40 Hard to Pronounce Words You're Probably Getting Wrong

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Communication can be a puzzle. Elly Walton / Getty Images

We all know the embarrassing feeling of discovering we've mispronounced 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 choose to adhere to rigid rules (known as linguistic prescription) of grammar and pronunciation, and take pleasure the precision of English grammar and vocabulary. Others prefer the descriptive linguistics approach, which doesn't apply judgments like 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.

01
of 40

Accede

How to say it: ak-SEED
May be mispronounced: a-SEED
What it means: to consent, give approval; yield to another’s wishes

02
of 40

Alias

How to say it: AY-lee-iss 
What it means: an assumed name taken on temporarily, sometimes by a criminal or fugitive

03
of 40

Anathema

How to say it: uh-NATH-uh-muh 
What it means: someone or something that one strongly dislikes or loathes

04
of 40

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

05
of 40

Apocryphal

How to say it: uh-POK-ruh-fuhl
What it means: of questionable authenticity, as in a story or statement

06
of 40

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 

07
of 40

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

08
of 40

Debauch

How to say it: dih-BAWCH
What it means: to lead away from virtue; to corrupt morally 

09
of 40

Demagogue

How to say it: DEM-uh-gog
What it means: a leader who appeals to popular passions and prejudices to gain support

10
of 40

Emollient

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
of 40

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
of 40

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
of 40

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 coffee beans  

14
of 40

Fatuous

How to say it: FACH-oo-uss
May be mispronounced: FAT-choo-uss
What it means: foolish, inane; devoid of intelligence 

15
of 40

Forte

How to say it: Fort
May be mispronounced: for-TAY
What it means: a strong point or a strength

16
of 40

Grandiloquent

How to say it: gran-DILL-uh-kwuhnt 
What it means: extravagant, lofty, or bombastic in style or manner, especially language 

17
of 40

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
of 40

Inchoate

How to say it: in-KOH-it
What it means: only partly in existence; partially formed, as in an idea

19
of 40

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
of 40

Maelstrom

How to say it: meyl-struhm
What it means: a violent whirlpool 

21
of 40

Mauve

How to say it: mohv
May be mispronounced: mawv
What it means: a pale purple color 

22
of 40

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
of 40

Nadir

How to say it: NAY-deer
What it means: the lowest point

24
of 40

Neophyte

How to say it: NEE-uh-fahyt
What it means: a beginner, a new participant 

25
of 40

Noisome

How to say it: NOI-sum
What it means: disgusting, as in odor; capable of causing nausea 

26
of 40

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
of 40

Phlegmatic

How to say it: fleg-MAT-ik
What it means: slow to react, not showing emotion; calm and composed

28
of 40

Protean

How to say it: PROH-tee-uhn
What it means: assuming various forms; changeable in shape, as an amoeba 

29
of 40

Puerile

How to say it: PYOO-er-il
What it means: relating to a child or childhood; immature, foolish

30
of 40

Pulchritude

How to say it: PUHL-kri-tood
What it means: physical beauty, comeliness 

31
of 40

Quinoa

How to say it: KEEN-wah
May be mispronounced: KEEN-oh-ah
What it means: a small edible crop seed 

32
of 40

Quixotic

How to say it: kwik-SOT-ik
What it means: insensibly extravagant or romantic

33
of 40

Sanguine

How to say it: SANG-gwin
May be mispronounced: sang-WHINE
What it means: cheerful, hopeful, confident, especially in a bad situation

34
of 40

Sherbet

How to say it: SHUR-bit 
May be mispronounced: SHUR-burt
What it means: a frozen fruit-flavored dessert made without milk

35
of 40

Staid

How to say it: steyd
What it means: settled; sedate in character

36
of 40

Surfeit

How to say it: SUR-fit
What it means: an excessive amount

37
of 40

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
of 40

Truculent

How to say it: TRUHK-yuh-luhnt
What it means: defiant, quick to argue or fight

39
of 40

Vicissitude

How to say it: vih-SIS-ih-tood
What it means: a change in circumstance, usually undesired 

40
of 40

Zephyr

How to say it: ZEF-er
May be mispronounced: ZEF-fire
What it means: a soft, mild breeze 

Main Resources for Definitions

https://www.merriam-webster.com https://www.dictionary.com
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Your Citation
Valdes, Olivia. "40 Hard to Pronounce Words You're Probably Getting Wrong." ThoughtCo, Jan. 4, 2018, thoughtco.com/hard-to-pronounce-words-4156950. Valdes, Olivia. (2018, January 4). 40 Hard to Pronounce Words You're Probably Getting Wrong. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hard-to-pronounce-words-4156950 Valdes, Olivia. "40 Hard to Pronounce Words You're Probably Getting Wrong." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hard-to-pronounce-words-4156950 (accessed January 18, 2018).