People pronounce "coyote" at least five different ways. It differs by region, age, and even social factors. Some people even pronounce it different ways when they mean different things by it.
‘Coyote’: Singular and Plural
And then there were a few comments that don’t fit any of the patterns, but seemed interesting enough to pass along. Two people, for example, said that they use “kai-oat-ee” as the singular, but “kai-oats” as the plural. And another person reported doing the exact opposite. I’m not sure what to make of that except that people are adapting the pronunciations to have different meanings.
Along the same lines, at least one person from southern California said he uses “kai-oat” for the animal and “kai-oat-ee” for a person who smuggles immigrants across the border.
‘Coyote’: A Mix of Pronunciations
Finally, there were multiple people who realized they say it both ways, and said they always feel like they aren’t even sure how it should be pronounced, and after going through all the comments and possibilities, I can say that I’m not surprised people are confused!
Quite a few people seem to use two different pronunciations depending on the context, whether they are talking about one or more animals, or even just randomly. Merriam-Webster calls the “kai-oat” pronunciation “chiefly Western,” but that’s not exactly what I found. Among my responses, almost nobody in California or Arizona reported saying “kai-oat,” for example. It could just be that the people in those states who say “kai-oat” aren’t active on my Facebook page, but that seems unlikely.
How to Pronounce ‘Coyote’
So after all this research, what do I think you should do?
If you’re in the U.S., both the two syllable and three syllable versions are fine. Use whatever you prefer or what’s dominant in your region.
But if you’re outside the U.S., it’s probably better to stick with a three-syllable version like “coy-oh-tee” or “kai-oat-ee.” But my research outside the U.S. isn’t as extensive, so if it’s important, you might want to look into it more.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”