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Aural vs. oral

Oral things have to do with the mouth. For example, oral surgery involves surgery done in the mouth, and oral arguments are ones made by mouth (i.e., spoken instead of written).


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Aural has two main definitions: (1) of or relating to the ear and hearing, and (2) of or relating to the aura. As the noun aura is loosely defined and is mainly confined to a few esoteric subjects, the first sense is the more common one. Aural in this sense is synonymous with auditory.

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  1. Velvet Android says:

    Would be interested in knowing how most people tend to pronounce the first syllable of ‘aural’ — I think when I first came across the word I was led to understand it is said “oar–”, exactly as in ‘oral’, but that “our–” is an (equally?) acceptable pronunciation. Certainly I’d always use the latter, as it makes distinguishing the two an awful lot easier!

    • KuroBara says:

      This may just be me, but I’ve always pronounced ‘aural’ as ‘oar-al’, as you said, and ‘oral’ with a short ‘o’ sound, as in ‘orange’. I’ve never heard anyone pronounce it ‘our-al’, though that may just be a regional or national difference (I live in the UK). Of course, I’m not dismissing the idea that such a pronounciation of the word exists.
      I hope that helps. ^^

      • Velvet Android says:

        Interesting — I don’t know about regional or national differences; I live in south Wales, but I don’t think “our-al” is a local thing, just a personal one based on what seemed the best after hearing it used both ways on different occasions. I do know I’ve never heard of a short-O, “orange”-style pronunciation of ‘oral’ (presumably sounding the same as the town of Orrell in the Wigan area; are you from the northwest by any chance??), but that’s more grist to the mill — again, it’s what makes sense to one person based upon the different spellings and the need to differentiate the two related but separate terms… :)

        • I never thought of confusing the two; where I grew up, in various parts of Texas and Kansas in the United States, I’ve always thought of aural as pronounced “are-al,” though looking it up in the New Oxford American Dictionary on my Mac shows that I should pronounce both words the same.

          Like KuroBara, I pronounce oral with the short “o” like in orange.

          Looking back over this, I suppose I could fall in with those who pronounce aural as “our-al,” though I tend to think of “hour” and “our” as pronounced the same. The difference is I tend to think of “aur” as a shorter sound than “OWr”, as in a short “awR” sound.

          • Velvet Android says:

            Heh, more and more confusion — “are-al”? But another vote for the short-O “oral”! Of course, we can’t be sure, what with the transatlantic differences in vowel sounds, that we’re ‘hearing’ the exact same thing when we try to write things out phonetically here — bear in mind that a US pronunciation of “orange” (certainly a Californian one, judging by TV ads here recently for a brand of orange juice using their fruit, so probably a Texan/Kansas one too I’d imagine given that the vowels tend to be at least as elongated with Southern accents!) has a greater emphasis on the “or” sound than most British accents would put on it, where the O is very short. The American pronunciation of the syllable in “orange” does sound to my ears like the way I’d pronounce it in “oral”…which is not the same way I’d pronounce it in “orange” though! Maybe it’s an RP (Received Pronunciation: ‘standard’/Queen’s/Oxford/BBC English, or whatever you want to call it) thing, which is what my accent is more or less

            Surely “hour” and “our” are pronounced the same wherever you come from, so what was your point there Ben, can I ask!? I see what you mean about the shorter sound than “OWr” all the same, and I’d agree; I wasn’t implying that the “r” bit of that “our” in the pronunciation “our-al” is emphasised to the degree it would be in the standalone word.

          • Stephen LeMaitre says:

            Are-al… or more specifically Awe-ral… the initial au should be pronounced as it is in auger (which is NOT pronounced ogre).

            (Wish I could do schwa declarations in text… but no go).

            But this pronunciation, definitely; it makes sense from the spelling, it is clear and concise, and it differentiates cleanly from oral.

            Which should avoid many poor jokes about ‘get your dick out of your ear!’

  2. Aloysius Greenthumb says:

    Sorry but scrolling through the list and out of the corner of my eye I thought this one said anal vs. oral. Of course I assumed it was talking about thermometers…ahem. Oh, brain you devil, you!

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