Difficult Words to Pronounce
Many English words look like they have a certain pronunciation, but are pronounced differently. This makes it difficult for some to pronounce them correctly. A few examples are:
English Pronunciation Can Be Difficult
Whether you’re learning the language or are a native speaker, chances are that you find at least a few English words difficult to say out loud.
Things like silent letters and words borrowed from other languages are just two of the many reasons why these difficult-to-pronounce words exist in the first place. Below, we’ve compiled a list of 33 of them to show you their correct pronunciation and usage.
Let’s get started!
33 English Words That Are Hard To Pronounce
Açai is a type of berry that is known for its health benefits. It’s difficult to pronounce because it originates from the Portuguese language and the “ç” (cedilla) is pronounced like an “s,” but also because the stress of the word falls on the second syllable.
IPA: /æˈsaɪiː/ or /ˌæsaɪˈiː/
Can you get me an açai bowl with extra kiwi and granola, please?
Albeit is a conjunction that means “although” or “even though.” It’s not so much that it’s difficult to pronounce, as much as it is an uncommon word that many people aren’t familiar with.
I enjoy playing soccer, albeit I’m not that good at it.
By looking at the word anemone, many people assume the name of this flower is pronounced an-e-moan, but it’s not.
Sea anemones have a symbiotic relationship with clownfish.
Beguile is a verb that means to deceive someone in a sly manner. Its unusual spelling is the reason this word is often mispronounced.
She planned to beguile them into believing she wasn’t at fault.
A bouquet is a group of flowers arranged decoratively. The “ou” is pronounced like the “oo” in “boot,” and the “-t” is silent.
I was looking for the biggest and prettiest bouquet I could give to my mom.
Can’t have a list of hard-to-pronounce words without this gem. Colonel, which is a military rank, looks like someone snuck in one syllable too many.
Jim’s father was a colonel in the military, so they frequently relocated.
Many people mispronounce this word because they place the emphasis on the wrong syllable.
IPA: /ˈkʌmftəbl/ or /ˈkʌmfərtəbl/
I can’t sleep on planes because I can never find a comfortable position.
Conscience makes people think it’s pronounced similar to science. Moreover, many people get this word confused with conscious and conscientious. Keep in mind, conscience refers to “that inner feeling or voice that tells you what’s right or wrong.”
Luca had a guilty conscience about lying to his parents.
The silent “P” in coup is the reason why “how to spell coup” gets searched for online at least 1,000 times a month! Coup is a noun that refers to “a violent and unlawful overtaking of a government.”
The party seized power in a military coup in 2008.
In English, a silent “E” is quite common, which leads people to mistakenly believe that epitome is pronounced ep-i-tome. But English words that have been adapted from Greek tend to have all the vowels pronounced. Epitome is a “person or thing that is an ideal example of a particular quality or type.”
Our boss was the epitome of a compassionate and understanding leader.
Gourmet can function as a noun or adjective, but is mostly used as an adjective that describes something as high quality and expensive, and can also refer to food that requires elaborate and expert preparation. If you want gourmet food, you may want to know how to pronounce this word correctly.
The couple only wanted delicious, gourmet food at their wedding.
It’s worth noting that gyro can be short for gyrocompass or gyroscope. If that’s what you’re referring to, then the correct pronunciation sounds like jie-ro. However, if you’re ordering a gyro / ˈyē-ˌrō /, the authentic Greek dish, then you should use the authentic Greek pronunciation.
The first thing I ate when I got to Greece was a delicious lamb gyro!
Don’t be fooled: the “CH” in hierarchy does not make the same sound as the “CH” in “cheese.” Hierarchy refers to “a system or organization in which people are ranked according to status or authority.”
My goal was to make it up the hierarchy, and go from entry-level worker to CEO.
An isthmus is a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land masses that separates two bodies of water. The combination of “S” and “TH” is what makes this word difficult for some to pronounce.
The isthmus of Panama connects North and South America.
If you do something in a lackadaisical manner, that means you are doing it lazily or without enthusiasm. You can’t be lackadaisical if you want to pronounce this word, though. You’ll need brain power to know that each separate “A” in this word doesn’t have the same pronunciation.
The lackadaisical attitude of the team cost them the championship.
Mischievous often gets pronounced as miss-chee-vee-us, but that’s incorrect. There are only three syllables in the correct pronunciation of this word, which means “playfully causing trouble.”
My little cousin is known to be mischievous, but he’s truly a loving and caring kid.
Mnemonic is a device such as a pattern of letters or associations, or even a catchy song that helps you remember something. For example, the silent “M” in mnemonic can help you remember that this word relates to memory.
ROYGBIV is a mnemonic device that helps you remember the colors of the rainbow.
English learners and native speakers alike might feel compelled to pronounce the “H” in nihilism like the “H” in adhere. Don’t make this mistake, unless you’re nihilistic, in which case you find everything meaningless, including proper pronunciation.
It’s not unusual for people to embrace nihilism after experiencing severe trauma.
Nuclear is an adjective “relating to the nucleus of an atom.” This word has two acceptable pronunciations, but people still tend to mispronounce it by adding a “yer” sound at the end of the word.
Pronounced: nyoo-klee-er or noo-klee-er
My goal is to attain a degree in nuclear chemistry.
Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates a sound, like the buzz of a bee or the hiss of a snake. It has an unusual combination of letters, which makes it difficult for some people to pronounce.
I learned about onomatopoeia in grade school, but just now realized I’ve been pronouncing it wrong my whole life!
Quinoa is another type of food that’s often mispronounced. Don’t make the very common mistake of pronouncing it as kee-no-a (even though that pronunciation is becoming more and more common).
My girlfriend has been on a quinoa binge lately. That’s all she wants to eat!
Rendezvous can be used as a noun or verb and refers to “a meeting at an agreed place and time.” Silent letter after silent letter makes this word challenging for English speakers and learners alike.
IPA: /ˈrɑːndeɪvuː/ or /ˈrɑːndɪvuː/
Cecilia turned up late for the rendezvous and missed all the important news I had to share.
It’s the multiple “Rs” that cause people to stumble over their words when they say rural, which means “relating to or characteristic of the countryside.”
When we got married, we moved from the city to a rural area to start our own farm.
Sixth constitutes the number six in a series. Let’s hope you never get sixth place in a competition, as the combination of “X” and “TH” might make it hard for you to say this word.
I got sixth place in the race, but I was still proud because I broke my personal record.
It’s not uncommon to hear people mix up the “S” and “P” sound to say pacific instead of specific. It doesn’t help that both “Cs” make distinct sounds in this word that means “clearly identified or defined.”
She told me there was no specific way to do it, so I just followed my heart.
It may come as a surprise to you, but many people struggle to pronounce the word squirrel, especially non-native speakers.
My dog is obsessed with trying to catch squirrels.
The joke goes, “whoever put the “B” in subtle deserves a pat on the back.” That’s because the word is synonymous with “delicate” or “elusive,” and the “B” is silent. Get it?
The room had a subtle fragrance of lavender and vanilla.
Supposedly, a grammarian will pop up out of nowhere to correct you if you accidentally pronounce this word with a “B” instead of a “D.”
They were supposed to be here an hour ago, but supposedly they got a flat tire.
A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part is used to represent a whole. It’s not too common of a word, which means many people are puzzled when they try to say it out loud.
Today’s lesson plan includes a review of synecdoche.
Don’t be mistaken: the “SC” in visceral—which means “relating to internal organs or deeply felt emotions”—does not create the same sound as the “SC” in scout.
The film's intense and visceral scenes left the audience in awe.
Take one look at this word, which refers to the day after Tuesday, and you’ll think it’s pronounced as three separate syllables, but it’s not. Wednesday is pronounced as two syllables.
We pick up the kids early from school every Wednesday.
You can’t have a list of hard-to-pronounce words without the granddaddy of them all—Worcestershire. To novice eyes, it looks like this word is pronounced wor-ces-ter-shy-er, but trust us when we say it’s not. It’s a three-syllable word, not five.
Dad asked me to go to the store to pick up a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.
Do you like eating baked zucchini with cheese? Don’t let the spelling of this word fool you. The “CH” in zucchini (a type of summer squash) doesn’t produce the same sound as the “CH” in cheese.
They thought I was thinking about something deep, but I was just wondering if zucchinis and cucumbers are the same things.
Enhance Your English Fluency
Are there a ton of other English words that are much more difficult to pronounce? Undoubtedly. But chances are you won’t come across words like sphygmomanometer or otorhinolaryngology, unless you’re described as a sesquipedalian, or someone who uses long words.
However, it’s not uncommon to find the 33 hard-to-pronounce words above in everyday conversations. If you want to improve your fluency, it’s a good idea to practice and familiarize yourself with this list.
Another fantastic way to improve your fluency is to use LanguageTool as your writing assistant. It’s multilingual, which allows it to help you find the right words when you only know how to say something in your native tongue. Give it a try!