10 MOST COMMONLY MISPRONOUNCED ENGLISH WORDS
One of the toughest things about learning English is that words don’t always sound as you would expect them to. This is because English is a combination of so many other languages. English learners from all over the world face different challenges with pronunciation because of interference from their first language. There are, however, some words that learners from all over the world and many native-speakers have trouble with. Let’s take a look at them and learn to avoid 10 of the most common English pronunciation mistakes.
This word has only one syllable, the ‘e’ is silent and the ‘s’ makes a ‘zzz’ sound. Be careful not to say ‘clothe iz’.
This word only has two syllables ‘koh-leeg’. Make sure not to pronounce the ‘ue’ on the end. When it’s a plural, the ‘s’ makes a ‘zzz’ sound like in ‘clothes’.
Many people have trouble pronouncing English words which have two ‘r’ sounds close together. Make sure to pronounce both ‘r’ sounds: Feb-roo-a-ree, not Feb-yoo-a-ree. Similarly, ‘library’ should be pronounced ‘li-bra-ri’.
Be careful to avoid adding extra syllables in the middle of words. For example, make sure there are only two syllables in ‘athlete’: ath-leet, not ath-a-leet.
Escape and especially
Putting an extra ‘x’ sound in words with ‘es’ is a common mistake in English. Make sure to say ‘escape’ and ‘especially’ rather than ‘excape’ or ‘expecially’.
Watch out for silent letters. In the ‘Wednesday’, the ‘d’ is silent. The word is pronounced ‘wenz-day’.
If you go to the doctor, he or she might give you a prescription to take to the pharmacist so you can buy any medicine you need. Sometimes people mix up the ‘re’ with ‘er’ and say ‘per-scrip-tion’ instead of pronouncing it correctly as ‘pre-scrip-tion’.
Mixing up the ‘s’ and ‘k’ in ‘ask’ is a very common mistake that many native-speakers make. In fact, it is a common part of some English dialects. If you are learning general English, make sure to say ‘ask’ not ‘ax’ so that it sounds correct to people all over the world.
Again, this is a word where people often get confused about the order of the sounds and pronounce it ‘nu-cu-lar’. Remember to get the sounds in the correct order and pronounce it ‘nuc-lee-ar’.
The final common mistake is with the word ‘pronunciation’ itself! Many people get confused with the sound of the verb form ‘pronounce’ and say ‘pronounciation’ for the noun form. This is incorrect. Make sure to say ‘pro-nun-si-ay-shun’ if you want to be correct.
Once you’ve mastered these words, your pronunciation will be more correct than many native speakers. Then you can go on to overcome pronunciation challenges that are more specific to your first language.
If you are among those who pronounce the second month of the year as Fe-bu-a-ry, you are not likely to spell it correctly. Instead of writing February, you may write Febuary, thus throwing away the vital r in it, as you did in the pronunciation. The word should be pronounced, Fe-bRua- ri. The r is in capital letter to emphasise that it must be articulated. And I hope you remember what we noted last week –that Wednesday should be pronounced WenZ-day, not wed-nes-day.
The same thing applies to library. If you pronounce it as laibri, when you write it, you may end up having something as terrible as libry. The fact is that, while pronouncing the word, the r in the middle must be articulated, giving the correct sound as laib-Ra-ri.
We also can deduce that it is the wrong pronunciation syndrome that gives birth to the pervasive poor spelling of some words that end with th. If you are not guilty of this, you must have come across cases of people who write lenght instead of length; breadht instead of breadth and strenght instead of strength. They commit the blunder because they do not pronounce the words correctly in the first place. And, if truth be told, even when they get the spellings right, very many people cannot articulate the words well. Including or excluding you?
If you say ‘No,’ pronounce length. What did you say? I heard le-n-t, as if you are pronouncing lent, the past tense form of lend. Don’t forget that, in pronouncing length, breadth, strength and many other th-words, the consonant sound t is absent. What you have there is th, which should not be dryly pronounced as t – as if you are articulating let, bet or set.
This is where you need a bit of clinical exercise or practice. While pronouncing t, the tip of your tongue touches the upper teeth. But when it comes to th, the tip of the tongue strives to escape from between the upper and lower teeth, struggling as if it wants to come out. It is a technical exercise but, with practice and by watching other experts do it – especially on TV – you will steadily improve on the exercise.
The point I have been trying to make is that the different aspects of English language are interwoven. If you don’t get some things right in grammar, the challenge is likely to affect your performance in certain areas of phonology and semantics – that is, meaning. And, as we discussed above, problems in oral English can have negative effects on grammar and the other areas too.
I had to engage in the long introduction because of the interest that last week’s lesson, tagged Five words you always pronounce wrongly, generated. Many people contacted me and expressed worry at the quality of their spoken English. The beauty of this, however, is that we are all eager to do better. Let’s look at a few other words that are largely mispronounced.
stAY-tus, not sta-tus
As commonly used as status is, a lot of people do not pronounce it correctly. They say sta-tus – pronouncing the vowel a the way they do it in stamp, stab, slab etc. The correct pronunciation is stay-tus, with the a sounding as you have in stay, way, blame etc. Another word you should watch in this circumstance is data. It is pronounced dAY-ta, not da-ta.
As the economy continues to bite hard, more people are embracing the nuclear family template. Of course, nuclear energy is also for the good of humanity. But when it migrates to nuclear weapons, there is cause to worry. In language, there is another source of worry, though. This has got to do with the way many of us pronounce nuclear. We call it NOK-lear, as if a pastor is knocking the devil on the head. Others, at best, say nUclear. The correct pronunciation is NEWc-lear. In other words, the nu at the beginning of it sounds like what you have in new (opposite of old) and nu-de (synonym of naked). But there is another major issue with words with u which is so technical that I am a bit scared to discuss here. We will do so in the nearest future.
bom, not bomb
I believe a good number of us know that it is not every time you see letter b in a word that you have to let it sound when pronouncing the word. It is governed by the concept of silent sound. You know, if you want to articulate psychology, you make the p silent. The same rule applies to bomb, climb, comb, lamb etc, which a lot of people pollute in the course of pronunciation. The b that ends them should not be articulated. It is silent. So, instead of saying ‘The terrorists want to bomB the town’, say ‘The terrorists want to bom the town’.
They bombed the town last year. (Wrong)
They bomed the town last year. (Correct)
My hair is rough. Where is the comb? (Wrong)
My hair is rough. Where is the com. (Correct)
He is looking for the lamB. (Wrong)
He is looking for the lam. (Correct)
Note that in terms of spelling, the correct forms are bomb, comb and climb. But during pronunciation, you throw away the b.
Answers to the questions below are marked for prominence
- I killed a …
(a) black beautiful bird (b) bird black beautiful
(c) BEAUTIFUL BLACK BIRD (d) black bird beautiful
2. They were determined not to … the game.
(a) lost (b) loose (c) LOSE (d) loosen.
3. We met in …
(a) FEBRUARY (b) february (c) Febuary (d) Febry