How to pronounce Phnom Penh

If you follow this blog (bless you!) you are probably thinking that you have read a post with this title already. But actually this posting discusses my “discovery” about search engines and my blog. But, if you need to know how to pronounce Phnom Penh, I do include that as well. (Added 12/29/08): And if you want to see my pictures taken in Phnom Penh, click here.

Apparently, there is quite a bit of interest in how to pronounce Phnom Penh. I discovered this because WordPress keeps stats on how people get referred to my blog. A significant number of people have been viewing my posting titled “One does pronounce the ‘P’ in Phnom Penh” because some search engine is directing them to the post when they search on “pronouncing Phnom Penh” or some variant.

This is amazing technology in many ways, but my post was not really about how to pronounce Phnom Penh. Nor should anyone consider me much of an expert on the pronunciation of Phnom Penh. However, as a service to those search engine users, I will now tell what I heard my Cambodian tour guide say on my recent trip to Phnom Penh.

My Cambodian tour guide pronounced the name of the capital city of Cambodia, p-nom pen. That is, p as in put, followed by nom, rhymes with Tom, (p-nom as one word) followed by pen, just as you would pronounce the word for a common writing instrument.

(Note added December 15th, 2008: Here is a link to a much more authoritative answer, The American Heritage Dictionary. Note that the link includes a audio file so you can hear the correct pronunciation.

Given that the American Heritage Dictionary contradicts the comment by Don, and that Don never responded to my request for the source of his authority, I am removing Don’s comment from the blog.)

I have a clear memory of this as I thought I was demonstrating my worldly ways by pronouncing it nom pen all these years. My attempts to demonstrate my suave sophistication often end badly and this was no exception.

This incident with the search engine got me to thinking about blog stats. How easy would it be for me to enhance my statistics by merely mentioning “a condition in which one lacks clothes” and “current singing sensation whose initials are BS” in the title of one of my postings? Maybe I will start another blog just to do the experiment. Then again, maybe not, as this experiment has indubitably been done many times before.




  1. Don said,

    November 16, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    You are half right about how to pronounce Phnom Penh. Phnom is indeed properly spoken with a P at the beginning. However, Pen is not pronounced “Pen” but more like “Peng” with an ng sound at the end. Cambodians themselves often shorten all this to “Mpeng”, which is possibly where some “cosmopolites” got the idea that the initial P is not pronounced.

  2. Tim said,

    November 17, 2008 at 10:42 am

    I forgot to include in this posting that my original posting “One does pronounce the ‘P’ in Phnom Penh” is listed by WordPress as both my most visited posting (except for my “About” page which identifies me) and also as my currently most active page. Somehow I do not think that these statistics have anything to do with the sterling quality of my prose!

  3. November 23, 2008 at 9:51 am

    […] (Note added November 23rd: For actual information on the pronunciation of Phnom Penh, click here. The title of this post was intended to be slightly […]

  4. November 27, 2008 at 9:01 am

    […] Now that my blog seems to be getting search engine hits for those who want to know how to pronounce Phnom Penh, the limitations of the intelligence behind search engines means I am also getting hits from people […]

  5. December 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    […] if it comes down to that. If you Google “How to pronounce Phnom Penh” you will find my blog entry on the subject in the number two position (as of last Friday, anyway). And since the  number one search result […]

  6. February 18, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    […] Fulbright scholars that I hoped would find some of the information in the blog useful. I’ve written a bit about this before when I first noticed the hits I was getting on the subject of the pronunciation of Phnom […]

  7. JB said,

    May 8, 2009 at 4:50 am

    My wife and in-laws are from Cambodia, and I’ve visited there. The “P” in Phnom Penh is definitely, 100% always pronounced. Educated English speakers will pronounce it that way. “Phnom” means “mountain”; “noum” means “cookie.” “Nahm” means nothing.

  8. Nancy Fernandez said,

    December 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you. I’ve been saying it wrong all this time. Recently I met someone who lived there for several years, and he says p-nahm. Still, I was unsure . . . so now you’ve cleared it up once and for all.

  9. Hil said,

    November 7, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you, Tim! Entertaining and informative post. 🙂

    I came here looking for the pronunciation of Phnom Penh, too. I’m writing a book – taking part in again this year – and my main character is headed there as we speak!

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