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Marry vs. merry

  • Marry is a verb meaning (1) to become someone’s husband or wife, and (2) to officiate at a marriage ceremony. The adjective meaning jolly or festive is spelled merry, with an e. 


     

    Merry works as a noun in the verb phrase make merry, meaning to be festive or to celebrate, and it also appears in the compound noun merry-go-round.

    Though they are pronounced identically in some parts of the English-speaking world, the words are not related. Marry came to English in the 14th century from French and ultimately Latin sources.1 Merry has Germanic origins and has been in English in various forms for as long as the language has existed,2 but its modern spelling wasn’t settled until the 18th century.3

    Examples

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    While the contents of the first letter remained in her mind, she was all surprise—all astonishment that Wickham should marry a girl whom it was impossible he could marry for money. [Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)]

    Rose had been in high spirits, too, and they had walked on, in merry conversation, until they had far exceeded their ordinary bounds. [Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (1838)]

    Thus in Michigan it is provided that no man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, stepmother, grandfather’s wife, son’s wife, grandson’s wife, wife’s mother, wife’s grandmother, wife’s daughter, wife’s granddaughter, nor his sister, brother’s daughter, sister’s daughter, father’s sister, or mother’s sister. [Parsons’ hand-book of forms (1884)]

    Sometimes the Boosters’ lunches were given over to speeches; sometimes they were merry and noisy; and when they were noisy Candee was the noisiest. [Harper’s Magazine (1920)]

    Now she is being tipped as the girl most likely to marry Prince Charles and become the next Queen of England. [Sydney Morning Herald (1974)]

    Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism – the more the merrier, except nothing seems to make him truly merry. [Herald Scotland (2012)]

    Sources

    1. Marry in the OED
    2. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology  
    3. Merry in the OED


    Comments

    1. “Aside from their identical sound, the words are not related. ”

      Go get married in the Bronx and see how identical they sound. :) In many dialects, these are not homophones.

    2. try Glasgow, or Paisley for that matter.

    3. Where *are* they homophones?

      • Grammarist says:

        How are they pronounced where you live?

      • chickenfog says:

        Well, in California dialect they can be. I’m a CA native and was taught they are homophones. Mary was merry when she decided to marry. Yup, all sounds the same.

    4. It surprises me that marry and merry should be considered homophones. In England they are pronounced quite differently from each other.

      • Grammarist says:

        How do you pronounce them?

        • Yes they’re differently pronounced in British English. You can look them up in Oxford dict :)

          • Grammarist says:

            That’s true, but the pronunciations listed in Oxford and other dictionaries don’t always reflect how actual English speakers say words, and they’re too general to cover all dialects, which is why we would find it helpful if all the people commenting here would give us a little more information.

            • I suspect that in British English MARry sounds like MARch and MERry probably sounds like MIRror. But I could be wrong cuz I’m from Texas, which seems to have more homophones than most other places.

            • In Australia, its pronounced MArry like MAths, and MErry like MEga

            • Merry Mary says:

              Same in the South of England. Getting my Marylander boyfriend to say “Merry Mary, marry me” is a constant source of joy to me. (The mar- of Mary is pronounced mair, as in mare)

            • Grammarist says:

              Thanks!

        • “Anne from Essex” on Forvo pronounces them as I would: http://www.forvo.com/user/annefromessex/ (half way down first page – 2009/06/19)

          • Grammarist says:

            Thanks. Somehow we have never encountered that site before. Looks like it could be useful when we address pronunciation in the future.

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