Duergar, erinyes, sahuagin, and yuan-ti: how to say it

I love etymology and lexicography. I even specialized in it at uni. So this post is a bit of nerd-out for me: an unofficial pronunciation guide for D&D.  

A few disclaimers:

  1. There is no standard way to transcribe pronunciation. Well, actually, there is – the International Phonetic Alphabet – but it’s probably not fair to assume that everyone is proficient with it, and I don’t want to put people off. (Perhaps the most annoying sound of all to transcribe is the schwa, the ‘neutral’ vowel sound like the ‘a’ in ‘about’. I generally write this as ‘uh’.)
  2. The game’s creators are American. I am British. This matters. There are considerable pronunciation differences between our two countries. For example, Americans tend to pronounce the final ‘r’ in words like ‘hard’ and ‘butter’, and their vowels are different, too. We say tomato, they say tomato. Neither is ‘right’: they’re just different pronunciations. But I have a bias towards British pronunciations which may come through.
  3. This is obviously not going to be an exhaustive list. For one thing, I’m probably going to steer clear of setting-specific characters and place names, because that’s a whole other article. So if you came here for Drizzt: sorry. If it’s part of general D&D lore, though – for instance, there’s a sourcebook named after Mordenkainen – I might include it.
  4. I in no way claim to be ‘definitive’ or ‘official’ here, and sometimes it isn’t possible to pin down a single pronunciation. For example, D&D Beyond has an official pronunciation guide for many of its monsters, but some of these pronunciations are not in keeping with ‘official’ pronunciations elsewhere, such as Sage Advice and Dragon magazine. Sometimes the D&D pronunciation contradicts the real-world pronunciation of a word. We must make do and mend.
  5. I am not a prescriptivist. Different gamers say things in different ways, and that’s OK. If we start chasing ‘correct’ pronunications, what counts as ‘correct’? The consensus, even if it’s unofficial? The historical, even if no one says it? The phonetic, even if it makes no etymological sense? The official, even when it’s inconsistent? Language evolves. Unclench.
  6. I do not claim to be a perfect researcher. If misquote, misattribute, or misrepresent anyone here, please let me know in the comments and I will edit accordingly. My main sources have been D&D Beyond, this post on EN World, Wikipedia, and every online dictionary I could find.

I thought about sorting these entries by category, but it’s easier just to do it alphabetically. After all, there are some entries that fit into multiple categories: ‘drow’ is both a ‘monster’ and a ‘race’, for example. If I have missed something, or you want to tell me why I am Wrong with a capital ‘w’, feel free to explain why in the comments below.

Scroll for Initiative’s unofficial pronunciation guide

Aarakocra. Stress on the third syllable: aah-ruh-KOKE-ruh.

Aasimar. I would love to know the etymology of this one. D&D Beyond has AAH-si-mar. I’ve heard some people say AZ-ih-mar, but the D&D Beyond pronunciation makes more sense phonetically.

Arcana. I believe there are two pronunciations here: ah-KAH-nuh, with the ‘ah’ like the ‘a’ in ‘father’, and ‘ah-KANE-uh’ (like arcane with an ‘uh’ on the end). The original Latin word, arcanus, is closer to the first, but most dictionaries prefer the second pronunciation.

Asmodeus. Can be pronounced az-muh-DEE-us or ass-MO-dee-us is also offered. The first is listed more often than the second, though.

Augury. The first syllable is an ‘aw’ sound like British ‘caught’. AW-gyuh-ree.

Bahamut. In Arabic mythology, Bahamut is a legendary fish. An angel, holding the earth on its shoulders, stands on a slab of gemstone, which is supported by a cosmic bull, and the fish Bahamut carries the bull. In Arabic, the stress is on the second syllable, and the last syllable rhymes with root: buh-HAH-moot.  But in D&D, the last syllable is a neutral vowel sound (buh-HAH-mut).

Basilisk. Is it an ‘s’ or a ‘z’ sound? Both are acceptable. BAS-i-lisk.

Balor. Marisha Ray says BAY-lor on D&D Beyond, and this is probably the consensus. In the original Irish, though, the pronunciation may have been BAL-or or even BAWL-er according to this Redditor. Irish speakers, please put us right!

Behemoth. From Arabic to Hebrew, Behemoth is a beast in the Book of Job (which, while we’re at it, is assonant with code, not cob). It’s a tricky one. It does not rhyme with ‘moth’ and only one of the ‘e’s is pronounced as an ‘ee’ sound. Two options: ‘bi-HEE-muth’ or ‘BEE-uh-muth’. Correspondingly, froghemoth is ‘FROG-HEE-muth’.

Belial. Diablo 3 had me saying ‘be-LY-ul’, but BEE-lee-ul is the most common pronuciation.

Blackguard. Pronounced ‘blaggart’. Comes up in Shakespeare quite a bit.

Brazier. Two pronunciations: one rhymes with Frasier, like the TV show, and the other rhymes with ‘lazier’. Definitely, definitely does not sound like brassiere.

Bulette. In Dragon 93, Frank Mentzer suggested that this should be pronounced boo-LAY, and honestly, this just makes no sense to me. The -ette suffix is almost always pronounced ‘et’ in English (and indeed French, where it comes from), and the latest ‘official’ pronunciations on D&D Beyond have seen sense: bul-ET.

Cant. As in thieves’. Rhymes with ‘pant’, not ‘can’t’.

Carceri. Italian for ‘prisons’ (think ‘incarcerate’), and in Italian it would be pronounced ‘KAR-tshuh-ree’. Chris Perkins goes with an ‘s’ sound, however: KAR-suh-ree. Chains of Carceri is a 15th-level eldritch invocation for warlocks.

Charlatan. One of the backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook, the ‘ch’ is pronounced like a ‘sh’: SHAR-luh-tun.

Chasme. KAZ-may according to D&D Beyond, but KAZ-mee has been listed as a pronunication before.

Chimera. A monster from Greek mythology and now an English word in its own right. D&D Beyond has ky-MAIR-uh, but most dictionaries have MEER for the stressed syllable (rhymes with near). Can also be a short ‘kih’ instead of the diphthong ‘kai’, and Cambridge dictionaries online place the stress on the first syllable to make KIM-uh-ruh. Take your pick. (Did you know that Greek mythology is the single biggest source of D&D monsters?)

Cuirass. Two syllables, emphasis on the second: the first is like the ‘qui’ in ‘quick’, and the second rhyme with ‘gas’. Kwi-RASS.

Dhampir. In the folklore of the Balkans, a dhampir is the result of a union between a vampire and a human. In Albanian, the ‘dh’ is a voiced ‘th’ sound like in ‘breathe’ and ‘father’. The stress is on the second syllable, which is pronounced like the English word ‘pier’ (not like the ‘pyre’ in vampire). Thus: ‘tham-PEER’. But hey, Todd Kenreck knows more about vampires than I do, and he, like many others, says ‘DAM-peer’. They were introduced to D&D as a playable race in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. Blade, the Marvel character, is a dhampir.

Dracolich. DRAK-o or DRAY-ko? D&D Beyond goes with the former, which is closer to the original Greek, but DRAY-ko is how the prefix is usually pronounced in English (and how Draco Malfoy is pronounced in the Harry Potter series). As for the -lich bit: see below.

Drow. Rhymes with ‘how’, although at least one official pronunciation guide has it rhyming with ‘low’.

Duergar. Yeesh, where to start? Duergar and dwarf have the same etymological root: Old Norse dvergr (of which dvergar was actually the plural). In English folklore, the duergar are a race of dwarves associated with the Simonside Hills in Northumberland. According to Chris Perkins, there are two canonical pronunciations: one is ‘DEW-er-gar’ (which yod-droppers might pronounce as ‘DOO-er-gar’) and the other is ‘DWAIR-gar’, the first syllable rhyming with ‘where’. If you’re still not sure, go with ‘grey dwarf’.   

Erinyes. A tricky one. The singular, Erinys, has three short ‘i’ sounds like the vowel in ‘sit’: ‘ih-RIN-iss’. In the plural – Erinyes – this becomes ‘ih-RIN-ih-eez’. This is not how it is pronounced on D&D Beyond, though, where Marisha Ray says ‘air-RIN-yeez’. If you still can’t manage it . . . say ‘furies’.

Falchion. Turns out I’ve been mispronouncing this one for years. The first vowel sound is like the ‘aw’ in ‘fraud’, although Americans might say this more like the ‘o’ in ‘cot’ (Brits pronounce cot and caught differently). The ‘ch’ can be either a ‘tch’ or a ‘sh’. Stress on the first beat. FAWL(T)-shun.

Firbolg. In medieval Irish myth, the Fir Bolg (‘men of bags’) are the fourth of six pre-Celtic peoples to settle the island of Ireland. D&D Beyond has ‘FEER-bolg’, but I’m pretty sure the Irish would be ‘FEE-uh-BUH-lug’. If I am wrong, though, please do correct me.

Geas. Another Irish word. I believe this one is ‘gesh’ with a hard ‘g’. There is a similar word in Scottish Gaelic, where it is pronounced ‘kesh’.

Gelatinous. As in, you know, cube. The ‘g’ is a soft ‘dj’ sound: jeh-LAT-in-us.

Genasi. Hard or soft ‘g’? ‘Eye’ or ‘ee’? And where’s the stress? According to Chris Perkins, it is ‘jeh-NAH-see’, and that’s the Matt Mercer pronunciation on D&D Beyond.

Halberd. Contrary to popular opinion, the second part of the word sounds more like ‘bud’ than ‘bird’. HAL-bud.

Illithid. Fairly straightforward, but where does the stress fall? According to Mentzer, on the middle syllable: ih-LITH-id. Mike Mearls, however, says ILL-i-thid.

Ioun. The goddess of knowledge, prophecy, and skill in the Greyhawk setting, after whom the magic stones are named. Frank Mentzer’s guide in Dragon magazine gives us AI-oon – the first syllable pronounced like the pronoun ‘I’ – but I’ve always felt compelled to put the stress on the second syllable personally.

Juiblex. For years I thought the name was spelled Jubilex and mispronounced it accordingly. There isn’t an up-to-date ‘official’ pronuncation, but Frank Mentzer offers JOO-bleks or ZHOO-bleks (zh being the sound in the middle of treasure). I’m fine with this . . . but what happened to the ‘i’? Does anyone else say ZHWEE-bleks, or is it just me?

Kenku. KEN-koo? keng-KOO? Both are listed as accepted pronunciations by Mentzer, although KEN-koo is what Marisha Ray says on D&D Beyond.

Kuo-toa. Fish people! According to D&D Beyond, the spelling is pretty phonetic: KOO-oo TOH-uh. For some reason, I always wanted to pronounce the first consonant like a ‘q’.

Lich. Rhymes with ‘witch’, not ‘wish’. Lic is an Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word for a corpse. The English cathedral city of Lichfield follows this pronunciation, although its etymology is probably derived from Letocetum, a nearby Romano-British village.  

Lycanthrope. From Greek lykos (wolf) and anthropos (human). The primary stress is on ‘ly’ (like ‘lie’) and the secondary stress is on ‘thrope’ (rhymes with ‘soap’). LY-kun-THROPE. However, when talking about the disease – lycanthropy – the stress moves to the second syllable: ly-KAN-thro-pee.

Manes. In Roman mythology, this would be MAY-neez, but on D&D Beyond, Matt Mercer pronounces it like the plural of mane.

Melee. In the original French, this would be written mêlée and pronounced a bit like ‘meh-lay’: the first vowel is like the ‘e’ in ‘bed’ (in RP and General American), and the second ‘e’ is like a shortened ‘ay’. French doesn’t really have stress, so you can see all sorts of variants: MEH-lay, meh-LAY, MAY-lay, may-LAY . . . and honestly, I’m not sure any of them are ‘wrong’ at this point. MEE-lee might raise a few eyebrows, though.

Mezzoloth. Traditionally the mezzo- part was pronounced like the Italian word: MET-zo. However, Matt Mercer on D&D Beyond says ‘MEZ-zo-loth,’ so take your pick.

Mordenkainen. Gary Gygax derived the name from Finnish and pronounced it mor-dun-KAY-nen, but in Finnish the name would be closer to MOR-den-kai-nen.

Myconid. Hard ‘c’, as with mycology, the study of mushrooms: MY-kuh-nid.

Naga. Long first vowel, like the ‘a’ in British father. NAA-guh, not NAG-uh.

Otyugh. I always pronounced this as two syllables – OT-yug – but Marisha Ray on D&D Beyond says O-tee-yug and it’s growing on me. Frank Mentzer’s guide in Dragon 93 was closer to my original pronunciation, though.

Paladin. Emphasis on the first syllable: PAL-uh-din. Does not rhyme with Aladdin.

Prestidigitation. A mouthful, but pretty phonetic. There are two secondary stresses (which I will mark in italics) and one primary stress: presti-didji-TAY-shun.

Revivify. In revive, the ‘ive’ rhymes with ‘dive’ and ‘hive’. Not so with revivify: the ‘i’s here are all short, like in ‘give’. ri-VIV-i-fy.

Sahuagin. There have been two canonical pronunciations over the years: sah-HWAH-gin and suh-HOO-uh-gin. The latter is what you will hear Matt Mercer say on D&D Beyond, although he personally prefers the former! Why not avoid the difficulty and say ‘sea devil’.

Satyr. I can see why people might want to pronounce the last syllable like ‘ear’, but it’s actually a schwa sound, like the ‘a’ in ‘about’: SAT-uh. If you’re British, satyr rhymes with matter. D&D Beyond has something that sounds like SAY-duh.

Scimitar. There are two pronunciations, one ending ‘uh’ (schwa) and one ‘ar’. I’m not sure which is British and which is American. Either way, the ‘c’ is silent: SIM-i-tuh/tar.

Shaman. I have seen three pronunciations listed in dictionaries – SHAH-man, SHAY-man, and SHAM-un – and I’m not confident which is preferred in the UK and which in the US. Feel free to update me in the comments. The word is originally from Evenki, a language spoken in Eastern Sibera, and entered English via Russian and German.

Shillelagh. Another Irish word: shuh-LAY-lee.

Sigil. If you are talking about an arcane sign or symbol, the ‘g’ is soft, like ‘dj’: SIDGE-ul. However, as a joke, the City of Doors is pronounced with a hard ‘g’ because someone on the design team pronounced it that way: si-GILL.

Simulacrum. Huh: turns out I’ve been mispronouncing this one for years. The ‘a’ is an ‘ay’: sim-yoo-LAY-krum. The plural is simulacra, but simulacrums is also seen.

Succubus. Stress on the first syllable, and the final vowel is neutral: SUK-yoo-bus. At the risk of getting a bit 18+, the word has an interesting etymology. Succubus derives from the Latin succubare – to lie beneath – while incubus derives from incubare: to lie on top. Make of that what you will.

Svirfneblin. Emphasis on the second syllable but otherwise as you would expect: svirf-NEB-lin.

Tabaxi. The official pronunciation currently is tah-BAK-see. You can hear Marisha Ray saying it like this on D&D Beyond. Here’s a fun bit of lore from 1993, though: leopard tabaxi say it with an ‘s’ – tah-BAK-see – whereas jaguar tabaxi say it with a ‘sh’: tah-BAK-shee.

Tarrasque. Stress on the second syllable: tuh-RASK. You can really hear Matt Mercer enjoying this one.

Tiefling. Emphasis on the first syllable, which rhymes with ‘thief’. Derived from German tief (‘deep, low’) and the suffix ‑ling (‘offspring’). Coined by Wolfgang Baur, founder of Kobold Press.

Wyvern. A lot of people seem to say WIV-un, but WY-vern is the only historical pronunciation I’ve come across, and this is what D&D Beyond goes with.

Yuan-ti. Oh boy. Here we go. There seems to be a fairly firm consensus that this is three syllables: ‘you’, ‘an’, ‘tee’. What I can’t confirm is where the stress lies. In the official D&D Beyond pronunciation, it sounds as if Matt Mercer is putting the stress on ‘you’. On Twitter, Chris Perkins puts the stress on ‘an’. In Dragon 93 (p 30), the stress is on the final ‘tee’. Take your pick. Or, you could just get round it by saying ‘snake people’.

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4 thoughts on “Duergar, erinyes, sahuagin, and yuan-ti: how to say it

  1. Always find pronunciation interesting

    Is that really the vowel in the third syllable of Aarakocra? I’ve been pronouncing it more like KOK than KOKE. Same with asmodeus, I’ve been pronouncing it more like DAY than DEE.

    I actually ran a reddit poll a while back about the pronunciation of Lich and the results were basically what I expected. Of the 835 people who gave a non-“other” answer 791 (95%) said /lɪtʃ/ and 36 (4%) said /lɪx/ and no other pronunciations seemed to have any significant usage.

    Also wait I’ve been pronouncing Satyr exactly the same as “satire” my whole life is that wrong?

    1. I would have said ‘kok’ over ‘koke’, too, but if you listen on D&D Beyond, it’s clearly a ‘koke’ sound.

      Asmodeus has provoked a lot of discussion! I ended up doing quite a bit of research over it. Interestingly, the name is not biblical, and it’s believed to derive from Avestan, an ancient Iranian language (where it meant something like ‘wrath demon’). Most dictionaries offer az-muh-DEE-us as the pronunciation, but Frank Mentzer’s guide offers az-mo-DAY-us and az-MOH-dee-us. Jury’s out!

      ‘Lich’ is one of the ones I am most confident about, yet I hear lots of players say ‘lish’. As for ‘satyr’: yep, does not rhyme with ‘satire’! But hey, in your world, maybe it does, and that’s OK 🙂

  2. This list is great – thanks for all the work you put into it! When I first came across the word “geas”, I looked up its pronunciation, and I’m sure I found that it has two syllables – that’s certainly the way I’ve pronounced it ever since.

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