Pronunciation of "I"


As an ESL student, sometimes I wonder if there is a rule to pronounce words such as divulge /da ɪˈvʌldʒ, and divorce /dɪˈvɔːs/ (extracted from Cambridge Dictionary online).
Sometimes when I see “i” in a word I don’t know if it is pronounded “ai”, like divulge, or “i” as in divorce.


The English language isn’t even consistent in its pronunciation of that letter, so there really can’t be a rule.

As a native speaker, I don’t say [daiʼvʌldʒ]. I say [dɪʼvʌldʒ]. In fact, in my entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a person say [daiʼvʌldʒ], and it would sound very strange to me indeed, as if the person were trying to sound like a small child learning how to read. It makes less sense to pronounce it with [ai] anyway, because the stress is on the second syllable, not on the first.

Another example: Most native English speakers say [dɪʼrɛkt] for “direct”, but in many countries they teach ESL learners to say [daiʼrɛkt]. To me, [daiʼrɛkt] sounds like the pronunciation of a circus ringmaster, or of a semi-literate person.

Hi, Jamie (K),

Thanks for the answer.

Hi Bira39,

It is common practice to pronounce words such as ‘divulge’ and ‘direct’ with the stress on the second syllable. On the other hand although Jamie colourfully dismisses the pronunciation (ai), it is often used with stress on the first syllable not necessarily by the semi-literate but by someone who is pronouncing that way for emphasis.

A politician for example being pressed to reveal information our (UK) present Foreign Secretary has a tendency to do this and I’ll attempt his way of speaking, with due respect) could say: I have no wish to divulge this information. Again ‘direct’ has also undergone a change and can be heard when it is attached to the name of a supermarket through which you can order goods online. I am referring in particular to a store call Tesco that has developed an online service and calls itself ‘Tesco Direct’. This will not suit the purist but that’s the way these words are sometimes pronounced.



here is my observation of the pronunciation of “direct” as a non-native speaker.

There are many words in English that can be pronounced in various ways, and you’d never be wrong. Sometimes it also varies from region to region. I’ve heard the word “direct” pronounced as dairect, direct, and derect, depending not only on the region, but even on the sentence. The same person that would say “direct” in one sentence, would say “dairect” in another. They do that without noticing. I sometimes pronounce it either “derect” or “dairect” subconsciously. I can’t say much about “divulge”. I pronounce it with ee, so I must have heard and picked it up that way.

As you can see, it could be open to dispute. Americans love to say in such cases: It’s like tomato or tomato.