11

How important is the actual pronunciation of magic words in Harry Potter? To that end, what if there was a deaf-mute Wizard, or a wizard who had his throat ripped out by a werewolf? Or if you had a heavy accent or lisp? Clearly there are foreign wizards, do they have their own spells or translations? Is a Chinese wizard expected to say Evatacavra? Also, if it is just the intent of the spell, why would anyone ever say a spell out loud? It's unstrategic.

13

Pronunciation is extremely important in spell casting. That is covered during the Wingardium Leviosa class, in the first book.

Professor Flitwick himself tells the students to be extra careful when pronouncing the spell, and he mentions the example of wizard who got badly injured from wrongly pronouncing the spell he wanted to cast.

A while later, Hermione points out how Ron's spell is being ineffective due to his mispronunciation.

“Wingardium Leviosa!” he shouted, waving his long arms like a windmill. “You’re saying it wrong,” Harry heard Hermione snap. “It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the ‘gar’ nice and long.” “You do it, then, if you’re so clever,” Ron snarled.”

(As rightly stated above by Cearon O'Flynn)

And even sometime after that we see a practical example of Professor Flitwick's story, when Seamus feather's burst into flames (scene that was also in the movie).

  • 1
    Great answer, +1, and welcome to the site! – Wad Cheber Jun 26 '15 at 1:18
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    Also from the movie: Hermione tells Ron "It's levi-Oh-sa, not levio-Sah". (excuse my self-interpreted pronunciations) – Broots Waymb Aug 5 '15 at 21:55
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    Proper pronunciation is essential only for newbies. Advanced wizards can cast spells silently. – I Love You 3000 Oct 14 '17 at 18:25
  • @Endgame - Ah, but presumably that means you have to pronounce it right when you think the name of the spell. – Valorum Dec 9 '18 at 8:43
11

Essential (with a caveat)

In the first book, Professor Flitwick explicitly says that speaking the right words is essential for the spell to function correctly. Indeed, major errors, such as changing an entire phoneme, can have disastrous consequences:

"And saying the magic words properly is very important, too -- never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest."

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

If someone were rendering incapable of uttering a spell correctly, they would also be incapable of using that spell. At worst, it would produce some alternate effect, as indicated in the previous quotation. At best, the spell would simply fail, as seen when Neville tried to perform magic with a broken nose:

STUBEFY!” shouted Neville, wheeling around and waving Hermione’s wand at the oncoming Death Eaters. “STUBEFY, STUBEFY!

But nothing happened — one of the Death Eaters shot their own Stunning Spell at Neville; it missed him by inches.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The caveat: talented witches and wizards can perform nonverbal spells.

A sufficiently skilled spellcaster can use any incantation nonverbally. Some are even specifically nonverbal, such as Levicorpus. So someone who had had their throat ripped out by a werewolf (for example) could still learn to use any spell, but with more difficulty. It is likely, however, that particularly hard spells would be of reduced effectiveness:

She winced slightly and put a hand to her ribs. The curse Dolohov had used on her, though less effective than it would have been had he been able to say the incantation aloud, had nevertheless caused, in Madam Pomfrey’s words, “quite enough damage to be going on with.”

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  • Good examples. You have my +1 – Valorum Jul 28 '16 at 19:21
  • Yes. You must annunciate. The age old spell The weather is beautiful, wish you were her(e) has broken up more relationships than the chastity charms that guard the girls dormatories. – Major Stackings Jul 28 '16 at 21:50
5

Yes the pronunciation is very important

For example in The Philospohers Stone Ron is saying Wingardium Leviosa incorrectly and cannot get the spell to work:

“Wingardium Leviosa!” he shouted, waving his long arms like a windmill. “You’re saying it wrong,” Harry heard Hermione snap. “It’s Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the ‘gar’ nice and long.” “You do it, then, if you’re so clever,” Ron snarled.”

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    Not to mention "diagonally" as opposed to "Diagon Alley" – Ryan Perry Jun 25 '15 at 14:19
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    another instance is when i believe nevell has a bloody noise and cant properly cast any spells because he cant speak properly. Im thinking this is from Order of the Phoenix in the ministry scene. However at the same time, we know that nonverbal spells no longer really have pronunciation issue, at this point its more on the intent of the spell, where as at a young age using verbally, the verbal incantation ties together with the intent of the user more, since the young witch and wizard have less control, or will power to put into their magic, IMO. – Himarm Jun 25 '15 at 15:02
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    @WadCheber I'm not meaning to be disrespectful or anything. I just feel like writing another answer which will have the exact information this one has + my one paragraph addendum isn't wise. I am not, in any way, changing the nature of this question. Indeed I am only adding a piece of information which is regarded on the very part that is mentioned in this answer. – AugustoQ Jun 26 '15 at 1:03
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    @WadCheber I realise that as well, and I appreciate it too. I guess I took "changing the answer" as literally changing the meaning of the answer (as to change what he's written already) in order to make use of the likes he has already gotten. Oh well – AugustoQ Jun 26 '15 at 1:10
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    @WadCheber I will leave a comment and am writing a new answer as well :) – AugustoQ Jun 26 '15 at 1:11
2

I believe it's a combination of wand movement (discussed during DA sessions and lessons such as Wingardium Leviosa), intention and knowledge of the spell's incantation and finally the pronunciation of the incantation. I imagine non-verbal spells require a version of the incantation in one's mind, rather than just thinking "levitate that feather!" It would seem that as the incantation can be dropped, it is the least important and pronunciation is not that essential. However it is easier to say a spell as well as wand movement and intention, so presumably the less talented or experienced you are, the more it matters. Also, the relationship between wand and wizard would be less well-developed and instructions would need to be as clear as possible.

2

In Order of the Phoenix we see a case where the mispronunciation of the incantation caused someone's clothes to be set on fire, so pronunciation clearly matters:

"Oh no," said Cho rather wildly as he approached. "Expelliarmious! I mean, Expellimellius! I — oh, sorry, Marietta!"

Her curly-haired friend’s sleeve had caught fire; Marietta extinguished it with her own wand and glared at Harry as though it was his fault.

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    That's rather vocabulary than pronunciation, Expellimellius is entirely different from Expelliarmus – Jenayah Dec 9 '18 at 4:02
  • @Jenayah You might be right. I don't know where the line is between a mispronunciation of a word and an entirely different word. – Alex Dec 9 '18 at 4:05
  • My opinion only, but "mispronunciation" would be the same spelling, but with a different emphasis ("It's Leviooosa, not Leviosaaaa"), different world begins when you start adding/modifying syllables. – Jenayah Dec 9 '18 at 4:11
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    @Jenayah What about the example of "Wizard Baruffio who said 's' instead of 'f'"? Or Neville's "Stubefy" instead of "Stupefy"? – Alex Dec 9 '18 at 4:12
  • Different words in my book (pun... half intended :P ) – Jenayah Dec 9 '18 at 4:13
0

I agree that pronunciation is important. But there are other languages, not to mention those who were very capable of silent casting. To assume that everyone must use the Latin (?) words for these spells is a bit silly as there were other schools of magic (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang officially mentioned) in the world.

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    It doesn't seem at all silly that French wizards would cast spells in "Latin" (no sillier than English wizards, anyway). Durmstrang is a fair point though – Jason Baker Aug 5 '15 at 20:49
0

As Ryan Perry already pointed out one answer with the story when Harry used Floo Powder to go to Diagon Alley and said "diagonal" we see "critical or else it will be a problem"

  • I don't understand that last part, could you edit your answer to make it clearer? – Edlothiad Oct 14 '17 at 9:34

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