Say tuple, not tupple!

The word tuple is derived from Latin and in mathematics means ‘an ordered set of elements’.

A tuple containing ‘n’ components is known as a n-tuple. For example, 4-tuple (or ‘quadruple’).

We are all familiar with these terms:

Single
Pair
Triple
Quadruple
Quintuple
Sextuple
Septuple
and so on..

We pronounce the ‘uple words with an ‘oo’ sound, like quadruple

kwo-droo-puhl

And not

kwo-druhp-uhl

Likewise, the pronunciation for ‘quintuple’ is

kwin-too-puhl

The only time the sound changes is when the suffix changes, like in quintuplet (to make it a noun), which is pronounced

kwin-tuhp-lit

In order for the ‘u’ in tuple to be pronounced as a ‘uh’ sound (like in supple) it should have a double-p. Just like ripple, tipple and of course, nipple.

But it doesn’t. It only has one.

Likewise, if the word as an ‘e’ on the end then the vowel is pronounced in full.

cap -> cape
met -> mete
sit -> site
dot -> dote
cub -> cube

So “tup” (pronounced “tuhp”), should be pronounced “tyoop” when you add an “e”.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule in English (that’s what helps make English great!), but there is a similar Latin-based word that might shed some light, duple (from the Latin “duplus” meaning twofold or double). This word is only pronounced one way and that is with the full ‘u’ sound (doo-puhl).

If that’s not enough to convince you, here are some examples where the middle vowel (like in duple and tuple) is pronounced as a long sounding vowel

cable
fable
gable
ladle
maple
noble
ruble
sable
table

So don’t be a dupe, learn to say tupe!

6 Responses to “Say tuple, not tupple!”


  • So now all you need to do is convince my Databases lecturer.

    Dang, maybe that’s why I can’t get the hang of databases.


    MC

  • But in n-tuple the vowel is proceeded by a single consonant. In your examples it is preceded by two or more consonants.

    The Shorter OED (2nd ed) gives the following pronunciation for the tup in quintuple:
    tj[upsidedown omega]p

    Where:

    j is y in yes

    upside down omega is supposedly oo in good or u in put or ou in should and is described as a short vowel sound (at pg xii).

    Exactly what this pronunciation sounds like I am not able to decipher.

    The Shorter OED also gives the following as acceptable for the “tup” in sextuple:
    ‘s[backwards epsilon]kstj[upsidedown omega]p([upside down e])l and
    s[backwards epsilon]ks’tju:p([upside down e])l

    Where
    u is oo in too or ue in glue

    colon indicates length

    ‘ is a primary stress mark

    upside down e is a in ago or er in gather or ah in cheetah

    It gives the same alternative pronunciations for septuple and octuple. It doesn’t have nonuple. It gives similar alternatives for quadruple (with r instead of t though)

    Frankly, I have never pronounced quintuple or sextuple with a y sound in it. Any my pronunciation of quintuple is closer to n-tuple than n-toople. I certainly don’t have any ah-as-in-cheetah before the l.

    It may be that the pronunciation of these words is not as settled as you’re assuming.

    Brendan

  • Thanks for the thoughts Brendan. Of course English is an ever changing language and so you can pronounce things however you like.

    Words like ‘octuple’ are pronounced like ‘octopus’ with an emphasis on the ‘o’, and it should have a long vowel (see http://dictionary.com for an example).

    Likewise, sextuple and septuple should have an emphasis on the ‘se’ not on the uple.

    If you put an emphasis on the ‘uple’ it will sound wrong and you will want to say ‘upple’.

    All these words should be pronounced with a long sounding ‘u’.

    But even if you don’t agree, words of the same form as tuple, like duple, table, sable, etc are all pronounced with a long vowel. Why would tuple be the odd one out?

  • My points were:
    * the dictionary gives multiple pronunciations (by the way, it says a primary stress (the apostrophe) on the second syllable is an acceptable pronunciation);
    * the dictionary pronunciations all include a y and an ah sound – which I don’t recall ever hearing – ie the dictionary doesn’t agree with me (or you, since you exclude second syllable stresses and don’t have a y sound) on pronunciation;
    * my usage of some of the example words (particularly quintuple, although the more I think about it others too) is not consistent with your pronunciation.

    So your *tuple examples are at least uncertain.

    I think your general argument eg supple is very appealing but not definitive. I suspect the reason it’s n-tuple and not n-toople is that the initial “n” makes the production of an oo sound more difficult.

    Miriam Webster gives “tuh”-ple as an acceptable pronunciation of quintuple (and sextuple).
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quintuple

    Maybe it’s a US thing?

    Brendan

  • Yeah, could be.

    Yes, some of those ‘tuple words could be pronounced with ‘tuhple and indeed the dictionary sometimes gives this as a secondary pronunciation. If you change the emphasis you kinda have to change the way you say the suffix.

    Anyway that aside, tuple (tyoople) on its own sounds more correct to me, especially when you consider other words like ‘duple’ (and any other similarly constructed word in English). I can’t think of any example words where the vowel is short.. battle, cattle, cuttle all have double-t to make the vowel short again (after the ‘e’ made it long).

    To say “tuhple” I have to spell it ‘tupple’. So to me, ‘tuple’ simply can never be ‘tupple’.

    But, so long as we don’t all confuse a tuple with a list, I guess we’re all good :)

    -c

  • Wrong. First, Latin “u” is always pronounced “uh”. Second, dictionary IPA pronunciation is /tʌpəl/, and ʌ is pronounced as in run, won or flood. The rule of thumb that the e after a single consonant lengthens the vowel does not apply here, because there’s an “l” in the way. As others have pointed out, pronunciation of words like sextuple and quadruple varies (former being “uh” – as in sextuplets – and the latter being “oo”). The “oo” ones are pronounced that way for articulation reasons.

    You can’t infer the pronunciation of “tuple” from words ending -tuple.

    That said, there is a strong minority that says “toople”, so it is often listed as an acceptable alternative pronunciation.

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