40 Hard-to-Pronounce Words You're Probably Getting Wrong

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We all know the embarrassing feeling of discovering we've been mispronouncing a word for years. On the other hand, some words are so commonly mispronounced that the "correct" pronunciation sounds downright strange.

Don't feel bad if you've been mispronouncing some of these tricky words. A living language like English evolves and thrives precisely because it is spoken every day. Some people choose to adhere to rigid rules of grammar and pronunciation (known as linguistic prescription) and take pleasure in the precision of English grammar and vocabulary. Others prefer the descriptive linguistics approach, which doesn't apply judgments such as "correct" or "incorrect" but instead looks at how language is actually used. In other words, as long as people can understand you, you are successfully using language for its primary purpose: communication.

1. Accede

How to say it: ak-SEED

May be mispronounced: a-SEED

What it means: to consent, give approval; yield to another’s wishes

2. Alias

How to say it: AY-lee-iss

What it means: an assumed name taken on temporarily, sometimes by a criminal or fugitive

3. Anathema

How to say it: uh-NATH-uh-muh

What it means: someone or something that one strongly dislikes or loathes

4. Anemone

How to say it: uh-NEH-muh-nee

What it means: a flower in the buttercup family; a sedentary marine animal, as in sea anemone

5. Apocryphal

How to say it: uh-POK-ruh-fuhl

What it means: of questionable authenticity, as in a story or statement

6. Camaraderie

How to say it: kah-muh-RAH-duh-ree

May be mispronounced: kahm-RAH-duh-ree

What it means: easy familiarity and friendship, often built over time 

7. Colloquialism

How to say it: kuh-loh-kwee-uh-liz-uhm

What it means: a word, phrase, or expression that is conversational rather than formal

8. Debauch

How to say it: dih-BAWCH

What it means: to lead away from virtue; to corrupt morally 

9. Demagogue

How to say it: DEM-uh-gog

What it means: a leader who appeals to popular passions and prejudices to gain support


How to say it: ih-MOL-yuhnt

What it means: making smoother or less harsh; a substance with a soothing effect on the skin

11. Epitome

How to say it: ih-PIT-uh-mee

May be mispronounced: eh-pi-TOME

What it means: a person or thing that characterizes a whole category to which it belongs

12. Espouse

How to say it: ih-SPOWZ

May be mispronounced: ex-POWZ

What it means: to follow or support an idea or theory as a cause 

13. Espresso

How to say it: eh-SPRES-oh

May be mispronounced: ex-PRESS-oh

What it means: a strong coffee of Italian origin, made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans  

14. Fatuous

How to say it: FACH-oo-uss

May be mispronounced: FAT-choo-uss

What it means: foolish, inane; devoid of intelligence 

15. Forte

How to say it: for-TAY or fort (depending on meaning)

What it means: a musical direction meaning loud (pronounced "for-TAY"); a strong point or a strength (pronounced "fort")

16. Grandiloquent

How to say it: gran-DILL-uh-kwuhnt

What it means: extravagant, lofty, or bombastic in style or manner, especially language 

17. Hegemony

How to say it: hih-JEH-muh-nee

May be mispronounced: hedge-ih-MOAN-ee or homo-JENNY

What it means: authority, leadership, or influence by a dominant social group

18. Inchoate

How to say it: in-KOH-it

What it means: only partly in existence; partially formed, as in an idea

19. Knell

How to say it: nel

May be mispronounced: knel (with the k)

What it means: the sound of a bell rung slowly to announce death or a funeral

20. Maelstrom

How to say it: meyl-struhm

What it means: a violent whirlpool 

21. Mauve

How to say it: mohv

May be mispronounced: mawv

What it means: a pale purple color 

22. Mischievous

How to say it: MISS-chuh-vuhs

May be mispronounced: mis-CHEE-vee-uhs (note the extra syllable)

What it means: naughtily annoying or troublemaking 

23. Nadir

How to say it: NAY-deer

What it means: the lowest point

24. Neophyte

How to say it: NEE-uh-fahyt

What it means: a beginner, a new participant 

25. Noisome

How to say it: NOI-sum

What it means: disgusting, as in odor; capable of causing nausea 

26. Panacea

How to say it: pan-uh-SEE-uh

What it means: a cure-all; a remedy for all illness or solution for all problems 

27. Phlegmatic

How to say it: fleg-MAT-ik

What it means: slow to react, not showing emotion; calm and composed

28. Protean

How to say it: PROH-tee-uhn

May be mispronounced: pro-teen

What it means: assuming various forms; changeable in shape, as an amoeba

29. Puerile

How to say it: PYOO-er-il

What it means: relating to a child or childhood; immature, foolish

30. Pulchritude

How to say it: PUHL-kri-tood

What it means: physical beauty, comeliness 

31. Quinoa

How to say it: KEEN-wah

May be mispronounced: KEEN-oh-ah

What it means: a small edible crop seed 

32. Quixotic

How to say it: kwik-SOT-ik

What it means: insensibly extravagant or romantic

33. Sanguine

How to say it: SANG-gwin

May be mispronounced: sang-WHINE

What it means: cheerful, hopeful, confident, especially in a bad situation

34. Sherbet

How to say it: SHUR-bit

May be mispronounced: SHUR-burt

What it means: a frozen fruit-flavored dessert made without milk

35. Staid

How to say it: steyd

What it means: settled; sedate in character

36. Surfeit

How to say it: SUR-fit

What it means: an excessive amount

37. Timbre

How to say it: TAM-ber

May be mispronounced: TIM-ber (as in, that tree's about to fall down)

What it means: the sound or tonal quality of a particular voice or musical instrument

38. Truculent

How to say it: TRUHK-yuh-luhnt

What it means: defiant, quick to argue or fight

39. Vicissitude

How to say it: vih-SIS-ih-tood

What it means: a change in circumstance, usually undesired 

40. Zephyr

How to say it: ZEF-er

May be mispronounced: ZEF-fire

What it means: a soft, mild breeze

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