How to pronounce British towns & cities: -HAM, -BURY, -WICH, -MOUTH...


Hi everyone, in this lesson, we're going to learn the pronunciation of towns and cities

in England, but we're going to focus on the suffixes of those towns and cities.

Originally, hundreds of years ago, these suffixes on the end of a place name would have meant

something, and if we know that suffix we can understand what that town or city was back

then, before it grew big.

So, I find it interesting just to know what these suffixes mean.

It's also useful so we can pronounce the place names in England a lot more easily and say

them the right way, and it's also an interesting lesson if you've ever looked at a map of England

and seen all these funny place names that often we don't pronounce in the way that you'd

expect, so we're going to see places like that in this lesson.

Let's start here with the suffix "-ham" when we actually say it in the place name, it becomes


Originally, in place names, that part meant "settlement" and it's so old that it comes

from Anglo-Saxon.

So, first off, we've got Birmingham.


Many people, many Americans say "Ber-ming-ham" whereas anyone from England will say "Bir-ming-um",

or someone actually from there would say something like "Birming-um", but I'm from the south

of England, I'm from London, and we just say "Bir-ming-um".

Next, we've got Nottingham.

Then Tottenham.


What surprises us about the pronunciation of Tottenham is that it's not three syllables.

You might expect "Tot-ten-ham".

It's not that, we say "tot-nem", and if you're into football, you might have heard of Tottenham

Hotspur, one of the big English football teams.

Next, we've got Durham.

You might expect this word to be more like "dur-ham" because we see the letter U and

R and we might think oh, it's maybe similar to the word "purple" or some different pronunciation.

We don't expect the "uh" vowel there, so we say "duh-rum", Durham.

Next, we have Wrexham.

In Wrexham, we'll, there's nothing really special to say about Wrexham except we spell

it with a W and we just say an R. And here, we have an exception.

These are all "um", but this one is actually "ham".

West Ham.

West Ham is another football club in London.

The reason we say "ham" here and not "West-hum" is because it's two separate words.

The ham stands powerfully and stressed by itself.

Next, let's look at "-bury".

There're two ways to pronounce the ends of "-bury" places.

We can say "bury" or "bree".

So here is Canterbury.

I went to university in Canterbury.

I say it like that with three syllables, but some people might say "Can-ter-bu-ry".


I think the most common pronunciation is just with the three syllables: Can-ter-bury.

Next, there's two pronunciations of this place, and people disagree about which one is right

and which one is wrong.

If you look at the word and you read the word, you'd think yeah, that place is "Shrews-bury",

"Shrews-bury", with the long "oo" vowel: Shrews-bury".

But actually, many people say "Shrohs-bree".

"Oh" "Shrohs-bree."


And this place name, I believe the distinction about which one's correct has something to

do with whether you're posh.

If you're posh, supposedly you say "Shrohs-bree".

I live in "Shrohs-bree".

Let me know in the comments if you live in "Shrohs-bree".

And the last example of this suffix, we've got Glastonbury.

"Glas-ton-bury", and I believe in the west country accent, people might say "Glass-ton-ber-ry",


They'll say it with four syllables, but for me, the most natural pronunciation is "Glas-ton-bury".

Next, let's look at places with "-wich" at the end.

"Wich" means "place", and this comes from Latin.





What's interesting about those two words that have the "-wich" ending is we see how it depends

on the sounds at the start of the word how we say "-wich" because it actually changes.

Here, we've got "witch" and here we've got "ridge".

They're spelt the same, but one comes out with the "-dge" sound and one comes out with

the "ch" sound.



Another thing is that in Ipswich, we hear the W, but we don't say "Nor-witch".

In Norwich, there is no W, the sound disappears.

I think it's because the tongue flows much more easily if we just say "Nor-ridge" and

we don't add that W because it's extra tongue movements and it's probably something that

changed over hundreds of years because it was easier to say it that way.

The next suffix we have is "-mouth", which means the mouth of a river, which is where

the river - where a river meets the sea.

That comes from Middle English, but we change the way we say the word "mouth" when it's

at the end of the word, when it's at the end of the place they're in.

It sounds different to how you would expect.

We have Plymouth, Bournemouth, Yarmouth.

So, instead of "mouth", it becomes "muth".

We have the schwa there, so the sound of that syllable is, you could say shorter or you

could say unstressed.

Next example is "-worth".

"-worth" means enclosure.

Enclosure means a place with walls around; a fence or hedges where the animals used to

graze and eat their food, and it comes from Old English.

"-worth" becomes two pronunciations, either "wuth", similar to "muth", or "wuhth", but

not a long "uh", just a "uth".

Tam-wuth, Farn-wuth, Bed-wuth.

First pronunciation: wuth.

Second pronunciation now: Tam-wuhth, Farn-wuhth, Bed-wuhth.

Slightly different, depends who you ask for those three places.

Next, we've got more examples.

Now, we have "-cester".

"-cester" comes from Roman, Latin I guess, and it comes from the word "Castrum" which

means like castle, and means fort in English.

We have Leicester, "les-teh".

When we look at that word, first guess would be "Lie-ses-ter", something like that, but

actually, it's only two syllables, and we simply say "les-teh", so it's much easier

to pronounce than it is to spell that word.

Next, we have Worchester.


And there's a famous sauce from this place, we call it "Wus-teh Sauce", or some people

say "Wus-teh-shur" sauce.

Two ways to pronounce that sauce.

Next, we have probably the hardest one to pronounce in the whole lesson because it sounds

very different to how we'd expect and also, even if you know how to read IPA, it comes

out as quite a long word.

So, let's try together.

We say "Si-ren-ses-ter".

Looks like - what does it look like?


I don't know, but we say "Si-ren-ses-ter", and locals of the place, some of them will

say "sester", similar to "sister".

I suppose that's because they don't want to say the big long word every time they mention

the name of their town so they shorten it, but if I were to go there, I would say "Si-ren-ses-ter".

Next, we have the suffix "-field".

"-field" means open land, grass area.

It comes from Old English.

We have Sheffield, Huddersfield, and Lichfield.

It's - look at the IPA for Lichfield because this phoneme here is "ch", "ch".

That can be confusing if you don't know how to read the IPA in red properly.


It's not "Litsh", there's no T there by itself, it's "Lich-field".

Moving on to "-pool" suffix.

"-pool" originally means harbor and comes from Old English.

The most famous "-pool" place is Liverpool.


If you're from there, you'll say "Liver-pewl" and the pitch rises quite a lot at the end,

but in my southern English pronunciation, you could even say that this "oo" vowel is

shortened and it sounds more like "Liver-pul", "Liver-pul", same vowel, but not so long sounding.

And the next example is Blackpool, Blackpool.

They're famous for having a tower and it's by the sea and you can go there for holidays

and it's a British seaside town, that's what they're famous for.

I've never been, personally.

Next, we have the "-ford" suffix.

This means crossing, comes from Old English, so we have Watford, Dartford, and Guildford.

Watford - it's interesting to know that it means "crossing".

Watford, a lot of people consider to be the edge of London.

This is not true in a geographical sense, but people say that after Watford, you go

to the north of England, it's not true geographically, so we can imagine it like a crossing in that


Also, Dartford has a tunnel, so in - you can cross from one side of the river to the other

in Dartford.

Guildford, I don't know what's "crossing" about that place, but I do know that when

we say the word "Guildford", we don't hear the D, we just hear "Gil-fud", and importantly,

we don't say "ford" - "Wat-ford".

We have a schwa so it just becomes "fud".

Next, we have places with the "-ing" suffix.

"-ing" means people of, so there's a place and there are people from that place, that's

what the "-ing" means, so these places are named after the people from there, kind of

backwards naming to most towns, and that comes from Old English.

We have - guess how you say this one - some of you would have got it right, some wrong.

This one is not "reading" as in reading a book, this one is just "Red-ing" "Red-ing".

This one is "Bah-king", "Bah-king".

When I hear this place name, I always think of the expression, "Barking mad", someone

who is crazy, Barking, and we have Dorking, "Dor-king".

And lastly, a "-shire" is not a town or a city, but I think many of you have probably

heard of English place names with a "-shire" on the end, and what's important to know about

those places is that they are counties.

Counties are large areas, similar to regions in a way, but areas where they have the same

local government, so they can be quite big areas, and often they're - inside the county,

there's a county name, like Bedfordshire, but there's also a place without the "-shire"

on it, so there's a place called Bedford, and there's also a bigger county called Bedfordshire,

and many of the shires are like that.

Another example is Leicestershire.

A story about Bedfordshire is that I have a local corner shop when I'm in London, this

is my mum's house, I'm not living in that area all the time, and it's not a posh area,

it's a - how do I describe it - a local area, a place where people live.

It's nothing fancy, and our local corner shop, I think it's run by Pakistani guys or something

like that, and one day I went in there, and the man said to me "Are you from around here?"

and I was just buying something, I was like "Uh, yeah, kind of".

And he said "Oh, I thought you were from Bedfordshire!", and that's funny because, in his mind at least,

and maybe it's true, I'm not sure, Bedfordshire is a very posh place, so he was, like, saying,

why are you coming in my shop kind of thing.

I haven't seen you before.

You don't look like you're from here.

But anyway, a point about pronunciation: he, not speaking English as a native language,

said - he said like - "Bed-ford-shi-re", something like that.

Well, there are two pronunciations of the "-shire".

It's "shuh" or "sheer", not "Bed-ford-shi-re", it's not really extra at the end.

You have to stick to one or the other pronunciations.

"Oxford-sheer" or "Oxford-shuh".

I'm from "Oxford-shuh", or you say "Gloucester-shuh" or "Gloucester-sheer" and maybe it depends

on who you ask or maybe it depends on where you're from in the country, but in my natural

pronunciation, if I were to say these places, I would feel most comfortable saying "sheer".

"Bedford-sheer", "Oxford-sheer", "Gloucester-sheer".

And, in my intuitive feeling about it, to say "shuh" is a bit more posh, so if you said

"Bedford-shuh" or "Oxford-shuh" or "Gloucester-shuh", that's a very posh person, in my intuitive


So, thank you for learning all the suffixes with me, and see you again soon.