A Clematis by any Other Pronunciation: How do you pronounce Clematis

The first of my clematis vines was blooming in my yard today, and it brought to mind this quote:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell
as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet
(II, ii, 1-2)
William Shakespeare

So it doesn’t matter what you call a rose but what about clematis? Does it really matter how you pronounce the word clematis?

This is an age old gardening question, I think. I think on it frequently. Okay, okay. I admit, I only think about it when I am watching a snooty gardening show and someone says KLEM-UH-TIS. I pronounce it KLEE-MAH-TIS and it bugs me when I hear it pronounced other ways.

So, today when I was looking at my lovely clematis in bloom, I thought of it and I figured I would do some research to find out how you really pronounce the word clematis.

First stop, American Clematis Society. They say that the snooty garden show people are right. But, they themselves are snooty gardening people, so can I really trust them? (I apologize if you belong to the Clematis Society, no offense intended. But let’s face it, if you belong to a club that is for a single type of flower, it’s a snooty club. It’s like belonging to a club for Persian cats or teacup poodles.)

So, the next stop was the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. They had both pronunciations listed as being correct. That, I can live with.

Then I came across this 2 year old post call “I say clem-a-tis, you say cle-mat-is” by the Bookish Gardener on her blog. She did way more research than I would be willing to and from her post, I can definitively say that either pronunciation is correct.

So the next question is, why does it vary? I’m a good Midwestern girl, and I have heard the word clematis pronounced KLEE-MAH-TIS my whole life. Is this like a Midwestern vs. Coast type thing here in the States? You know, like the pronunciation of herbs is? Is it just that my entire gardening experience has happened in a bubble that pronounces clematis that way? I may never know.

But at least know when I have some person tell me I am pronouncing it wrong, I can point out that either pronunciation is correct. I don’t know if that will help me cringe less when I hear it pronounced the “other” way, though.

13 thoughts on “A Clematis by any Other Pronunciation: How do you pronounce Clematis
  1. Pingback: Black Eyed Susan Vine

  2. David M on

    I also disagree with those who have adopted the British pronunciation CLEM-uh-tus. But I’ve never heard anyone say KLEE-MAH-TIS, as you claim you do. Which syllable do you accent, and do you really say “klee”? That’s one I’ve never heard. What I say, along with most gardeners in the south and mid-America is “cle-MAT-us.”


  3. Barb Dutchak on

    Have to laugh. I hit your old post while looking up the “correct” pronunciation because a neighbor and I were using different pronunciations. I learned Klem-uh-tis from my mom, who hails from the Rittman-Wooster area not far from Cleveland, but maybe she picked up that pronunciation from time spent in the Atlanta area. Our neighbor from New Jersey kept saying cle-MAT-is, and I too was cringing every time he said it. But, not enough to spoil what prompted the conversation – I’d been driving by another house in our neighborhood that had a spectacular clematis arbor and suggested a post-Sunday-dinner amble of the two blocks to get a better view. Here in northern Virginia, the clematis are quite gorgeous right now!


  4. Janet WHITE on

    So, when I was at the Chelsea Garden Show in London last year, I went to the Clematis “expert” manning the Clematis area, and he said there are 3 pronunciations…”clem’ uh tis”, ” cle mate’ is” and “cle mat’ is”, one Scottish, one English and one American…now to remember which is which. My Scottish grandfather, who owned Inglenook Public Gardens, years ago, in Victoria, BC, pronounced it, “cle mat’is”. Take it from there. My mother and her neighbour argued about that for years. Then there is the gerbera daisy…just had a discussion about that word last night which led me here…


  5. laura r on

    I have always said. Kla-may-tus. It would be strange to hear people say it a different way. :-)


  6. AJW on

    Just found this as my Mum just came back from a talk given by an expert on the Clematis. Here in Britain my Mum grew up pronouncing it “cluh-MAY-tus”, as did everyone else around her, and there are just as many people, including the person giving the talk, who pronounce it “CLEM-uh-tus”. I’ve always said “cluh-MAY-tus”, as I learned from my Mum. It’s good to know both ways are right, although I’m sure that won’t stop the discussion… :-)


  7. Yana Zoffsky on

    having been born and raised in Ireland, I grew up with the pronunciation “KLEMMA-TIS” and, until emigrating to Canada over 50 years ago, had never heard it pronounced any other way. My horticulturalist grandfather explained that the word comes from the Greek “klemma” which means “to climb”; therefore, klemma-tis makes perfect sense to me. I think it’s a tomAto/tomAHto situation, with the tomAto being North American and the tomAHto being European. As long as we understand what we mean, I suppose it doesn’t really matter….


  8. Emily on

    HA! I say clem-uh-tis…and ‘cringe’ when I hear it the other way. I too was looking it up on how it is proper to say it. My neighbor says it the ‘other’ way and it drives me crazy! I asked my mother, and she said clem-uh-tis is right, solely because my great-grandmother new the latin names of all the flowers and since SHE said clem-uh-tis, it must be the correct way, because she would know! lol. Glad it’s ‘correct’ either way. To me cle-mat-is, sounds like an STD, so I’ll still cringe when I hear it that way, but not so much.


  9. Martha on

    I wonder why, after doing your research and concluding–correctly–that both pronunciations are correct, you still want to insult the people who use the pronunciation you don’t by calling them “snooty” and saying they drive you crazy?

    There are other pronunciations, too. I was listening to the novelist Helen Simonson reading from “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” this morning, and she pronounces it “clem AY tis”–which was what prompted my search.


  10. Lou James on

    Do you know that old diddy … that suggests the correct pronunciation of clematis?


    kathleen Y Reply:

    I am trying to remember it too – something about since it climbs on a lattice, people pronounce it cleMATtis, causing daniel webster great distress because it should be called clematis….


  11. So am I the only Midwesterner that’s says Kla-my-tis? I’ve only ever heard it pronounced that way here in northern Illinois, however when I went to the nursery I was rudely corrected to say klemma-tis. I have the same frustration with the lilac debate. I’m a lie-lack and it drives me nuts to hear lie-lock or lie-luck.


  12. Carolyn on June 26, on

    I never knew there were different ways of saying Clematis until a week ago. While at a nursery I asked for Clematis and proprietor corrected my pronunciation of the word–I didn’t purchase. I’ve always said Cle-May-Tis. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who says it that way.


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