Tricky Pronunciation – Surfer vs Server

Some confusion ensued in a recent session.  The description of a person was, “He looks like a surfer”, but a student heard, “He looks like a server”.  Naturally the student was confused, and confessed they couldn’t tell the difference between these two words:-

Surfer – ˈsəːfə

Server – ˈsəːvə

Nowadays the word surfer can be used to describe a person who rides a surfboard, or a person who surfs the Internet.

The word server can be used to describe a program that provides services to other programs or devices, either in the same computer or over a computer network. A computer dedicated to running such programs. A person who serves other people, for example a waitress or waiter, and even a spoon used to serve food. 

If you struggle to hear the difference between the voiced “v” and the unvoiced “f” sound, think about the context of the word.  It is unlikely someone would look like a computer server, but they could look like a waiter, or a surfer.  This is when you have to listen for more information.

In the example, the person was being described as blonde, and tanned, that is more likely to be a surfer.

If there isn’t enough information, then you have to ask the right questions.

For example:

“Do you mean he looks as if he works as a waiter?”

“Do you mean he looks as if he spends a lot of time outdoors?”

As usual, context is key.

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Learn English 2019