change:

With these words, the first form (the verb) has con- like “sun,” and the second form (the noun or adjective) has con- like “on.”

  • conserve / conservation
  • confide / confidential
  • confront / confrontation
  • confirm / confirmation

This happens because of the rhythm of the words – each of the words in the second column has a stress on both the first and third syllable: CON-ser-VA-tion, CON-fi-DEN-tial, etc.

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