If Heat rhymes with Peal, shouldn’t Heart rhyme with Pearl?

Don’t expect too much from English spelling. Small words can be full of mystery. Heart for example. It’s one of those tricksy words whose pronunciation is impossible to guess from its spelling alone.

Does heart rhyme with hear? Or bear? Perhaps year? Surely heart rhymes with heard? Do any of them rhyme with each other? Sorry. No. The only way to be sure about the pronunciation of an English word is to get a native English speaker to sing it for you. British or American. Or one of each. How about Gene Pitney & Marc Almond with Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart? What does heart rhyme with in the song?

Got it – heart rhymes with apart. It sounds like hart. Well, well, well.  You can blame heart’s perplexing spelling on the Great Vowel Shift. You can blame a lot of puzzling English spelling on the Great Vowel Shift.

Never, ever take English spelling for granted.

Don’t expect the same letters to make the same sounds everywhere in English. Don’t ‘read’ the words in your head as you sing them.  If you pronounce English words exactly as they’re spelt, you’re heading for disaster.

  • When you cover a song listen carefully to the original version.
  • Ignore what your brain is telling you about how a word ‘should’ sound. Listen to how it does sound.
  • Relax.  Just listen.
  • If the true sound is different to what you expected, listen and listen until your brain registers the right sound.
  • Trust your ears.
  • Trust Gene Pitney.
  • Don’t trust English spelling.

If you’re worried that you might not remember how to pronounce a puzzling word like heart when you’re singing, try writing {hart} after the word heart on your lyric sheet. Plenty of English love songs have the word heart in them. It’s hard to avoid.

How does the word pearl sound? Ask Prince:

Write out any English word you’re not 100% sure about, exactly as it sounds to you, rather than as it’s spelt in English. Putting the word down in writing will stop you fretting about all its possible pronunciations and about whether you’ve got it wrong.

If you’re worried about getting a word wrong when you come to sing it, the stress will show in your voice. Your audience will feel it and you’ll unsettle them. So be sure of what you’re singing.

Relax. Listen with attention, not assumptions. Sing.


© Sing Better English, 2014



7 thoughts on “If Heat rhymes with Peal, shouldn’t Heart rhyme with Pearl?”

  1. ha! the great vowel shift… i wonder why that happened. seems to me like english and german had much more in common before 1300 CE, at least in the pronounciation. interesting! as always – thanks for sharing!


    1. Hmm. That’s interesting about German and English. Thinking about it, Middle English does have a more German friendly sound to it.

      Heart is a strange word really. It confuses a lot of singers – when English isn’t their first language. It looks like a random selection of vowels and, even when they know how it’s pronounced, they often worry that they’re going to forget how to say it when they’re reading it in new lyrics. When ‘hear’ is pronounced so differently and ‘bear’ so differently again, it’s a wonder anyone bothers to consider English spelling their friend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. thanks!!! wonderful reading i’ll bookmark for when i have the chance… there are still a couple books at home waiting patiently for my attention 😉

        this language thing is SO fascinating, i’ve told quite a few people about your blog already!!!


      2. ah! i am SO stuck under a rock when it comes to films… usually i catch up on them during trans-atlantic flights haha… but i love recommendations!

        hmm, reminds me of my song ‘where do you go (at night)’ a heart-wrenching piece about betrayal. not necessarily that he went to other women, but just had different ideologies and kept things from me…. such a secret second life that i never would have guessed hid under the surface…


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