Notes & Queries: Why do the British pronounce lieutenant as "leftenant?"

2023-01-03 08:56:41 - Grace Browns Grace Browns has been a lifestyle, fashion, and beauty writer for over 5 years, and she currently serves as a senior editor at

Why do the British pronounce lieutenant as "leftenant?"

Jeff Rushton, a British citizen

  • How would you describe the leftist?

    Mark Dallas, United Kingdom

  • The phrase originally made up of the Latin terms "locum," which meant "holding in place of," and "teneris," which meant "holding," applied to anyone. The word "locum" eventually became the French word "lieu," which is pronounced exactly as it is written. It's possible that when the English heard the French pronounce the compound word lieutenant, they heard a slur between the first and second syllables that they mistook for a "v" or "f" sound. With the exception of the United States, the majority of English-speaking countries continue to pronounce the word with an "f" in it.

    Richard Thompson, Denmark Allerod

  • At one point, the British weren't big fans of the French. additionally, anglicized words that could be mistaken for French De Beauvoir Town, like Beauchamp Square

    Albert, UK, Derby

  • Because the pronunciation is accurate

    London, England, Nomad

  • I believe it is also pronounced with an "f" sound in Russian (spelled with a v). Perhaps German, which frequently changes the 'u/w' sound to the 'v' sound, is how Russian and British English acquired the word, whereas we Americans adopted the pronunciation directly from French. (In many languages, the letter "v" assimilates naturally to the letter "t," becoming a voiceless "f" )

    Lars from Dallas, USA

  • It's possible that the Latin translation "locum tenens" predates the Norman French term "lieutenant." Since all of the earliest examples in the OED are from Scotland and Barbour's "Bruce" has "luftenand" in the middle of the 14th century, it appears that the "Lefftenant" pronunciation was already in use at that time. Even so, the Old French word for lieu was "luef." In the USA, the British pronunciation was still prevalent in 1793, but by 1893, it had all but disappeared outside of military circles. This could be explained by the impact of non-British immigrants pronouncing a word with blatantly French origins using standard French pronunciation.

    St. Monans, Fife's Ross Turner

  • When English first emerged as a language, the letters "V" and "U" were essentially interchangeable. If the word "Lieutenant" had been spelled "Lievtenant," the pronunciation might have persisted.

    US-based Charles Peters, Front Royal

  • The British are strange

    Jon from Cambria, USA

  • When Leutenant Mark Lefting was hurt in a battle in the 1800s, his men assumed he was already dead and left him there when they couldn't find him. When he arrived at camp the following day, he went to the colonel's office and the Colonel asked him his name. One of his wounds was a stab wound to the mouth that partially mangled his tongue. Because of his wound, his pronunciation of "leutenant," the name's connection to "lefting," and the fact that he was abandoned on the battlefield, he called himself a "leftenant." The word "leutenant" was changed to "leftenant" by that battalion. I guess as word of the story spread, it just sort of stuck.

    Burntisland, Scotland's Calum Blake

  • In Webster's dictionary, Lieutenant Leftenant is not included. Due to the way it's spelled, I assume that in the US we say "loo-tenant." Webster's says to pronounce Lieu as "loo."

    Rob L., USA, Baltimore

  • The word "loo" refers to a toilet in British slang, which is widely used. They probably don't want to convey that a leftenant is someone who lives in a toilet, as in loo-tenant.

    Colorado's Broomfield, Sean Eriswell

  • You raise a valid point regarding the entire "loo" component of it.

    North Las Vegas, USA native Matt Amsden

  • Because it is our language, we are free to say it however we please. And why do these Americans always refer to British English and a British version of it? English is the language being used. Washington may be where you want to rule the world, but English is still spoken there. It's time you all reviewed your Spanish.

    Peter Charles, from England's London

  • I feel ashamed to be British because of my fellow Brit's intolerant attitude toward Americans. No American comment on this page has ever received such a harsh rebuke. Have some manners

    UK-based William Franklin

  • This short narrative provides yet another clear justification for the pronunciation's inserted "F." When I was a student many years ago, I took a summer job working in my neighborhood greengrocer's shop. A busy day came to an end when a woman with a hatchet face entered. After taking a moment to look around, she said, "I'd like a savoy cabbage please." ” I apologized and said, "Madam, we've run out of cabbage today; would you like a cauliflower?" The woman exhaled heavily and said, "But I want a savoy cabbage," Again, the lady huffed and puffed and repeated now in a very cross tone that suggested the shortage was my fault. I tried to sound sympathetic and retorted, "I'm sorry, it's been a very busy day and we have no cabbage, would you like to try some broccoli?" However, she continued to huff and puff. I stated that I desired a savoy cabbage. Again attempting to be of assistance, I said, "I'm sorry madam," and added, "How about some spinach or chard?" The woman then lost all control of her temper and nearly spat out the words, slowly and cruelly, "I told you I wanted a savoy S" (#148). A… V…O… Y cabbage, you moron. I gave her a careful look and said, "Madam, I told you we have no C…A…B…B…A…F…G… E cabbage She glared at me, saying, "You idiot, there's no F in cabbage." 'Madam, that's what I've been trying to tell you for the past five minutes,' I said slowly in response. ”

    London, UK native Tony Hastings

  • To be clear, Americans speak proper English, not British English. It is rhotic in English. Everyone spoke English like Americans do today during the American Revolution. The British started pronouncing their R's incorrectly after the American Revolution in an effort to stand out and appear to be of a higher class. Now, British English is NOT traditional English; it is a non-rhotic language like Boston English.

    Ben, USA, Denver

  • Personally, I believe that regardless of tradition, you shouldn't pronounce it "left-tenant" simply because it lacks the letter F. You sound like a damaged brain,

    Steve, Canada, Hamilton

  • What about "Aluminum" instead of the British English original "Aluminium"? "jelly" instead of "jam," "color" instead of "color," and "gray" instead of "grey" You'll probably discover that American English is a simplified and distorted (again, "s" rather than "z") form of British English. US citizens spelling the language phonetically rather than how it was originally written and pronounced have made any changes to the English language in America. A man named Noah Webster authored an American English dictionary in the 1700s. In an effort to distinguish the newly independent Americans from the English, he deliberately spelled words differently. It is utter ignorance to claim that British English speakers don't speak authentic English. The vast majority of English people continue to speak this language, which was developed here. The only variations are regional accents, which you will undoubtedly encounter in American English as well. I was raised by a military family and I pronounce Lieutenant as Leftenant. Although I have never been able to determine the cause of the spelling/pronunciation difference, I would imagine that there have been numerous words that have been written or spoken differently over the course of hundreds of years of military history. The Roman Latin tradition of using the letter "V" instead of the letter "U" seems to be the basis for the majority opinion.

    Manchester, England Amanda

  • I can spell words in the US using phonetic spelling, such as "manoeuvre" or "maneuver," and I understand that the a and the e are interchangeable, but I don't understand why our words sound so differently when they are spoken. Since we descended from you, our accents ought to still reflect that; after all, accents don't change overnight, and they most certainly don't deviate from themselves. Fun fact: General American is the name given to American English and all of its accents.

    Bryan, United States of America

  • Oh, for goodness' sake, mature, please. (Some of you made some wise comments above; the anally retentive chauvinists above know who they are; not all of you.) Visit this link to hear Mr. Fry speak: youtube com/watch and leave feeling extremely ashamed of yourselves.

    Icod, Dario Spain

  • That "u"/"v" explanation is excellent. The name "Zerviah" belonged to some of my ancestors from New England in the 18th century, though it frequently appears as "Zeruiah" (which is nearly impossible to pronounce). All languages have been changing for thousands of years, in my opinion. consider vowel shift Despite the fact that pronouncing "lieu" as "left" sounds ridiculous, I don't mind if the British do. I respect your right to express yourself however you want. BUT that doesn't imply that the rest of us are stupid dummies. In order to dispel the notion that I don't adhere to strict grammar rules, I always ask, "Am I not? as opposed to "Aren't I" It certainly causes some confused looks, but they're frequently followed by an "ah-ha" nod. ;-)

    US citizen Ann McReynolds, Saint Louis

  • Accents in the American South can still sound a lot like English accents, especially in coastal areas like Mobile and Charleston. Despite the fact that Appalachian accents are much twangier, some claim that Elizabethan English was very similar to Appalachian speak. But I must admit, the person who claimed that Americans and Britons intentionally changed their accents because of jingoism is pretty much a complete moron, lol. He must be a right-winger attempting to fabricate a false version of history. At the time, the British were much more worried about a guy named Napoleon than they were about us. More than anything, we wounded the Royal Navy's pride. Pride that they quickly reclaimed during the Napoleonic war Personally, I prefer the Latin explanation of the u/v Additionally, early Americans like George Washington were greatly influenced by French military theory, and at that time, we were quite friendly with them. Not that we're not right now. That might be connected to the issue. I mean, if Lafayette had been shouting "Looo-tenant" to a group of disobedient farmers at Valley Forge, I could see that becoming popular.

    USA, David, Birmingham

  • Military protocol dictates that a lower ranking soldier always walks to the left of a senior officer. This courtesy emerged when swords were still employed in combat. The lower-ranking soldier on "left" guarded the left side of the senior officers. Consequently, the term "leftenant" emerged.

    Debbie from Manchester, USA

  • Considering that's what it ought to be called Americans altered it to fit their peculiar conception of the ideal language.

    England's Saffron Walden, Sid

  • There's nothing worse than a bunch of egos airing their views. When you need her, where is that Russian beauty who is "Hot for Words?"

    W Poehlmann III, Texas, Houston

  • Due to the widespread use of American English in movies and television, which is changing English usage in many ways, I believe that all of this will soon be academic. I personally have always said it as lieu-tenant because it just sounds more natural that way. I believe that many young people in the UK also practice this. Left - tenant will eventually lose its use in this context. As differences between languages are masked by global communication, language changes are accelerating. Regional accents will always produce some anomalies, but those instances where pronouncing a word as spelled makes sense, like lieutenant, will vanish.

    Jenny, a Welsh native.

  • The head tenant was on the left, the head knight was on the right, and the head of the manor was in the middle during a battle in medieval times. The head tenant was able to hire a knight to run in his place as his wealth increased. After that, his chosen person became known as the "leftenant."

    Michael T Campbell River, BC, Prosser Canada

  • I came here to find a solution. Instead, I discovered about 20 different solutions. Still baffled

    Peggy, a US citizen from Alaska

  • As I previously stated, I believe it had to do with the U and V's inconsistent spelling and pronunciation. I also believe that up until the American Revolution, the English pronunciation was "leftenant." However, the Americans started pronouncing it as "loo-tenant," either to set themselves apart from the British or to improve communication with their French allies.

    Doncaster, UK, Kate

  • The correct response is that it was said in its original form. But I'm sorry to say that I won't be responding with a comment. I'm writing to apologise to the British on behalf of the Americans who DO appreciate other cultures and are NOT narrow-minded. I apologize for some of the crude remarks some American respondents made. We're not all simple-minded dummies. I believe that language is a reflection of culture, and I admire your culture as well as your language and pronunciation.

    Aisha, USA, Raleigh

  • I was wondering why the British pronounce it that way. I fail to comprehend all the negative remarks. I'm relieved to now understand why it is pronounced in that way, and I appreciate the information. I find it fascinating when accents from different countries come together. The year 2013 Do you not believe that it is time to put our swords—or in this case, our hateful words—away?

    Pittsburgh, US, Tammy

  • Although I believe those addressing the old U and V issue are on the right track, I believe a more compelling argument can be made that lieu was originally spelled luef in old French. Still, the word was pronounced loo. This would imply that the word was originally French and that the leftenant pronunciation is the result of poor transliteration in the middle ages.

    Jason, US, Las Vegas

  • I like watching the conflict between the British and Americans over who is the "proper" English. As I'm sure there are people from the UK who make people from that country cringe, there are some Americans who make me cringe when I hear them speak. No more than Tony Blair sounds like Russell Brand do I sound like a country bumpkin. Having said that, my best guess is that the pronunciation differences result from the translation from French. P S Do yourself a favor and pick up an Oxford English Dictionary, the man who referred to Webster's English Dictionary said. :)

    Washington, DC, USA, Mike

  • It is possible to express technical, poetical, spiritual, and esoteric ideas in English thanks to its elastic properties and influences from the Nordic, Germanic, Arabic, Latin, and Greek languages, among others. We should be grateful to the British for preserving our language and establishing New York; otherwise, we would still be speaking Dutch in New Amsterdam.

    Mat, U of Parma S

  • Actually, Ben from Denver, who claimed that British people used to speak like Americans, is a moron, and David from Birmingham is flatly mistaken in calling him that. Actually, he's right. Here is a link to a comprehensive article explaining everything: http://mentalfloss The idea that the change in pronunciation is the result of nationalist jingoism is somewhat misguided because it was more of a way for the educated upper class to set themselves apart from the uneducated poor. but it did help to sweeten the deal that they sounded "posher" than their colonial cousins (with whom they had just fought TWO brutal wars). The connection between u/v Old French and the original "leftenent" problem is the widely accepted explanation, but despite this, there seems to be some doubt about the veracity of this theory. It's amusing that you brought up how some American Southerners and Appalachians speak with an Elizabethan accent. Due to the rhotic nature of Elizabethan pronunciation, it actually sounds more like Northern Irish or Cornish than American Southern. Check out this YouTube link for a fantastic example of Elizabethan Pronunciation, which was used more than 200 years before the RP non-rhotic pronunciation gained popularity. youtube com/watch v=gPlpphT7n9s

    Ian, USA (New York)

  • Just three quick points:-1/ Lieutenant is pronounced Lieutenant in the Royal Navy How do you define British English? 3. It's fortunate that Ben from Denver is not a native of Dover.

    Whitley Bay, England, Baz

  • 2. A commissioned officer just below a lieutenant commander in the British and Canadian navies - taken from Free Dictionary com

    USA, Reading, MA, Nicole H.

  • I have no idea, but I really like how the British pronounce some words, like schedule, because it sounds so much more appropriate.

    Nanette Y American Mitchell, Fredericksburg

  • It appears that Ben was correct that the Revolutionary War did not mark the boundary between British and American pronunciation, but in my opinion, this is due to the U/V sound being interchangeable at the time. The Revolutionary War Theory can be found at: http://www livescience com/33652-americans-brits-accents html

    P Melrose, US-based Swansboro

  • Thank you to all the kind people who appreciate dialogue. We cannot learn from one another if we can't exchange questions with one another.

    Ann, USA, Los Angeles

  • The Celts, who were probably influenced by Phoenician sailors and explorers, brought about the most fundamental changes to English. For more information, see John McWhorter's "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue." The Semites (Phoenicians and/or Hebrews) and the Latin Romans swapped the letters v and u, but the French do not. I believe it makes sense for a person to stand to the left of his commanding officer; this is how the term "left" entered the conversation, albeit only verbally. A mini-etymology can be found in every word, which gives English its beauty and zaniness. Simplifying it would be dishonest and lazy. Although the original Latin did not have a u, we did not acquire the word "color" directly from Rome; rather, we acquired it through France. Moreover, Americans need to stop demonizing the French because the United States wouldn't exist today if Benny Franklin hadn't asked King Louis for assistance in 1775. You wouldn't exist without them, and the War of 1776 is long over. Likewise, don't hate on the British or English either.

    George Pope, Canada, Richmond

  • Why do people always pronounce Coxswain or Colonel as "Kernel"? Language is constantly changing, both in terms of how it is spoken and written. People from the commonwealth typically pronounce "lef-tenant" due to the U being mistaken for a V during the middle ages, which led to the development of an F sound. Military terms typically retain their quirks due to a desire to uphold traditions, in contrast to other words that have been standardised to read more phonetically (especially true in the United States). Regarding the rhotic accents, e It should be noted that their decline in England is a relatively recent phenomenon (e.g., pronouncing the R in Water incorrectly). Here is a diagram of 1950s rhotic accents: upload wikimedia org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/RhoticEngland png, but the current appearance is as follows: http://en wikipedia org/wiki/File:RhoticEngland2 png

    London, UK Elijah

  • We now have a thoughtful and insightful response from an American, who declares: "The Brits are weird." I appreciate you sharing that, Einstein. Don't you have a chat show where you can go off and "whoop woo"?

    British Tel McCormack, Rochdale

  • I was just curious, but everything I read above was both interesting and enlightening. Thank you

    USA, Bastrop, KM

  • From ST Pauls, Bryan, "off of" Bryan, I hope you didn't say "off." Off of is grammatically and completely incorrect. Of ways to demonstrate ownership

    Auckland, New Zealand native Peter

  • However, I will say that watching an American movie with subtitles will result in more symmetry than watching a movie in the Queen's language. More of a hunch than a fact

    A J Queens, New York City, United States

  • WOW There are so many opposing viewpoints out there. Some contributors have simply repeated rumors or old wives' tales that they have heard. I'm about to look at a reliable website.

    Lee, Laie, USA (Hawaii)

  • Left versus lieu Let's just make them all captains and call it a day." About as far as nationalist claims about the language can go is that it is called English because it originated in England. The fact that it is a universal language benefits everyone. Even though there are variations in spelling and pronunciation, isn't it wonderful that so many people can communicate with one another and thus come to a shared understanding?

    Oxford, UK, GB

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