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.
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.
4 thoughts on “Pronouncing Words That End in -lm”
‘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.
“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.
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!
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.