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October 12, 2013

 Does vulnerable have a silent l? I was listening to Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 the other day and he repeatedly pronounced the word as vunnerable. Nor is this a new pronunciation. More than twenty-five years ago I had a girlfriend who sometimes used to say, ‘I’m feeling very vunnerable today’, to which I’m afraid I usually used to reply, ‘Don’t you mean vulnerable?’ – which probably made her feel more vulnerable still, and may have contributed to her eventually dumping me. I don’t like the pronunciation, although it’s true that, in English, the letter l when next to another consonant does tend to end up being skipped. Think of the silent l in calm, balm, Holmes or Holborn. However, I can’t think of any other instances where it is silent when next to the letter n. It’s not silent in kiln or, even closer, ulna. Also, the full pronunciation highlights the etymology of the word, which I like, deriving as it does from the Latin word vulnus, a wound. Nevertheless I have the feeling that the silent l in vulnerable is gaining ground. To put it another way, that l is vulnerable. Or vunnerable.

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  1. Duncan Holmes permalink

    Thank you for confirming the silent L in Holmes. It always amazes me how people say, oh Holmes, emphasising the L, as if I don’t know how to pronounce my own name.

  2. the silent L in calm? Balm? Holmes? Really?
    May I ask here you live? I hear/say L’s in all of them…..and, yes, in vulnerable too.

    • I live in London – but I would have said the L is silent in those words in most regions – and in America and Australia too! Your experience may be different, but that is what I have heard, and if I were teaching the words ‘calm’ or ‘balm’ to a foreign student I would tell them that the L was not pronounced.

  3. John Long permalink

    Yes, this is one of those words that is often mispronounced and which always irritates me. Being polite I rarely pick people up on the mispronunciation unless of course it is one of my (adult) children or any smaller children who are related to me or who otherwise consider me a relative. I would resist any relaxation of the rules and believe the mispronunciation is largely down to laziness.

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