Pronouncing Words That End in -lm

By Maeve Maddox

Not many one-syllable English words end in the letters -lm. Sometimes the l in them is pronounced; sometimes it isn’t.

Here’s a list of the most common -lm words, together with the pronunciation in the phonetic notation given at Answers.com. Many Americans pronounce all of these words with an l.

alms [ämz]
balm [bäm]
calm [käm]
elm [ĕlm]
embalm[ĕm-bäm’]
film [fĭlm]
helm [hĕlm]
palm [päm]
psalm [säm]
qualm [kwäm]
realm [rĕlm]
whelm [hwĕlm]

These pronunciations all agree with those given in the OED.

Additionally, the OED acknowledges U.S. pronunciations with the sound of l for palm, psalm, and qualm.

Merriam-Webster uses the symbol ] to indicate a sound that “facilitates the placement of variant pronunciation.” For example, ä]mz. This symbol, which seems to indicate an “almost l,” is used for the first pronunciation given for alms, balm, calm, embalm, palm, psalm, and qualm. The pronunciation with a full l sound is given as an alternate: also ]lm.

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4 Responses to “Pronouncing Words That End in -lm”

  • Jo

    ‘Almost l’ is a good way to describe that sound. It’s there, and you can hear it if the words are pronounced properly, but it’s not quite a full ‘l’ sound.

  • Rhonda

    “Almost l” – I love it! I didn’t realize the official pronunciations of some of these words did not include the “l” sound at all.

  • Elizabeth

    I have been asked (frequently) where I am from because they can hear an accent on certain words…. wow, proper english pronunciation is an accent!

  • venqax

    My understanding is that in an ALM combination, the L is silent but modifies the sound of the vowel Just like in the ALK combination. We don’t say TAWLK or WAWLK. Likewise, we’re supposed to say KAWM (calm), PAWM (palm), em-BAWM (embalm). Others I heard maintain that the A should be rendered OM. So balm should rhyme bomb. Palm pom, etc. But that position agrees that the L is silent in standard speech, and pronouncing it is at best dialectical. The word ALMOST I would assume is an exception due to its etymology.

    Notice in the examples above. This is just true of ALM, not of ELM or ILM, where the L is pronounced as spelled. I recall, too that the surname Holmes is properly rendered Homes.

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