We’ve all got a word or two that we struggle with – just the thought of saying them out loud can make us feel a little anxious, or spur us on to practice them a few times. But don’t feel too self-conscious – there are lots of everyday English words that are hard to say, even for the most well-spoken among us. So, what makes a word hard to pronounce? Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly mispronounced words in the English language.
Hardest Words for English Speakers to Say
An anemone (try saying that in a hurry) is a type of flower native to temperate climates – and not a sea creature. Sea anemones bear no relation; they were named after the plants for their colourful features. It’s pronounced “ah-neh-muh-nee”, which looks easy enough – but this tricky word has slipped people up into a near endless loop of “an-em-on-em-on-em-on…”.
It could be because at first glance, the arrangement of its constituent letters make it look like a repeating pattern. And there’s the way the syllables bounce off the lips and tongue – giving an urge to keep the rhythm going in a way that makes sense.
Two syllables have never been harder to say. It’s particularly infuriating that such an important condition, typically managed from early childhood, should be so hard to communicate. A cluster of consonants, crushed in a vowel sandwich, “az-muh” is the typical US pronunciation for asthma. Some British speakers aim to painfully eek out every sound as “ah-ss-th-muh”.
The “sss” sound is next to the “th” sound; that’s quite a difficult transition of tongue shape and jaw position to do smoothly, and it slows the word down greatly.
Many English-speakers unfamiliar with the area mistakenly think that the name of this small New Forest village rhymes with polio. It’s actually much closer to rhyming with Julie, with the “beau” at the start pronounced as it is in the word beautiful. There’s another Beaulieu in France, where it’s pronounced “Bol-yoo”.
So why is it hard to say? It’s all down to the composition – an eight letter word with only two consonants makes for wobbly, inconsistent interpretations for those unfamiliar with it.
Commonly mispronounced as “defribulator”, the correct pronunciation for this life-saving piece of equipment is “de-fib-ri-lay-tuh”. Another big misconception about defibrillators is that they restart a heart that has stopped; they’re actually used to steady a life-threateningly irregular heartbeat. Defibrillators in movies are a magic cure for death, but in reality they can’t jump start a heart that no longer beats.
To stop your heart irregularly beating before you say this word, just think of its medical nickname first: defib (pronounced “dee-fib”). That’ll remove doubt about where the “r” sound goes in the word, and give you a little time to catch yourself – and it’s perfectly acceptable to simply call it a defib.
What do strawberries and libraries have in common? Not much – except that sometimes, even seasoned native speakers pronounce them similarly. “Liberry” is a common mispronunciation of library that drives some people to despair.
It’s probably a hangover from the mispronunciation of February, which is assumed to be pronounced the same as January – thus spoken as “feb-yoo-ree”, when it should be “feb-roo-eh-ree”. It could also be the two”r” sounds being so close together, giving library and February a stuttering effect that takes some thought to pull off without repetition.
It’s a tongue-twisting, plosive-filled and hissy-sounding mash of letters, with a soft c and a hard c thrown in for good measure. The proximity of the sibilant sounds makes it especially hard to say, and taking away one of them seems to be the solution for many. No wonder it’s so often pronounced “pacific”.
Ever been tempted to call it “war-Chester-shire”? If you have, you’re not alone. “Woo-ster-sher”, as it’s pronounced, has stumped anyone who has seen it before they’ve heard it. If it’s Worcestershire sauce, you’ll often find it truncated to Worcester sauce – even if Worcestershire is written in full.
It’s hard to say because, like many English words and names, it makes absolutely no sense at all being spelled the way it is. Towns ending -cester all follow the same rule: -cester is pronounced “ster” (except for Cirencester, which confusingly is said in full).
Add to this the fact that “the first three letters are pronounced “woo”, and you begin to wonder why it isn’t spelled “Wustershire”.
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