When it comes to commonly mispronounced words, I have a really bad habit. If I don’t know how to pronounce a word, I’ll just skim over it and carry on reading.

Then one night, I watched ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy‘. There was a scene where he was trying to impress Veronica Corningstone. He pretended to have visited London and said he’d sailed down the Thames. But instead of pronouncing it ‘Tames’ with a silent ‘h’, he pronounced it the same way you’d say ‘they’ or ‘these’.

It made me stop and think for a bit. Sure, I knew in the film it was purposeful for the comedic effect. But real life isn’t a comedy. I didn’t want people laughing at me because I couldn’t be bothered to learn how common words are supposed to be pronounced.

So here’s a list of the most commonly mispronounced words and more importantly – how you say them.

20 Commonly Mispronounced Words

  1. Acaí (ah-sigh-EE)

Definition: A purple berry rich in antioxidants that grow in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon jungles.

How to pronounce it: The British or Americans do not have anything in their language to suggest that letters should sound soft or hard or come with accents. But this word comes from Portuguese explorers who named the fruit açaí. With a cedilla on the ‘c’ and an accent on the ‘i’, you pronounce this fruit ah-sigh-EE.

  1. Archipelago (ar-ki-PEL-a-go)

Definition: A group or chain of islands.

How to pronounce it: This word may start with the word ‘arch’, but the ‘ch’ is pronounced as a hard ‘k’ instead.

  1. Boatswain (BOH-sun)

Definition: A boat or ship’s crew member that works on the deck and is responsible for the hull.

How to pronounce it: Swain is an old word that means servant, apprentice, or boy. Ships crews had a habit of spelling boatswain members as ‘bosun’ to abbreviate it whilst at sea and eventually the shortened word took over the wordier one.

  1. Cache (cash)

Definition: A hiding or storage place for concealment.

How to pronounce it: Sometimes, we add accents onto words that do not have them. Like cache. We are tempted to pronounce this word cash-AY, but this is an English word not to be confused with cachet which means prestige or distinguished.

  1. Cocoa (koh-koh)

Definition: Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate.

How to pronounce it: It may have an ‘a’ on the end, but this letter is silent. Just think of Coco the Clown and you won’t mispronounce this common word again.

  1. Disastrous (di-ZAS-tres)

Definition: Terrible, catastrophic, devastating.

How to pronounce it: It helps to remember if this is one of your commonly mispronounced words that disastrous has just three syllables, not four. It is not pronounced ‘di-zas-ter-rus’.

  1. Epitome (eh-PIT-oh-me)

Definition: A perfect example of someone or something that possesses a particular quality or essence.

How to pronounce it: Many people say this word as they see it – ‘eh-pi-tome’ with tome rhyming with home. But if you imagine an accent on the last ‘e’, you’ll remember the word has four syllables and not just three.

  1. Gauge (gayj)

Definition: To estimate or determine the measurements of something.

How to pronounce it: This is one of the most commonly mispronounced words in the English language. I think it is because people think you can say it in two different ways. But the correct way is gayj, not gowj.

  1. Hyperbole (hai-PUH-buh-lee)

Definition: An exaggerated statement that indicates something is much better or worse than it actually is.

How to pronounce it: This tops my commonly mispronounced words as I always used to say this as it is written, pronouncing it – hyperbowl. But as with epitome, imagine it has an accent on the last ‘e’.

  1. Itinerary (Eye-TIN-er-air-ee)

Definition: A planned route or journey.

How to pronounce it: Another one of my favourite commonly mispronounced words is itinerary. I pronounce it ‘eye-tin-er-ree’, but I forget there is that ‘rary’ at the end of the word which always trips me up.

  1. Larvae (lar-VEE)

Definition: An immature form of an adult insect where it undergoes a radical transformation.

How to pronounce it: It looks like you should pronounce this word ‘lar-vay’, but the correct way to say it is larvee.

  1. Mischievous (MIS-chuh-vus)

Definition: Naughty and irresponsible but not in a malicious way.

How to pronounce it: This is an irritating word, isn’t it? I mean, there’s an ‘i’ right there, so surely, this word should have four syllables and the correct pronunciation should be ‘mish-chee-ve-us’. But if that was right, then mischievous would have this spelling – mischevious and it doesn’t.

  1. Niche (nitch)

Definition: A shallow recess or products/interests that relate to a small specialized section of the public.

How to pronounce it: There are several ways to pronounce this word, including ‘nitch-zee’ and ‘neesh’. However, nitch is the generally accepted way of pronouncing it.

  1. Often (offen)

Definition: Frequently

How to pronounce it: Language is funny, isn’t it? If you don’t pronounce the ‘t’ in words such as ‘butter’ or ‘matter’, you sound common. However, it is considered uneducated to pronounce the ‘t’ in the word ‘often’. It’s a little like the word ‘soften’. We pronounce that word ‘soffen’ and leave out the ‘t’. We don’t say ‘SOF-ten’, as that would sound silly.

  1. Peremptory (PER-emp-tuh-ree)

Definition:  Expecting immediate and complete compliance.

How to pronounce it: Not to be confused with pre-emptory which means to take action in order to prevent something (usually bad) from happening. Unfortunately, the two words are often mixed up.

  1. Picture (PIK-chur)

Definition: An image or drawing.

How to pronounce it: We have many examples of words in which you have silent letters like ‘’l’, and in this word, many people forget to pronounce the ‘c’. The wrong way to pronounce picture is ‘pit-cher’.

  1. Prelude (PREL-yood)

Definition: An introduction to something or something played beforehand.

How to pronounce it: It’s tempting to pronounce this word ‘pray-lewd’ or even ‘pree-lood’, but the correct pronunciation is ‘PREL-yood’.

  1. Prescription (PRI-skrip-shun)

Definition: A document that allows a patient to obtain medication from a pharmacy.

How to pronounce it: A friend of mine works in a chemist and she tells me that many people say ‘PER-skrip-shun’ when picking up their tablets.

  1. Salmon (SAM-in)

Definition: A freshwater fish

How to pronounce it: Sall-mon is the popular way of pronouncing this word, but as with many words in the English language, the ‘l’ is silent. Consider words such as would, could, calm, and palm. It’s the same with salmon.

  1. Transient (TRANS-shent)

Definition: Temporary, momentary, fleeting, not permanent, not lasting.

How to pronounce it: There’s that dreaded problematic added ‘i’ again that makes us want to give this word an extra syllable. I always pronounced transient ‘trans-zee-ent’, but again, I am wrong.

Final Thoughts

So that’s just a few of the commonly mispronounced words that I struggle with. If you have any, I’d love to hear from you.

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  1. www.goodhousekeeping.com
  2. www.infoplease.com

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Sue

    I’ve studied languages and origins of languages. Languages are dynamic and so they are constantly changing. The same word can be pronounced differently depending on where someone is raised. I agree that mispronunciations are annoying but also believe we need to embrace diversity. America is unique in that we are a country made up of natives and there own languages as well immigrants that each have there own distinct heritages. The world would be boring if we were all alike.

  2. Judi

    Paradigm – common enough word, mispronounced often.

  3. Robin

    Detritus – det-TRY-tus

  4. Elle

    If someone said the word hyperbole the way you’re suggesting it is verbalized, you would sound like someone with a severe speech impediment, at best, and slight mental retardation, at worst. HIGH-PER-BOW-LEE. Jesus Christ, enunciate

  5. The Raging Platypus

    As others have said, there is a fine line between mispronunciation and word evolution. And several of your pronunciations I would disagree with. For example, salmon…I would say Sam-un or Sam-in are equally common.

    Hyperbole is one I really disagree agree with…(hai-PER-buh-lee) is better.

    I have literally never heard anyone say prel-yood. When no one uses a pronunciation, it is not preferred.

    Same with niche. I know the “preferred” pronunciation is nitch. Don’t care. I would argue the language has evolved and the pronunciation people actually use is more euphonius.

    This type of thinking and we’d all still be speaking middle or old English.

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