100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English
Now that Dr. Language has provided a one-stop cure for the plague of misspelling, here are the 100 words most often mispronounced English words ("mispronunciation" among them). There are spelling rules in English even if they are difficult to understand, so pronouncing a word correctly usually does help you spell it correctly. Several common errors are the result of rapid speech, so take your time speaking, correctly enunciating each word. Careful speech and avid reading are the best guides to correct spelling.
Let's start with the old riddle:
What word is usually pronounced incorrectly? Put mouse on paw print for answer.
Don't say Do Say Comment
acrossed across It is easy to confuse "across" with "crossed" but better to keep them separate. affidavid affidavit Even if your lawyer's name is "David," he issues affidavits. Old-timer's disease Alzheimer's disease While it is a disease of old-timers, it is named for the German neurologist, Dr. Alois Alzheimer. Antartic Antarctic Just think of an arc of ants (an ant arc) and that should help you keep the [c] in the pronunciation of this word. Artic Arctic Another hard-to-see [c]—but it is there. aks ask This mispronunciation has been around for so long (over 1,000 years) that linguist Mark Aronoff thinks we should cherish it as a part of our linguistic heritage. Most of us would give the axe to "aks." athelete, atheletic athlete, athletic Two syllables are enough for "athlete."
barbituate barbiturate Don't forget this word contains three others: bar+bit+u+rate bob wire barbed wire No, this word wasn't named for anyone named "Bob;" it should be "barbed wire," although the suffix –ed, meaning "having," is fading away in the U.S. bidness business The change of [s] to [d] before [n] is spreading throughout the US and 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 no blessing if it comes from the skies. (Pronounce it correctly and help maintain the disguise.)
Calvary cavalry It isn't clear why we say, "Mind your Ps and Qs" when we have more difficulty keeping up with our Ls and Rs. Had there been a cavalry in Jesus' time, perhaps Calvary would not have been so tragic. cannidate candidate You aren't being canny to drop the [d] in this word. Remember, it is the same as "candy date." (This should help guys remember how to prepare for dates, too.) card shark cardsharp Cardsharps probably won't eat you alive, though they are adept at cutting your purse strings. Carpool tunnel syndrome Carpal tunnel syndrome This one is mispronounced (and misspelled) several different ways; we just picked the funniest. Carpal means "pertaining to the wrist." The Caucases The Caucasus Although there are more than one mountain in this chain, their name is not a plural noun. chester drawers chest of drawers The drawers of Chester is a typical way of looking at these chests down South but it misses the point. chomp at the bit champ at the bit "Chomp" has probably replaced "champ" in the U.S. but we thought you might like to be reminded that the vowel should be [ć] not [o]. close clothes The [th] is a very soft sound likely to be overlooked. Show your linguistic sensitivity and always pronounce it. coronet cornet Playing a crown (coronet) will make you about as popular as wearing a trumpet (cornet) on your head—reason enough to keep these two words straight.
dialate dilate The [i] in this word is so long there is time for another vowel but don't succumb to the temptation. diptheria diphtheria The "ph" in this word is pronounced [f], not [p]. doggy dog world dog-eat-dog world The world is even worse than you think if you think it merely a "doggy-dog world." Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news. drownd drown You add the [d] only to the past tense and past participle. duck tape duct tape Ducks very rarely need taping though you may not know that ducts always do—to keep air from escaping through the cracks in them.
elec'toral e'lectoral The accent is on the second, not the third, syllable and there is no [i] in it (not "electorial"). excape escape The good news is, if you say "excape," you've mastered the prefix ex- because its meaning does fit this word. The bad news is, you don't use this prefix on "escape." expresso espresso This word was borrowed from Italian where the Latin prefix ex- developed into es-. excetera et cetera Latin for "and" (et) "the rest" (cetera) are actually two words that probably should be written separately. expecially especially Things especial are usually not expected, so don't confuse these words.
Febyuary February We don't like two syllables in succession with an [r] so some of us dump the first one in this word. Most dictionaries now accept the single [r] pronunciation but, if you have an agile tongue, you may want to shoot for the original. fedral federal Syncopation of an unaccented vowel is fairly common in rapid speech but in careful speech it should be avoided. See also "plute" and read more about the problem here. fillum film We also do not like the combination [l] + [m]. One solution is to pronounce the [l] as [w] ("film" [fiwm}, "palm" [pawm]) but some prefer adding a vowel in this word. flounder founder Since it is unlikely that a boat would founder on a flounder, we should distinguish the verb from the fish as spelling suggests. foilage foliage Here is another case of metathesis, place-switching of sounds. 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 has become popular both as a mispronunciation and misspelling. forte fort The word is spelled "forte" but the [e] is pronounced only when speaking of music, as a "forte passage." The words for a strong point and a stronghold are pronounced the same: [fort].
Heineken remover Heimlich maneuver (or manoeuvre, Br.) This term is mispronounced many different ways. This is just the funniest one we have heard. This maneuver (manoeuvre) was named for US surgeon Henry Jay Heimlich (1920- ). heighth height The analogy with "width" misleads many of us in the pronunciation of this word. 'erb herb Does, "My friend Herb grows 'erbs," sound right to you? This is a US oddity generated by the melting pot (mixed dialects). Initial [h] is always pronounced outside America and should be in all dialects of English.
in parenthesis in parentheses No one can enclose an expression in one parenthesis; at least two parentheses are required. interpretate interpret This error results from the back-formation of "interpretate" from "interpretation." But back formation isn't needed; we already have "interpret." (See also 'orientate') irregardless regardless "-Less" already says "without" so there is no need to repeat the same sentiment with "ir-." idn't isn't Again, the struggle of [s] before [n]. (See also "bidness" and "wadn't")
jewlery jewelry The root of this word is "jewel" and that doesn't change for either "jeweler" or "jewelry." The British add a syllable: "jewellery" (See also its spelling.) jist nor dis just As opposed to the adjective "just," this word is always unaccented, which encourages vowel reduction. However, it sounds better to reduce the [ę] rather than replace it with [i].
Klu Klux Klan Ku Klux Klan Well, there is 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.
lambast lambaste Better to lambaste the lamb than to baste him—remember, the words rhyme. "Bast" has nothing to do with it. larnyx larynx More metathesis. Here the [n] and [y] switch places. Mind your [n]s and [y]s as you mind your [p]s and [q]s. Laura Norder law and order The sound [aw] picks up an [r] in some dialects (also "sawr" and "gnawr"). Avoid it and help keep Laura Norder in the English language. leash lease Southern Americans are particularly liable to confuse these two distinct words but the confusion occurs elsewhere. Look out for it. libel liable You are liable for the damages if you are successfully sued for libel. But don't confuse these discrete words. libary library As mentioned before, English speakers dislike two [r]s in the same word. However, we have to buck up and pronounce them all. long-lived long-lived This compound is not derived from "to live longly" (you can't say that) but from "having a long life" and should be pronounced accordingly. The plural stem, live(s), is always used: "short-lived," "many-lived," "triple-lived."
masonary masonry We have been told that masons are most likely to insert a spare vowel into this word describing their occupation but we know others do, too. Don't you. 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"? miniture miniature Here is another word frequently syncopated. 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]. mis'chievous 'mischievous It would be mischievous of me not to point out the frequent misplacement of the accent on this word. Remember, it is accented the same as 'mischief. (Look out for the order of the [i] and [e] in the spelling, too.)
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. nucular nuclear The British and Australians find the American repetition of the [u] between the [k] and [l] quaintly amusing. Good reason to get it right. nuptual nuptial Many speakers in the US add a spurious [u] to this word, too. It should be pronounced [nępchęl], not or [nępchuęl].
often ofen We have mastered the spelling of this word so well, its spelling influences the pronunciation: DON'T pronounce the [t]! This is an exception to the rule that spelling helps pronunciation. ordinance ordnance You may have to use ordnance to enforce an ordinance but you should not pronounce the words the same. orientate orient Another pointless back-formation. We don't need this mispronunciation from "orientation" when we already have "orient." (See also "interpretate") ostensively ostensibly Be sure to keep your suffixes straight on this one. Ostraya Australia This pronunciation particularly bothers Australians themselves, most of whom can manage the [l] quite easily, thank you.
parlament parliament Although some dictionaries have given up on it, there should be a [y] after [l]: [pahr-lyę-męnt] perculate percolate Pronouncing this word as "perculate" is quite peculiar. (Also, remember that it means "drip down" not "up.") pottable potable The adjective meaning "drinkable" rhymes with "floatable" and is not to be confused with the one that means "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 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 U.S. speakers have added a spurious [s]. preemptory peremptory The old pre-/per- problem. Do not confuse this word with "preemptive;" the prefix here is per-. prespire perspire "Per-" has become such a regular mispronunciation of "pre-," many people now correct themselves where they don't need to. plute pollute This one, like "plice" [police], spose [suppose], and others, commonly result from rapid speech syncope, the loss of unaccented vowels. Just be sure you pronounce the vowel when you are speaking slowly. Read here for more on the problem. (probly, prolly) probably Haplology is the dropping of one of two identical syllables such as the [ob] and [ab] in this word, usually the result of 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 common misspelled words, "pronunciation" is among the most commonly mispronounced words. Fitting, no?
realator realtor As you avoid the extra vowel in "masonry," 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. 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 ['re-spit]. Give yourself a permanent respite from mispronouncing it.
sherbert sherbet Some of the same people who do not like two [r]s 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 get "snuck" out of the language any time soon but here is a reminder that it really isn't a 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." spade spay You can have your dog spayed but, if you haven't yet, better spay her than spade her. 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. Don't choke on it. 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 Adding –ly to participles is rarely possible, so some people try to avoid it altogether. You can't avoid it here. 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.
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 the point. tenant tenet A tenant is a renter who may not hold a tenet (a doctrine or dogma). tenderhooks tenterhooks Tenters are frames for stretching cloth while it dries. Hanging on tenterhooks might leave you tender but that 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 We don't like [th] and [l] together, so some of us insert a spare vowel. Pronounce it right, spell it right.
upmost utmost While this word does indicate that efforts are up, the word is "utmost," a(!) historical variation of "outmost."
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.
wadn't wasn't That pesky [s] before [n] again. See "bidness" and "idn't." 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.
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.
zuology zoology Actually, we should say [zo], not [zu], when we go to the zoo 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
We would like to thank Bernard Comrie, Betty Starling, Christo Lombaard, Jaklin Kornfilt, Jeffrey Beard, John Whitman, Margarita Suńer, Mark Aronoff, Owen Beard, Patricia Tancred, Peter McCrossin, Philip Baldi, Tim Goodwin, George Williams, and Simon Venner for helping yourDictionary collect this list of oft mispronounced words.
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Last revised: March 20, 2004