The following is more a guide for readers. How the spellings are applied in practice is beyond the scope of such a short description. Phonetics are in IPA.
Most consonants are usually pronounced much as in English but:
- c: /k/ or /s/, much as in English.
- ch: /x/, also gh. Medial 'cht' may be /ð/ in Northern dialects. loch (fjord or lake), nicht (night), dochter (daughter), dreich (dreary), etc. Similar to the German "Nacht".
- ch: word initial or where it follows 'r' /tʃ/. airch (arch), mairch (march), etc.
- gn: /n/. In Northern dialects /gn/ may occur.
- kn: /n/. In Northern dialects /kn/ or /tn/ may occur. knap (talk), knee, knowe (knoll), etc.
- ng: is always /ŋ/.
- nch: usually /nʃ/. brainch (branch), dunch (push), etc.
- r: /r/ or /ɹ/ is pronounced in all positions, i.e. rhotically.
- s or se: /s/ or /z/.
- t: may be a glottal stop between vowels or word final. In Ulster dentalised pronunciations may also occur, also for 'd'.
- th: /ð/ or /θ/ much as is English. Initial 'th' in thing, think and thank, etc. may be /h/.
- wh: usually /ʍ/, older /xʍ/. Northern dialects also have /f/.
- wr: /wr/ more often /r/ but may be /vr/ in Northern dialects. wrack (wreck), wrang (wrong), write, wrocht (worked), etc.
- z: /jɪ/ or /ŋ/, may occur in some words as a substitute for the older ȝ (yogh). For example: brulzie (broil), gaberlunzie (a beggar) and the names Menzies, [inzean, Culzean, MacKenzie etc. (As a result of the lack of education in Scots, MacKenzie is now generally pronounced with a /z/ following the perceived realisation of the written form, as more controversially is sometimes Menzies.)
- The word final 'd' in nd and ld: but often pronounced in derived forms. Sometimes simply 'n' and 'l' or 'n'' and 'l''. auld (old), haund (hand), etc.
- 't' in medial cht: ('ch' = /x/) and st and before final en. fochten (fought), thristle (thistle) also 't' in aften (often), etc.
- 't' in word final ct and pt but often pronounced in derived forms. respect, accept, etc.
In Scots, vowel length is usually conditioned by the Scots vowel length rule. Words which differ only slightly in pronunciation from Scottish English are generally spelled as in English. Other words may be spelt the same but differ in pronunciation, for example: aunt, swap, want and wash with /a/, bull, full v. and pull with /ʌ/, bind, find and wind v., etc. with /ɪ/.
- The unstressed vowel /ə/ may be represented by any vowel letter.
- a: usually /a/ but in south west and Ulster dialects often /ɑ/. Note final a in awa (away), twa (two) and wha (who) may also be /ɑ/ or /ɔ/ or /e/ depending on dialect.
- au, aw and sometimes a, a' or aa: /ɑː/ or /ɔː/ in Southern, Central and Ulster dialects but /aː/ in Northern dialects. The cluster 'auld' may also be /ʌul/ in Ulster. aw (all), cauld (cold), braw (handsome), faw (fall), snaw (snow), etc.
- ae, ai, a(consonant)e: /e/. Often /ɛ/ before /r/. In Northern dialects the vowel in the cluster -'ane' is often /i/. brae (slope), saip (soap), hale (whole), ane (one), ance (once), bane (bone), etc.
- ea, ei, ie: /iː/ or /eː/ depending on dialect. /ɛ/ may occur before /r/. Root final this may be /əi/ in Southern dialects. In the far north /əi/ may occur. deid (dead), heid (head), meat (food), clear, speir (enquire), sea, etc.
- ee, e(Consonant)e: /iː/. Root final this may be /əi/ in Southern dialects. ee (eye), een (eyes), steek (shut), here, etc.
- e: /ɛ/. bed, het (heated), yett (gate), etc.
- eu: /(j)u/ or /(j)ʌ/ depending on dialect. Sometimes erroneously 'oo', 'u(consonant)e', 'u' or 'ui'. beuk (book), ceuk (cook), eneuch (enough), leuk (look), teuk (took), etc.
- ew: /ju/. In Northern dialects a root final 'ew' may be /jʌu/. few, new, etc.
- i: /ɪ/, but often varies between /ɪ/ and /ʌ/ especially after 'w' and 'wh'. /æ/ also occurs in Ulster before voiceless consonants. big, fit (foot), wid (wood), etc.
- i(consonant)e, y(consonant)e, ey: /əi/ or /aɪ/. 'ay' is usually /e/ but /əi/ in ay (yes) and aye (always). In Dundee it is noticeably /ɛ/.
- o: /ɔ/ but often /o/.
- oa: /o/.
- ow, owe (root final), seldom ou: /ʌu/. Before 'k' vocalisation to /o/ may occur especially in western and Ulster dialects. bowk (retch), bowe (bow), howe (hollow), knowe (knoll), cowp (overturn), yowe (ewe), etc.
- ou, oo, u(consonant)e: /u/. Root final /ʌu/ may occur in Southern dialects. cou (cow), broun (brown), hoose (house), moose (mouse) etc.
- u: /ʌ/. but, cut, etc.
- ui, also u(consonant)e, oo: /ø/ in conservative dialects. In parts of Fife, Dundee and north Antrim /e/. In Northern dialects usually /i/ but /wi/ after /g/ and /k/ and also /u/ before /r/ in some areas eg. fuird (ford). Mid Down and Donegal dialects have /i/. In central and north Down dialects /ɪ/ when short and /e/ when long. buird (board), buit (boot), cuit (ankle), fluir (floor), guid (good), schuil (school), etc. In central dialects uise v. and uiss n. (use) are [jeːz] and [jɪs].
- Negative na: /ɑ/, /ɪ/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also 'nae' or 'y' eg. canna (can't), dinna (don't) and maunna (mustn't).
- fu (ful): /u/, /ɪ/, /ɑ/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also 'fu'', 'fie', 'fy', 'fae' and 'fa'.
- The word ending ae: /ɑ/, /ɪ/ or /e/ depending on dialect. Also 'a', 'ow' or 'y', for example: arrae (arrow), barrae (barrow) and windae (window), etc.