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The Most Often Mispronounced Words in English


This is Dr. Goodword's one-stop cure for the plague of mispronunciation, the English words most often mispronounced (pronunciation among them). The two most common causes of these errors are speaking too fast and not reading enough. English does have spelling rules, difficult though that may seem, and spelling often helps in pronunciation. Careful speech and avid reading are keys to good spelling and pronunciation.

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• A •
assessory accessory Don't get all dressed up with new accessories and then mispronounce the word. It has a double C with one pronounced hard, the other soft, like accident and access.
acrossed across It is better to keep the paths of across and crossed from crossing.
affadavid affidavit It is an affidavit even if your name is David.
Old-timer's disease Alzheimer's disease Dr. Alois Alzheimer first recognized this disease and received the dubious honor of having it named for him.
Artic Arctic Try to 'C' that you to keep both Cs in this word and in its 'ant', Antarctic.
aks ask Believe it or not, this one has been around for centuries. Still, let's give the axe to aks.
asterik asterisk Don't ask for a risk that people will laugh at your pronunciation of this word; get all the consonants on the end of it.
athelete, atheletic athlete, athletic Well, the word for athletes is not on steroids: two syllables are enough here.
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• B •
barbituate barbiturate We 'R' all apt to miss that second R in barbiturate? Remember, this word contains (more or less) 4 words: bar+bit+u+rate.
bob wire barbed wire No, Bob is not the eponym of this word and it wasn't named for Barb Dwyer, either. You should hear that D in the pronunciation (though the suffix -ed "having," is fading fast in the US).
bidness business The change of S to D before N is spreading throughout the US. When the unaccented I drops from this word, the S finds itself in the same environment as in "isn't" and "wasn't."
a blessing in the skies a blessing in disguise This phrase is far from a blessing even if it comes from the skies. It needs all the help it can get to maintain its disguise.
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• C •
cachet cache If you have a cache of cash, this word is easier to remember. There is a silent E on cache but a silent T on cachet, a seal or mark of authenticity.
cannidate candidate You aren't being canny to lose the D in this word. Remember, it is the same as candy date, though few would so qualify.
card shark cardsharp You'll be happy to know that professional poker players will not eat you alive, though they still might gnaw through your wallet.
Carpool tunnel syndrome Carpal tunnel syndrome There are many mispronunciations of this one; we just picked the funniest. Carpal means "pertaining to the wrist."
caucaphony cacophony There is no greater cacophony [kêkahfêni] to the careful speaker's ears than the results of switching the first two vowels in this word.
The Caucases The Caucasus Not even closed political meetings (caucuses) could change the Latin singular name of this mountain chain to a plural one.
Calvary cavalry As if our Ps and Qs aren't problem enough, in this word you should mind your Ls and Vs. Too bad the cavalry could not have come to the rescue on Calvary.
chester drawers chest of drawers Chester may keep his drawers in a chest of drawers but this phrase contains three words, all of which must be pronounced.
chomp at the bit champ at the bit Chomp has probably replaced champ for ever in the US but, if you like to joust with windmills, remember how this one was originally pronounced and spelled.
close clothes The TH is a very soft sound likely to be overlooked but this word always wears it.
coronet cornet Playing a crown (coronet) sounds as bad as wearing a trumpet (cornet) on your head looks—a good reason to keep these two words straight.
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• D •
dialate dilate The [i] in this word is probably long enough to add another vowel, but don't you lose patience and succumb to the temptation.
decrepid decrepit Even if the final T in this word is not our cup of tea, we must pronounce it.
diptheria diphtheria Yes, four letters for only two sounds is one of the pains of English spelling but don't try to reduce them yourself at home. Leave it to the pros.
doggy dog world dog-eat-dog world I hope the world you live in is merely a doggy-dog world. The rest of us, I'm afraid, live in a more dangerous world.
drownd(ed) drown Adding the D to the basic verb (drown) might be overlooked but if you do that, you are forced to add another -ed for the past tense. Don't get drowned in these errors.
dubya double U The name for this letter (W) comes from the days when Us were written like Vs, so the original Ws were VVs. Even presidents should say "double U".
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• E •
electoral electoral The accent is on the second, not the third, syllable. By the way, there is no I in it: this word is not pronounced electorial! (The same applies to mayoral and pastoral.)
excape escape The good news: if you say excape, you've mastered the prefix ex- "out of, from". The bad news: you don't use this prefix on escape.
expresso espresso While I can't express my love for espresso enough, this word was borrowed (along with the coffee) from Italy, where the Latin prefix ex- has developed into es-.
excetera et cetera Latin for "and" (et) "the rest" (cetera) are actually two words that still may be written separately.
expecially especially Especial things are usually not expected but don't confuse these words.
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• F •
Febyuary February We don't like two syllables in a row containing an R so most of us convert the first to a Y. Most dictionaries now say that this is OK—but just so you know.
fedral federal Syncopation of an unaccented vowel is fairly common in rapid speech but in careful speech jazz rhythms should be avoided. See also plute and read more about the problem here.
fillum film English also does not like the combination L + M. One solution is to ignore it, as we do in balm, palm, salmon, and almond. That is much preferable to adding a vowel.
fisical fiscal Sometimes it seems that we don't like any consonants together. Here is another word, like athlete and film, that is often forced to swallow an unwanted vowel. (Not to be confused with physical.)
flounder founder Since it is unlikely that a boat would founder on a flounder, we should distinguish the verb from the fish as the spelling suggests.
foilage foliage Here is another case of metathesis, place-switching L and I. Remember, the I comes after the L, as in related folio.
For all intensive purposes For all intents and purposes The younger generation is mispronouncing this phrase so intensively that it is fast becoming popular both as a mispronunciation and misspelling.
fort forte The E on the end of forte is not silent. It sounds like the letter A when you are referring either to a loud passage of music or a person's strong point: fortay.
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• H •
Heineken remover Heimlich maneuver (or manoeuvre, Br.) Here is another phrase mispronounced many different ways. Again, we remind you with the funniest one we have heard. This maneuver (manoeuvre) was named for US surgeon Henry Jay Heimlich (1920- ).
haynious heinous Take care not to make a heinous mistake in pronouncing this word with three syllables: two will do quite nicely. (Thank you, Michelle Grant)
heighth height Don't expect consistency in English spelling: width and breadth but height. Go figure.
'erb herb Does, "My friend Herb grows 'erbs," sound right to you? This is a US melt-down generated by the melting pot—a Cockney word among dialects that retain the initial H. Be consistent!
hi-archy hierarchy Remember, hierarchies go higher than you might think: it is a "higher archy" and not just a "high archy."
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• I •
in parenthesis in parentheses An expression enclosed in one parenthesis needs more editing; at least two parentheses are required.
interpretate interpret This error results from the back-formation of interpretation, i.e. removing too few suffixes from it. But back formation isn't needed; we already have interpret. (See also orientate)
irregardless regardless If -less means "without" and ir- means "not", then irregardless would mean "not without regard to", which is to say, "with regard to". No need to repeat the same negative sentiment with "ir-."
idn't isn't Again, S just does not get along with N. (See also bidness and wadn't)
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• J •
jewlery jewelry Again with the switching letters, this time E and L. The root word is jewel that doesn't change in either jeweler or jewelry. The British add a syllable: jewellery. That's OK even though they seldom pronounce it.
jist nor dis just As opposed to the adjective just, this word is not accented, which encourages vowel reduction. However, it sounds better not to replace the vowel UH with I.
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• K •
Klu Klux Klan Ku Klux Klan Now, there's an L in the other two, why not the first? Well, that is just the way it is; don't expect rationality from this organization.
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• L •
lambast lambaste Better to lambaste the lamb than to baste him—certainly from his perspective. Remember, the rhyme is with baste.
larnyx larynx Again with the letter-switching! Now it's the N and Y switching places. Mind your Ns and Ys as you do your Ps and Qs.
Laura Norder law and order The sound [aw] picks up an [r] in some dialects (also "sawr" and "gnawr"). Avoid it and bring grammatical law and order to Laura Norder.
leash lease Southern Americans are particularly liable to try to keep a renter on a leash. But leashes are for dogs; leases, for renters.
libel liable You are liable to be sued for libel if you slander someone. But park these two words on different shelves in your mental dictionary.
liberry library As mentioned before, English speakers dislike two Rs in the same word, especially after B. But you will go farther not confusing the berry patch with the reading room.
long-lived long-lived This compound is not derived from "to live longly" because you can't say that. So it must come from having "a long life" with the vowel that sounds like eye. The plural stem, live(s), is always used: short-lived, many-lived, triple-lived.
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• M •
masonary masonry We have been told that masons are most likely to insert a spare vowel into this word describing their occupation. No one should.
mawv mauve This word has not moved far enough away from French to assume an English pronunciation, [mawv], and should still be pronounced [mowv].
mannaise mayonnaise Ever wonder why the short form of a word pronounced mannaise is mayo? Well, it is because the original should be pronounced "mayo-nnaise." Just remember: what would mayonnaise be without mayo?
metorology meteorology The pronunciation of this word is meatier than many of us think. Never forget that this word is built upon meteor, which makes all three syllables initial syllables mandatory. It's simple: [meatier + ology].
miniture miniature Here is another word frequently syncopated. Even if you are a jazz musician, don't leave out the third syllable, A.
mute moot The definition of moot is moot (open to debate) but not the pronunciation: [mut] and not [myut], that pronunciation is only for mute.
mischevious mischievous It would be mischievous of me not to point out the frequent misplacement of the accent and letter-switching in this word. Remember, it is accented the same as mischief and the suffix is simply -ous.
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• N •
nother other Misanalysis is a common type of speech error based on the misperception of where to draw the line between components of a word of phrase. "A whole nother" comes from misanalyzing "an other" as "a nother." Not good. Always say, "A whole other."
nucular nuclear The British and Australians find the American repetition of the U between the K and L quaintly amusing. Even President Bush has begun to pronounce it correctly in his second term.
nuptual nuptial Many speakers in the US add a spurious U to this word, too. It should be pronounced [nuhp-chuhl], not [nuhp-chu-uhl].
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• O •
often ofen We have mastered the spelling of this word so well, its spelling influences the pronunciation. In fact, T drops out between F and N regularly in English (as in soften).
ophthamologist ophthalmologist There will be L to pay if you miss the L in this word! Don't forget that the first consonant is PH [f], not just P, either.
ordinance ordnance You may have to use ordnance to enforce an ordinance but you should not confuse the words in doing so.
orientate orient Another pointless back-formation. We don't need to recreate this longer verb from orientation when we already have (to) orient. (See also interpretate.)
ostensively ostensibly Some of us extensively mis-suffix ostensibly. Don't you.
Ostraya Australia This pronunciation particularly bothers Australians themselves, most of whom can manage the L quite easily, thank you. (Take if from an educated Seppo.)
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• P •
parlament parliament Although some dictionaries have given up on it, there should be a Y after L: [pahr-lyuh-muhnt].
perculate percolate Pronouncing this word as perculate is quite peculiar. (Also, remember that this word means "drip down" not "drip up.")
pottable potable The adjective meaning "drinkable" rhymes with "floatable" and is not to be confused with the flowers or friends "capable of being potted."
perogative prerogative Even in dialects where R does not always trade places with the preceding vowel (as the Texan pronunciations differnce, vetern, etc.), the R in this prefix often gets switched.
perscription prescription Same as above. It is possible that we do not switch letters here but simply confuse "pre-" and "per-" since both are legitimate prefixes.
persnickety pernickety You may think us too pernickety to even mention this one. It is a Scottish nonce word to which US speakers have added a spurious S. Either pronunciation is now acceptable; we just thought you would like to know.
preemptory peremptory Now here the R does come after the E. Careful not to confuse this word with preemptive.
prespire perspire Per- has become such a regular mispronunciation of pre-, many people now correct themselves where they don't need to. Per- is fine here.
plute pollute This one, like pleece [police], spose [suppose], and others, commonly result from rapid speech syncope, the loss of short, unaccented vowels. Just be sure you pronounce the vowel when you are speaking slowly and sometime when you are not speaking, read Dr. Goodword's word on the subject.
probly, prolly probably Haplology is the dropping of one of two identical syllables such as the [ob] and [ab] in this word in fast speech. Slow down and pronounce the whole word for maximum clarity and to reduce your chances of misspelling the word.
pronounciation pronunciation Just as misspelling is among the most commonly misspelled words, pronunciation is among the most commonly mispronounced words. Ironic, no?
prostrate prostate Though a pain in the prostate may leave a man prostrate, the name of the gland contains no R.
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• R •
realator realtor As you avoid the extra vowel in masonry and athlete, remember to do the same for realtor, the guy who sells what the mason creates.
revelant relevant Here is another word that seems to invite metathesis. As with cavalry, mind your Ls and Vs.
reoccur recur You don't have to invent a new word from occur. We already have a verb recur that does the trick.
respite respite Despite the spelling similarity, this word does not rhyme with despite; it is pronounced [respit]. Give yourself a permanent respite from mispronouncing it.
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• S •
sherbert sherbet Some of the same people who do not like two Rs in their words can't help repeating the one in this word.
silicone silicon Silicon is the material they make computer chips from but implants are made of silicone.
snuck sneaked I doubt we will be able to sneak snuck out of the language any time soon but here is a reminder that it is a joke that is sticking, not a legitimate word.
sose so The phrase "so as" has been reduced to a single word sose even when it is not called for. "Sose I can go" should be simply "so I can go." By the way, the same applies to alls, as in, "Alls I want is to never hear alls again." "All that" is the correct phrase.
spade spay You can have your dog spayed if she agrees to no more puppies but please don't spade her if she refuses.
spitting image spit and image The very spit of someone is an exact likeness. "The spit and image" or "spit image" emphasizes the exactness.
stob stub In some areas the vowel in this word has slid a bit too far back in the mouth. Better push it back forward less you inadvertently choke.
stomp stamp Stamps are so called because they were originally stamped (not stomped) on a letter. You stamp your feet, too.
suit suite If you don't wear it (a suit [sut]), then it is a suite [sweet], as in a living room suite or a suite of rooms.
supposably supposedly This mispronunciation is really a possible word in English but it would mean "capable of being supposed". If that is what you want to say, this pronunciation is not in error.
supremist supremacist This word is derived from supremacy, not supreme. A supremist would be someone who considers himself supreme. You know there is no one like that.
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• T •
tact tack If things are not going your way, do not lose your tact (that would be tactless), but take a different tack.
take for granite take for granted We do tend to take granite for granted, it is so ubiquitous. But that, of course, is not quite the point.
tenant tenet A tenant is a renter who may not hold a tenet (a doctrine or dogma) about anything.
tenderhooks tenterhooks Tenters are frames for stretching cloth while it dries. Hanging on tenterhooks might leave you tender in spots but it doesn't change the pronunciation of the word.
Tiajuana Tijuana Why make Spanish words more difficult than they already are? Just three syllables here, thank you.
triathalon triathlon Verbal steroids, again. This word doesn't need more vowel muscle any more than athlete does.
tumeric turmeric This word for an antioxident spice has suffered enough. It was originally Old French terre-merite, which has already been reduced to turmeric. Don't make it suffer any more.
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• U •
upmost utmost While this word does indicate that efforts are up, the word is utmost, a historical variation of outmost.
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• V •
verbage verbiage Here is another word that loses its I in speech. Pronouncing it correctly will help you spell it correctly.
volumptuous voluptuous Some voluptuous women may be lumpy, but please avoid this Freudian slip that apprises them of it.
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• W •
wadn't wasn't That pesky S before N again. See bidnes and idn't.
wheelbarrel wheelbarrow It isn't a barrel on a wheel, it is a barrow "wheelbarrow" on a wheel—which doesn't make much sense either.
ways way "I have a ways to go" should be "I have a way to go." The article "a" does not fit well with a plural.
wet whet In the Northeastern US the sound [hw], spelled "wh," is vanishing and these two words are pronounced the same. Elsewhere they should be distinguished.
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• Y •
yoke yolk Another dialectal change we probably should not call an error: [l] becomes [w] or [u] when not followed by a vowel. Some people just confuse these two words, though. That should be avoided.
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• Z •
zuology zoology Actually, we should call the zoo [zo], not [zu], but we'll let that pass. The discipline, however, must be pronounced [zo-ah-luh-gee].
100 Most Often Misspelled Words and Phrases in English