The conversation around pronunciation struggles is usually centered around the experiences of second-language speakers. Naturally, people struggle to articulate sounds in languages they didn’t grow up speaking natively. In fact, getting rid of your accent is usually the final hurdle to so-called “perfect fluency,” and most people never really get there anyway. That’s why it’s so surprising that some of the most commonly mispronounced English words are words that even native English speakers get wrong.
It’s true: English is a complicated language, rendering even its most fluent speakers incoherent from time to time. But it’s also just more realistic to acknowledge that “perfect speech” doesn’t really exist, and native speakers of any language are bound to veer off the straight and narrow track of what’s considered “correct” from time to time.
In any case, some words are definitely harder to pronounce than others. Here are some of the most commonly mispronounced English words that even English speakers struggle with from time to time.
Some Commonly Mispronounced English Words
what people say: mis-CHEEV-ee-us
how it’s actually pronounced: MIS-chiv-us
This is a tough one, and a lot of that’s owing to the fact that this word has a lot of vowels, making it appear like it has more syllables than it actually does. To be fair though, people have apparently been making this mistake since the 16th century, so it might as well be considered the correct pronunciation by now.
what people say: pre-STI-gee-us
how it’s actually pronounced: pre-STI-jus
In line with “mischievous,” prestigious is also a three-syllable word masquerading as a four-syllable word.
what people say: wor-chest-er-shire
how it’s actually pronounced: WOOS-ter-sher
For Americans especially, this sauce is a mouthful because it’s named after a county in England. “Worcester” is pronounced wooster, and if you tack on the “shire,” it’s just sher. So: woos-ter-sher.
what people say: JOOL-ree
how it’s actually pronounced: JEW-ell-ree
Sometimes the mouth giveth an extra syllable, and sometimes it taketh away. In the case of “jewelry,” there’s more there than meets the eye.
what people say: ah-MEN-oh-mee…ah-men-oh-NEE?
how it’s actually pronounced: ah-NEM-oh-nee
As popularized by Finding Nemo, the word “anemone” is basically a tongue twister that lives at the bottom of the ocean (or in a nice bouquet of cut flowers). You can probably blame the coincidence of too many M’s and N’s close together.
what people say: FOR-tay
how it’s actually pronounced: fort
Unless you’re referring specifically to the musical term, it’s actually pronounced fort. But this might be one of those instances where pronouncing something “correctly” doesn’t do the job of communicating what you’re trying to say, because most people will just say “Don’t you mean for-tay?”.
what people say: drot
how it’s actually pronounced: draft
Not to be confused with “drought,” which is pronounced drowt, “draught” has an F sound in it, but it’s usually only found written in British English this way. If you see this spelling variant in the U.S., it’s probably because you’re at a bar.
what people say: SHUR-bert
how it’s actually pronounced: SHUR-bet
Admittedly, this might not have ended up on a list of commonly mispronounced English words if it weren’t for the very confusing existence of sorbet, which is not the same as sherbet.
what people say: de-FIB-yu-lay-tor
how it’s actually pronounced: de-FIB-ri-lay-tor
There must be something about two consonants coming together that makes our brains want to take the easy way out. Thus, instead of fibri, we slur it so it becomes fibyu.
what people say: FEB-yoo-air-ee
how it’s actually pronounced: FEB-roo-air-ee
This is essentially the same phenomenon as above, with “defibrillator.” There’s just something about that bruh sound, right?
what people say: LI-berry
how it’s actually pronounced: LI-brair-ee
And for the third time: the “br” strikes again.
what people say: zoo-OLL-oh-gee
how it’s actually pronounced: zoe-OLL-oh-gee
Probably because we all have fond memories of going to the zoo, we’re inclined to fit “zoo” into “zoology.” However, it helps to remember that there are only two O’s, not three. So it would actually be zo-ology.