English is the world's language, with more than a billion and a half speakers using at least business English, if not general English in their daily life.
It is not uncommon that some words are not spoken correctly, even by native English speakers. Many people make common mistakes in every aspect of English.
The most up-to-date Oxford English dictionary contains entries for nearly two hundred thousand words.
Of those, here are the ones that are most often mispronounced.
Common Words that Suffer Mis-pronunciation
You would think that the more difficult words of the language would get mangled but it is everyday English that most often get distorted.
The word usually tops that list. Learners of English and native speakers both tend to pronounce it u-shur-ly or u-woo-ly.
To learn correct pronunciation of words, learn to recognize syllables.
Syllables are the smallest units of sound that a word can be divided into, usually consisting of at least one vowel and one consonant.
Usually has four syllables: u+su+al+ly.
Spoken correctly, this word is pronounced: you-zhu-all-lee
Society (mis-pronounced so-shur-ty) is another such word - spoken as though it had only three syllables. Here again, breaking the word down helps:
This word sounds out as: so+ci+eh+ty
Society is especially tricky because its root word, social, is typically pronounced so-shull by the native English speaker. Its correct pronunciation is: so+ci+al – three syllables, rather than two.
Words With 'br'
A word pair that is similar in sound and often mispronounced in the same way is February/library.
The combination of b and r is sometimes difficult to pronounce, especially when it appears in the middle of a word.
The second month of the year is frequently named feb-you-airy.
The building wherein books are stored is often called a lie-berry.
Neither of these is correct.
Sounding out words syllable by syllable, we find that the shortest month of the year has four sound units: fe+bru+a+ry. The second syllable is pronounced like the word brew.
The book storehouse is a li+bray+ree.
Words that Describe Dimensions
That list includes: width, length, depth and height.
Many non native English speakers pronounce the last word heighth, giving it the same ending as the others on that list.
It makes sense to think that all words of that category would end with the same sound, but height ends with t, thus it is spoken hi+t, not hi-t-th.
These are adverbs that have close meaning and consistently pose problems with their pronunciation.
Probably, meaning a good chance of, undergoes a change to prolly or probly.
While such speech probably does not impact the comprehension of what you are saying, the pronunciation of this word is just plain wrong.
In syllable-speak, it is proh-ba-bly.
The second word in this category does not suffer from a dropped syllable. Instead, English learners everywhere change the third syllable, saying it supposably.
This is logical, but wrong.
Think of words such as disposably, acceptably and lamentably: inevitably those studying English will assign the -ably suffix to supposed instead of the adverbial -ly.
If you are learning English as a foreign language, we cannot stress enough: recognize syllables as a way to learn correct English pronunciation, and to improve your writing skills.
Suh+po+sed+ly will give you the proper pronunciation of this adverb, every time.
Tenterhooks is converted to a more familiar word, even by those fluent in English, to tenderhooks.
'I am on tenterhooks!' is a slang phrase for 'I can't wait to...'
Knowing the definition of tenterhook is a clue to understanding this phrase.
To our knowledge there is no such thing as a tenderhook.
See the different English courses on Superprof.
Pre- versus Per- words
As you learn, your English skills may be tested by the prefixes pre- and per- in relation to the idea you are trying to express.
Pre- means before or in advance of
Per- indicates very or utterly.
They are not interchangeable!
Prerogative, one of the most mispronounced nouns in the English language because of its two Rs, means right or privilege, most likely due to a preexisting condition.
The prefix indicates the meaning.
Esl students tend toward perogative when speaking this word, and another with the same prefix.
The adjective preemptory, often spoken as peremptory or preem- tory (first syllable sounding like cream), makes for an understandable error.
Generally, words with ee are spoken with a long sound: seek, meek, leek.
The double e in preemptory is a result of a prefix in front of an old English word meaning without duties.
This word and another with the same prefix are sometimes spelled with a hyphen: pre-emptory and pre-existing, to separate the double-e.
Remembering that points you to the correct pronunciation and spelling.
By contrast, peremptory is an adjective meaning 'rudely demanding obedience'
It would be best to not confuse these two words.
The final word in this category is perspiration, often misspoken as prespiration.
The Same but for One Letter
The learner of English as a second language can usually find clues to proper writing and speaking by looking at words with similar spelling.
Sometimes, that method doesn't help. Don't forget the many exceptions in the English language.
The word gauge looks the same as gauze, but for one letter. One would think they would have about the same sound, meaning that the first is often mispronounced gaw-dge.
While every English teacher will assure you that gaw-ze is the correct way to say gauze, they will all be equally adamant that gay-dge is the proper way to say gauge.
Despite your hard work, you want no respite from learning English vocabulary.
Our next word pair appears in the sentence above.
Respite is pronounced res-pit – stress on first syllable; the second word places its emphasis on the second and speaks all three: des-PI-te.
Building Proficiency in Writing and Speaking English
Students, especially in Basic English lessons are encouraged to rely on the International Phonetic Alphabet as a way to learn vocalization of English words.
Intermediate level Esl classes are filled with learners who rely on audio renderings of words that most online dictionaries provide.
These are not necessarily the best tools to improve your reading skills or spoken English.
It is true that native English speakers teach their children by repeating words again and again, so that their young can mimic the sounds.
Repeatedly listening to a recorded word does not give you the same benefit.
The difference is that parents of small children enunciate, speaking each syllable with proper tone and inflection.
Furthermore, the youngest learners have the advantage of watching a speaker's mouth move, so that s/he can copy the action.
An audio recording does not permit that vital link – between mouth position and sound. Besides, it offers the whole word, as spoken in conversation by native speakers, rather than each syllable spoken individually.
To get serious about language learning, we suggest these techniques on how to learn English and increase your fluency.
- Reduce your reliance on recorded words
- For proper English pronunciation, learn to break words down into syllables.
- Developing your writing skills will lead to better speaking skills
- Keeping a journal or writing a blog would be helpful.
- Disable word processing tools that would automatically correct your spelling mistakes.
- However, the spell-check function would be helpful in highlighting mistakes that you can correct on your own.
- Practise your spoken English every chance you get.
- Learn new words only after mastering your current vocabulary
- A language course can help you avoid learning bad pronunciation
The British Council maintains a website full of tools and activities to support your English learning.
They host podcasts – recordings of everyday conversations, moderately spoken so that you can hear correct pronunciation.
You can follow along by downloading the accompanying transcript.
On their site, they publish quizzes as well as reading and writing exercises to help you perfect your English.
Whether you learn to speak English in a recognised ESOL class, through English lessons online, or at an English language school, rest assured that your language skills can only improve if you use as many ways to learn English with as you can.
To close, we give you a humourous look at English speaking.
A Doggy Dog World
A dog eat dog world is a ruthless, cruel environment where failure results in being eaten – most likely by the top dog.
Contrast that image with a doggy dog world – doggy-dog being the way a toddler might refer to a puppy.
For All Intensive Purposes
For all intents and purposes is a legal phrase that means virtually, or for all practical purposes.
Intensive purposes are those that are concentrated in a single area, for a short time.
Taken for Granite
The idiom taken for granted represents a belief of insignificance.
The importance of verb tenses is taken for granted by many Ielts students.
Taken for granite would signify that many people mistake any type of rock for a specific type, namely: granite.
If you are an international student, don't take this advice for granted!