20 Often-Mispronounced Words

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As English is spoken in many countries worldwide, it’s moot to argue that there is only one way to pronounce a word. Take the word ‘route’ for example – here in Britain, we pronounce it ‘root’, while in America it is pronounced ‘rowt’. Even within Britain, regional accents mean that the same word can be pronounced in many ways!

Because English has evolved from a variety of different languages, you can’t consistently rely on the spelling of a word to figure out how it’s pronounced. As soon as you learn a pronunciation rule, you’re presented with all the exceptions – just take a look at the following ‘ch’ words: cheese, champagne, chaos. While they’re all spelt with the same first two letters, the start of each word is pronounced differently: ‘ch’, ‘sh’, and ‘k’. If you are a Spellzone subscriber, you can type each word into our dictionary to hear them pronounced!

Today I’m going to take a look at 20 often-mispronounced words – you’ll notice that many of them have deceptive spellings!

1) Arctic/Antarctic
It’s easy to forget the ‘c’ when saying ‘Arctic’ or ‘Antarctic’ (or ‘Antarctica’!).
Make sure you’re not saying Ar-tic or Antar-tic.

2) Athlete
Athlete’ should be pronounced with only two syllables.
Rather than saying ath-uh-lete, make sure you’re saying ATH-LETE.

3) Buoy
Say ‘buoy’ like the word BOY.

4) Debris
Debris’ has a silent ‘s’: DUH-BREE.

5) Espresso
Espresso’ is one of many ‘es-’ words that people regularly (and incorrectly!) pronounce using an ‘ex-’ sound.
Watch out that you’re not saying ex-presso (or ex-pecially or ex-cape).

6) Et cetera (etc.)
And while we’re avoiding ‘ex’ sounds, make sure you’re saying ET CETERA not ex cetera.

7) Elite
This word is pronounced EH-LEET not eh-lite.

8) Epitome
Rather than saying epi-tohm, make sure you’re saying EPIT-OH-ME.

9) Hyperbole
Here’s another word where the ‘e’ sound at the end is emphasised.
Say HY-PER-BOH-LEE not hyper-bowl.

10) Infamous
Unfortunately, pronouncing ‘infamous’ isn’t as simple as one might suspect.
Rather than simply combining the words ‘in’ and ‘famous’, make sure you’re saying IN-FUH-MUS.

11) Interpret
It’s easy to get mixed up and find yourself saying in-ter-pre-tate.
Make sure you’re saying this word with only three syllables: IN-TUR-PRET.

12) Library
Don’t miss out the extra ‘r’ sound in the middle of ‘library’!
It’s LIBE-RA-RY not lie-berry.

13) Mischievous
Ever catch yourself saying mis-chee-vi-us?
Pronounce it MIS-CHI-VUS.

14) Often
The ‘t’ in ‘often’ is silent. Say OFF-EN.

15) Prerogative
Don’t forget the ‘r’ at the start of ‘prerogative’: PRUH-ROG-A-TIVE.
Other words that people often forget to pronounce the ‘r’ in are ‘prescription’ and ‘frustration’.

16) Queue Say ‘queue’ like the word CUE.

17) Quay
Say ‘quay’ like the word KEY.

18) Specific
Make sure you’re pronouncing the ‘s’ at the start of this word.
It’s SPUH-SIH-FIK not pa-ci-fic.

19) Subtle
The ‘b’ in ‘subtle’ is silent: SUH-TULL.

20) Supposedly
Notice the ‘d’ towards the end of this word and make sure you’re not pronouncing ‘supposedly’ with a ‘b’.
It’s SUH-POSE-AD-LY not suh-pose-ab-ly!

As a second-language English speaker, I occasionally learn that I’ve been pronouncing a word wrong my entire life – it was only while writing this post that I discovered I’d been saying ‘elite’ and ‘mischievous’ incorrectly. What are some words you struggle to say correctly?

Avani Shah


01 Apr 2014
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