Country names ending with two consonants

One of the blogs I regularly read is English Language Thoughts, by Niall O’Donnell, an ESL teacher in Ireland. Two days ago, he posted about a BBC quiz show which asked contestants to name countries ending with two consonants. He didn’t discuss the actual answers, but rather the fact that the show officially categorises y as a consonant, regardless of context.

The most obvious set of answers are the countries which end with -land, namely Fin, Ice, Ire, New Zea, Pol, Swazi, Switzer and Thai. (I thought of most of those on the train on the way home.) There is also the Netherlands and four sets of Islands, namely the Cook, (Faroe), Marshall and Solomon, but it might be argued that these do not end with two consonants. (I put Faroe in brackets – although it was on the list of ‘sovereign states’ I consulted, it is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.)

On the train I thought of Bangladesh and Egypt, and later at home found Denmark and Luxembourg. But only one of these has two consonant sounds in the pronunciation, namely Egypt. The sh of Bangladesh represents the sound single consonant sound /ʃ/ and the r of Denmark and Luxembourg is part of the vowel, especially if you have a non-rhotic accent (like me) and even if you don’t. [Edit: the country formally named Côte d’Ivoire is often called by its older English name, Ivory Coast.]

Now that I’ve moved on to pronunciation, five countries’ names end with two consonant sounds, but this is not reflected in the spelling, namely the plural-like Maldives, Philippines, Seychelles and United Arab Emirates, and, uniquely, France, at least in standard English pronunciation.

The quiz show’s rule that y is always a consonant leads to the nonsensical result that Germany, Hungary, Italy and the Vatican City end with two consonants, and were presumably acceptable answers, and that Paraguay, Turkey and Uruguay end with one.

Niall says that the show gave 18 official possible correct answers, but I’ve got 17 if I don’t include its nonsensical rule, 21 if I do and 16 if I don’t include the Netherlands and the four sets of Islands. (There is just a possibility that it counted England and Scotland as well, which would bring the total to 18.)

The tv show’s blog doesn’t list the answers, and most of the discussion I have found on the interweb focuses more on the fact that one contestant gave the answer ‘Paris’. I’m sure she’s embarrassed enough already without me including her name or the video of her, here.


9 thoughts on “Country names ending with two consonants

      • Oh my goodness! I’m struggling not to laugh as my husband is alseep next to me and I don’t want to wake him.
        The look on the face of her partner was priceless and oh-my-goodness! After she had just bragged about being in the Geek Society, too.
        I really have to leave the room…


      • My mother kept extensive diaries for my and my sisters’ young childhoods, and later photocopied each child’s to give to that child. I am intermittently typing up mine. Because I had/have two older sisters, I learned about things at an earlier age than they did. The passage I have just typed includes: ‘[He] picked up … riddles, & was wonderful at picking up songs … he picked up counting & alphabet & things they had never heard of at his age, such as countries of the world on the map.’
        I don’t remember any of that, but later my parents stuck a map onto a large board and propped it in the corner of the lounge room.


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    • If it’s not a consonant, it’s a vowel.

      I didn’t say that calling ‘y’ is nonsensical. I said that the rule leads to the nonsensical result that Germany ends with two consonants. By any pronunciation, it ends with an ‘n’ sound (a consonant) and an ‘i’ sound (a vowel)

      You may be thinking about the *sound* ‘y’ (International Phonetic Alphabet symbol /j/, which is always a consonant. I am talking about the *letter* y, which acts in different ways in different words. In Yemen, it’s a consonant. In Germany, it’s a vowel. In Uruguay, it’s part of vowel. y never acts as a consonant at the end of a word.


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