In a Dictionary, What Does a Line Over a Letter Mean?

A dictionary is a helpful resource for anyone. It can be a guide for someone trying to learn a new language, a tool for someone searching for a different vocabulary word or a reliable source for those who want to know the correct way to pronounce a word. Every dictionary has symbols and marks within it to help readers understand how to read a word. If you want to use the dictionary properly, then there are several symbols you should know. One of these symbols is a line over a letter in the pronunciation guide.

What Symbols Mean in the Dictionary

When reading the dictionary, you will notice different markings that indicate to the reader how to pronounce a certain letter, where the accent goes or when to give inflection to the word. Most of these symbols look like a mash-up of different squiggly lines, upside down letters or dots. The main symbols are:

  • A small "u" shape or "v" shape written over the letter: The short vowel sound, like the sound "i" makes in "kit."
  • Two dots above a letter: A long sound, like the sound "o" makes in "cop."
  • A line over a letter: The letter says its name.
  • The upside-down e: The vowels "a, e, i, o, u" are all pronounced with the same sound, which sounds like a short "uh."

All symbols go over vowel sounds, as that's how the main sound forms in a word. Vowel sounds are, of course, pronounced differently in each word, but these symbols indicate how to make the correct pronunciation. For instance, if you see two dots over the letter "a" in the word "father" then you know it should make a long sound, like "uuh."

A Line Over a Letter

A line over a letter in the dictionary is a "macron." When you see this over a letter ( ¯ ) it means that the vowel says its name. For instance, a line over the letter "i" would be pronounced like "eye" like in the word "pie," and a line over the letter "o" would be pronounced "oh" like in the word "toe." A line over the vowel "a" would be pronounced "ay" like in "stray," and a line over the letter "e" would be pronounced like "ee" in "tree."

Finally, the vowel "u" is a bit unique. Unlike the other vowels, when you see the pronunciation of the word written out, you won't see a "u" with a line over it where you think it should be. Instead, you'll see two o's with a line over them instead (o͞o), sometimes with the letter "y" before it. This is not to be confused with a word that has double o's, like the word "moot" which would have its pronunciation written out with the same symbol. You may also see a "u" with two dots over it.

Words in the Dictionary with a Line Over the Letter

If you've ever looked at words in the dictionary, you probably noticed the symbols but didn't really know what those meant. But, now that you know what certain symbols mean, you'll likely have a keen eye for it next time you open up a dictionary.

Examples

Caper: ˈkāpər

Meet: mēt

Mine: mīn

Photo: ˈfōdō

It's important to understand that not all dictionaries will follow the same pronunciation guide. So, where you might expect to see a vowel with a line over it, you may see another symbol instead.