Can you really count to five?


I’m quite sure that even people who are not very confident about their English in general would not hesitate to claim that they can of course count to five. However, if you take pronunciation into consideration, this is not be true for many of them. (This post was inspired by an announcement I recently heard on a train in which five was pronounced incorrectly.)

Let’s stick to tradition and start at the beginning.

1 – one

Most people get this one right but there are in fact two possible pronunciations: [wʌn] and [wɒn] (used by 70% and 30% of British English speakers, respectively, see the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary). To hear the different o sounds, click here and here.

2 – two

The pronunciation of two is straight-forward, namely [tuː], identical to the word too.

3 – three

This is where it’s getting tricky. The th is a major challenge for many nonnative speakers, as explained in detail in this post. Listen to the correct pronunciation [θriː] here.

4 – four

After the difficult number three, four is quite easy in comparison. The pronunciation is [fɔː(r)] (the r is for American English), identical to that of the strong form of for.

5 – five

Congratulations if you have made it so far, but there is one more obstacle to overcome. Unbeknown to virtually all German-speaking people, the v in five is not pronounced like the letter f at the beginning but like the v in seven. Hence, the correct pronunciation of five is [faɪv]. In fact, v in English is never pronounced as f, but there is a single word for which f is pronounced as v. If you want to know which word, read this post.