Be Your Own Birder

How Do You Say Roseate?

Bird names can be difficult to pronounce, even when they look simple and made up of more familiar words. We all know how to pronounce “rose” and “ate” but there is a surprising amount of disagreement about how to pronounce those two words put together, whether you’re talking about the roseate tern or roseate spoonbill, the two birds in the world with this simple-not-simple word in their names.

Roseate Spoonbill – Photo by Marc Barrison

Roseate could sound like…

  • “rose eight” (rhymes with bait, crate, and fate)
  • “rose-EEE-eight”
  • “rose it” (rhymes with hit, mitt, and kit)
  • “rose-EEE-it”
  • “rose at” (rhymes with hat, fat, and drat)
  • “rose-EEE-at”

But which of these pronunciations is correct? According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition, the proper pronunciation is a 3-syllable one with the long EEE in the middle, but both “eight” and “it” are suitable for that third syllable. Other resources include the “at” tone for the last syllable as proper as well. Both American and British pronunciations find the “it” as the last syllable to be more common, though some British pronunciation guides favor both “it” and “eight” equally, while Australian pronunciations tend to use the “eight” as the final syllable.

For me personally, I use the 3-syllable pronunciation but tend to switch between “eight” and “it” when I’m referring to the bird, depending on my level of excitement and how I’m talking. I find both pronunciations comfortable, but I wouldn’t personally be comfortable with a 2-syllable option, though I would certainly understand the word should another birder use that pronunciation.

Fortunately, neither the tern nor the spoonbill really has a preference for what you call it – you could even call the tern a spoonbill or the spoonbill a tern and they wouldn’t mind. Different birders have different accents depending on their native languages and how many other languages they speak, when they learned different languages, their personal vocabulary level, and their own sense of elocution (expressive speech, pronunciation, and articulation). No matter which pronunciation you may use, so long as you make it clear which bird you are referencing, it’s the right pronunciation.

Roseate Tern – Photo by Scott Heron

How do you pronounce roseate? Share your pronunciation preferences in the comments!

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