Wondering what the most commonly mispronounced words are in English? English pronunciation is confusing for native speakers and English learners alike, often because the written words don’t look anything like how they are supposed to sound. It took me far too long to realize I was pronouncing quinoa incorrectly. (For the record, it’s keen-waa, not kwin-o-ah).
Pronunciation is important so it’s a good idea to focus on pronouncing words correctly as soon as you learn them. With that in mind, here are eleven of the most commonly mispronounced words in English – with some tips on how to say them the right way.
Pronunciation vs accent
Before we start, let’s quickly look at the difference between pronunciation and accent. Pronunciation is how we say individual sounds and syllables. With pronunciation, there’s a wrong way and a right way. Both the Queen of England and Lil Nas X (should!) pronounce quinoa as keen-waa.
But, even though Lil Nas X and the Queen are both native English speakers, it’s pretty obvious that their accents are very different. An accent is more about the rhythm and melody of how you speak and it can often tell someone where you’re from. Your accent, whether native or foreign, is something you should be proud of.
You probably know how to pronounce the word table in English and maybe how to pronounce the word comfort too. Well, throw that knowledge out of the window for a second because English pronunciation is not logical. Comfortable has three syllables, not four. We should say comf-tur-bul (/ˈkʌm.fɚ.t̬ə.bəl/) not com-for-tay-bul.
Lots of people pronounce this word with two syllables – lie-bree – but it should have three syllables: lie-brer-ee (/ˈlaɪ.brer.i/).
Sticking with our lie theme, liable is one of the most commonly mispronounced English words. Many native and non-native speakers say lie-bul, with two syllables. Liable actually has three syllables: lie-a-bul (/ˈlaɪ.ə.bəl/).
Niche is a French word that has made its way into English and of course, we’ve managed to mess up the pronunciation. In the UK, most people pronounce it close to how it sounds in French – neesh (/niːʃ/). But, in American English, most people pronounce it nitch (/nɪtʃ/). Both are correct, but be aware of this difference.
One of the funniest mispronounced words, or at least one of the most ironic, is pronunciation. It’s a word people often misspell too, thinking it should be written and pronounced like the verb, so they say pro-nounce-i-ay-shun. The correct way is pro-nunce-i-ay-shun (/prəˌnʌn.siˈeɪ.ʃən/).
This is a fairly new word – it only entered the dictionary in 2015 – so it’s not surprising a lot of people don’t know how to say it. It should be said meem (/miːm/), not mem or mem-ey.
We’re going to take a look at some of the most commonly mispronounced food words now, starting with a major offender: salmon. The l is a silent letter (we have a lot of those in English!). So it should be pronounced sah-min (/ˈsæm.ən/) not sal-mon.
Take a look back at our first commonly mispronounced word, comfortable, and apply the same logic we had there to vegetable. In English, it has three syllables – vej-tuh-bul (/ˈvedʒ.tə.bəl/), not vej-e-tay-bul.
Espresso is one of the most commonly mispronounced words in English, which is odd because we should say it exactly as it’s written. A lot of English speakers though will say eXpresso, maybe because they relate it to the word express. It should be pronounced es-PRES-oh (/esˈpres.oʊ/).
Fancy some lunch? How about a sanD-witch or should that be san-witch? The d in sandwich is a silent letter so it is indeed a san-witch /ˈsæn.wɪtʃ/.
11. Desert and dessert
It makes sense to end our pronunciation journey with a tasty dessert. Not with a desert; very few journeys end in the middle of a sandy nowhere. Pronunciation isn’t the only thing people get wrong with these words – spelling is also a problem for many native and non-native speakers alike.
When it comes to pronunciation, remember for the sandy desert, the stress is on the first syllable – DEZ’ut /ˈdez.ɚt/ – and for the tasty dessert, the stress is on the second syllable – dez’URT /dɪˈzɝːt/.
Are you working on your pronunciation?
How many of these commonly mispronounced words have tripped you up in the past? Even native English speakers often make mistakes with their pronunciation and for you and for them, it’s probably going to be a lifelong battle to say every word correctly in English (sorry!). Using these everyday words in conversation is a good starting point on your pronunciation odyssey.
Laura is a freelance writer and was an ESL teacher for eight years. She was born in the UK and has lived in Australia and Poland, where she writes blogs for Lingoda about everything from grammar to dating English speakers. She’s definitely better at the first one. She loves travelling and that’s the other major topic that she writes on. Laura likes pilates and cycling, but when she’s feeling lazy she can be found curled up watching Netflix. She’s currently learning Polish, and her battle with that mystifying language has given her huge empathy for anyone struggling to learn English. Find out more about her work in her portfolio.