English words people commonly pronounce wrong

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my guide to the Most Common Pronunciation Errors in English. It will teach you about commonly mispronounced words, pro­nunci­ation patterns, and the basics of English phonology.

Below is a list of English words commonly mispronounced by learners of English. Pronunciation is given in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and in a notation that uses just three IPA symbols (ə as in Tina, æ as in cat, and ʌ as in “but”) and should be quite intuitive to read. The stressed syllable is indicated by a bold typeface.

bear, pear, wear /bɛə/ (beə) /pɛə/ (peə), /wɛə/ (weə) (UK), /bɛr/ (ber), /pɛr/ (per), /wɛr/ (wer) (US) – the animal, the fruit, and what we do with clothesall of them are pronounced with the /ɛ/ sound. In other words, if you’ve heard a story about someone’s grandpa being attacked by a beer while eating his peer, you can be pretty sure the storyteller hadn’t read this article.
tear – this word may cause some confusion because it has two completely unrelated meanings. When it denotes a water drop coming out of someone’s eye, it’s pronounced /tiːə/ (teeə) (UK) or /tiːr/ (teer) (US). When it denotes the process of “ripping” something, it is pronounced /tɛə/ (teə) (UK) or /tɛr/ (ter) (US).
weight /weɪt/ (weyt) – those who realize that “height” is correctly pronounced /haɪt/ sometimes mistakenly tend to pronounce “weight” the same as “white”.
pour /pɔː/ (paw) (UK), /pɔːr/ (paw’r) or /poʊr/ (poh’r) (US) – although the word looks like having a French origin and “ou” in French words is usually pronounced // (oo), e.g. route /ruːt/, in this case the origin is not French, and so is not the pronunciation.
wolf /wʊlf/ (woolf) – this is one of a few words in which a single “o” is pronounced as /ʊ/. Other examples include “woman” /ˈwʊmən/ (woo-mən) and closely related “womb” /wuːm/ (woom) or “tomb” /tuːm/ (toom).
alien /ˈeɪliən/ (ey-li-ən) – although a lion would certainly be an unwelcome alien at your home, let’s not confuse them. Just remember that an alien is not your ally /ˈælaɪ/.
bull /bʊl/ (bool) – some people pronounce the “u” wrongly as /ʌ/ (as in “bulb” /bʌlb/).
bullet /ˈbʊlɪt/ (boo-lit) – as in the previous case, “u” is pronounced as /ʊ/.
ballet /ˈbæleɪ/ (-lei) (UK), /bæˈleɪ/ (bæ-lei) (US) – somewhat surprisingly, the final “-t” remains silent.
walk, chalk, talk /wɔːk/ (wawk), /tʃɔːk/ (tchawk), /tɔːk/ (tawk) (UK), /wɑːk/ (waak), /tʃɑːk/ (tchaak), /tɑːk/ (taak) (US) – both in American and British English, the “l” remains silent (but it modifies the pronunciation of “a” in front of it).
angel /ˈeɪndʒəl/ (eyn-dzhəl) – unlike other words beginning with “ang-” such as “anger” /ˈæŋɡə/ (æng-gə) (UK), /ˈæŋɡr/ (æng-gr) (US) or “angle” /ˈæŋɡl/ (æng-gl), “angel” is pronounced with // at the beginning.
angelic /ænˈdʒɛlɪk/ (æ-dzhel-ik) – albeit it is derived from “angel”, the stress is shifted to the second syllable and the vowel has to be pronounced accordingly. P.S. “albeit” as in the previous sentence is pronounced /ɔːlˈbiːɪt/ (awl-bee-it).
archangel /ˈɑːkeɪndʒəl/ (aak-eyn-dzhəl) (UK), /ˈɑːrkeɪndʒəl/ (ark-eyn-dzhəl) (US) – in contrast to “arch” /ɑːtʃ/ (aatch) (UK), /ɑːrtʃ/ (artch) (US), this one is pronounced with hard “ch”. You can remember that the Mormon Church teaches that Noah (the builder of Noah’s Ark) is actually the same person as Archangel Gabriel, if it helps you to remember the correct pronunciation.
archenemy /ˈɑːtʃˈɛnəmi/ (aatch-en-ə-mee) (UK) /ˈɑrtʃˈɛnəmi/ (artch-en-ə-mee) (US) – archenemy is the “opposite” of archangel, and thus differs in pronunciation as well. The same is true for its variants: archvillain /ˈɑːtʃˈvɪlən/, archfoe /ˈɑːtʃˈfəʊ/, and archnemesis /ˈɑːtʃˈnɛməsɪs/ (UK, US correspondingly).
pasture /ˈpɑːstʃə/ (paas-tchə) (UK), /ˈpæstʃr/ (pæs-tchr) (US) – think of pasture, a grassland for cattle, as about a part of nature being less common now than in the past.
calm, palm /cɑːm/ (kaam), /pɑːm/ (paam) – English doesn’t seem to like the combination “alm”, so the “l” remains silent.
salmon, almond /ˈsæmən/ (-mən) (both UK and US), /ˈɑːmənd/ (aa-mənd) (UK), /ˈɑːmənd/ (aa-mənd), /ˈɑːlmənd/ (aal-mənd) , or /ˈæmənd/ (æ-mənd) (US) – there’s something fishy about the two words. Perhaps the pronunciation.
calf, calve, half /kɑːf/ (kaaf), /kɑːv/ (kaav), /hɑːf/ (haaf) (UK), /kæf/ (kæf), /kæv/ (kæv), /hæf/ (hæf) (US) – as above, the “l” is silent. “To calve” means “to give birth to a calf”.
diaeresis /daɪˈɛrəsɪs/ (daay-er-ə-sis) – the diacritical mark consisting of two dots (¨) above a letter (e.g. ë). In English; it is used only in a few borrowed words and proper names.
Brontë /ˈbrɒntiː/ (bronn-tee) – as most English words that should theoretically end with the /ɛ/ sound (such as “soufflé” /ˈsuːfleɪ/ (soo-flei) (UK), /suːˈfleɪ/ (soo-flei) (US) or “ballet” /ˈbæleɪ/ (-lei) (UK), /bælˈeɪ/ (bæl-ei) (US)) are in fact pronounced with // at the end, people tend to read names such as those of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë (famous British poets and novelists) with // at the end. You can think about the two dots as about a hint that you should actually pronounce two “ee”s.
unanimous /juːˈnænɪməs/ (yoo-næn-im-əs) – this word is not “un-animous” which could theoretically mean “not possessing animosity”, but which unfortunately does not exist. Rather it comes from Latin ūnus (one) + animus (mind) and means “of one mind”, “in agreement”.
Penelope /pəˈnɛləpi/ (pə-nel-ə-pee) – the wife of Odysseus /oʊˈdɪsiəs/ (oh-di-see-əs) or /oʊˈdɪsjuːs/ (oh-dis-yoos) may have received many an envelope with an ode that she had legs like an antelope, but she nevertheless remained faithful to her husband during his absence. Perhaps because the authors tried to rhyme “antelope” /ˈæntɪləʊp/ (ænt-il-əup) (UK), /ˈæntloʊp/ (ænt-loh’p) (US) with her name.
sweat /swɛt/ (swet) – have you ever tasted sweat? It’s not exactly sweet. Don’t pronounce it this way.
bury /ˈbɛri/ (ber-ri) – a burial /ˈbɛriəl/ (ber-ri-əl) is an important event in one’s life. Don’t spoil it for the others by pronouncing it wrong. “Bury” is pronounced the same as “berry”.
ado /əˈduː/ (ə-doo) – known mostly from the title of Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing. It is easy to remember the correct pronunciation once you see that it is actually composed out of two words “a” and “do”.
ere /ɛə/ (eə) (UK), /ɛr/ (er) (US) – this word is pronounced exactly the same as “air” and “heir” and means “before”. It is quite rare in modern literature and is used mostly to create a poetic or archaic feeling, but it is quite common in older literature.
xenon, xerox, xenophobia /ˈzɛnɒn/ (zen-on), /ˈzɪərɒks/ (zi-ə-roks), /ˌzɛnəˈfəʊbiə/ (zen-ə-fəu-bee-ə) (UK), /ˈziːnɑːn/ (zee-naan), /ˈziːrɑːks/ (zee-raaks), /ˌzɛnəˈfoʊbiə/ (zen-ə-foh-bee-ə) or /ˌziːnəˈfoʊbiə/ (zee-nə-foh-bee-ə) (US) – perhaps as a great disappointment to all fans of a dubbed version of Xena: Warrior Princess comes the fact that “x” at the beginning of any word is not pronounced as /ks/ but as /z/.

This article was based on my guide to English pronunciation mistakes, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?

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