I'm an English student (English is not my native language) and I once encountered this word nowhere, but I first recognized it in that moment as now + here and I literally pronounced it so.

Maybe my mind was tired, I don't know. But I realized that I've never heard native speakers (in movies, over Skype, in TV channels, and other places) to pronounce it so.

Is there any lingual pattern that makes mind of native-speakers not making mistakes in pronouncing such words, which can be pronounced in two syntactically correct sections?

  • 2
    As usual, this is a confusion between English spelling, which does not represent English pronunciation, and English words, which are pronounced, not written. As Cerberus points out, all native speakers learn to speak, first. But only some learn to read. And they all pronounce things alike, no matter how they're spelt.
    – jlawler
    Mar 26, 2013 at 20:30
  • 3
    @jlawler: Yeah, although spelling can and does often influence pronunciation too, especially in less common words. The pronunciation of many words has changed or is in the process of changing based on the way they are spelled, like (probably) waistcoat, clerk, conduit, often... See for some other examples: zikkir.net/words/index.php?title=Spelling_pronunciation Sometimes it even goes back and forth!
    – Cerberus
    Mar 26, 2013 at 20:45
  • Literate people are very suggestible. Especially Anglophones.
    – jlawler
    Mar 26, 2013 at 23:19
  • Tangential (since "nowhere" is a lexicallized compound word) but are there any examples where a word-internal "wh" is pronounced as two separate consonants? It could be that native speakers never make this mistake because word-internal "wh" is unambiguously a single consonant (either through knowledge of the lexicon or through a phonological rule, although the fact that it can occur across word boundaries makes a phonological rule unlikely)
    – acattle
    Mar 27, 2013 at 1:36
  • 3
    @acattle 'bowhead' whales. But the <w> isn't pronounced as a consonant except when syllable-initial so the <ow> represents a diphthong. This means that word-internal <wh> is never pronounced as two separate C in English. Mar 27, 2013 at 6:16

3 Answers 3


Native speakers will probably learn nowhere as a spoken word first. So they already have its pronunciation fixed in their minds before ever reading it. Secondly, once you know what it means, it only makes sense that it is no+where, so semantics reinforce this pronunciation beyond any possible confusion.


This is because "nowhere" is a combination of "no" and "where"; "where" in this case means "a place" instead of acting as a question word. "Now here" is always written as two separate words. This also goes back to the tendency of english spelling to not have a letter-to-letter connection to english pronunciation. (Notice that "ere" represents two different sounds in the words "where" and "here"- Then there's also words like "ear", "near", "bear", "air"... This is what I dislike most about English.)


In English unlike other languages most words should be just learned. In really confusing cases they use hyphen to separate semantic parts like in "no-where".

  • 2
    How is English unique in that words must be "just learned"? Wouldn't all languages require speakers to learn the words? Do you mean that their written forms must be "just learned" (i.e. in other languages, it's easier to guess pronunciation from written form)? In that case, how would English compare to Mandarin Chinese? Better yet, Cantonese Chinese where the word orders between written and spoken sometimes differ.
    – acattle
    Mar 27, 2013 at 1:30
  • @acattle I meant languages based on alphabets.
    – Anixx
    Mar 27, 2013 at 1:56
  • There do exist some general rules to guide you as how to pronounce a word. But then, since English spelling didn't evolve at the same pace as its phonology, plus irregular developments in phonetic evolution, plus pseudo-etymologies... yes, for the most part, you must learn by heart how to pronounce a word based on context (as in "with a tear in your eye your dress you will tear").
    – Joe Pineda
    Dec 12, 2013 at 16:37

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