40 hard words to pronounce 

We all know the embarrassing feeling of discovering we've been mispronouncing a word for years. On the other hand, some words are so commonly mispronounced that the "correct" pronunciation sounds downright strange.

Don't feel bad if you've been mispronouncing some of these tricky words. A living language like English evolves and thrives precisely because it's spoken every day. While some people choose to adhere to rigid rules of grammar and pronunciation (known as linguistic prescription) and take pleasure the precision of English grammar and vocabulary, others prefer the descriptive linguistics approach, which doesn't apply judgments such as "correct" or "incorrect" but instead, looks at how language is actually used. In other words, as long as people understand you, you're successfully using language for its primary purpose—communication

Accede

How to say it: ak-SEED
May be mispronounced: a-SEED
What it means: to consent, give approval; yield to another’s wishes

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Alias

How to say it: AY-lee-iss
What it means: an assumed name taken on temporarily, sometimes by a criminal or fugitive

Anathema

How to say it: uh-NATH-uh-muh
What it means: someone or something that one strongly dislikes or loathes

Anemone

How to say it: uh-NEH-muh-nee
What it means: a flower in the buttercup family; a sedentary marine animal, as in sea anemone


Apocryphal

How to say it: uh-POK-ruh-fuhl
What it means: of questionable authenticity, as in a story or statement


Camaraderie

How to say it: kah-muh-RAH-duh-ree
May be mispronounced: kahm-RAH-duh-ree
What it means: easy familiarity and friendship, often built over time 

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Colloquialism

How to say it: kuh-loh-kwee-uh-liz-uhm
What it means: a word, phrase, or expression that is conversational rather than formal


Debauch

How to say it: dih-BAWCH
What it means: to lead away from virtue; to corrupt morally 

Demagogue

How to say it: DEM-uh-gog
What it means: a leader who appeals to popular passions and prejudices to gain support


Emollient

How to say it: ih-MOL-yuhnt
What it means: making smoother or less harsh; a substance with a soothing effect on the skin

Epitome

How to say it: ih-PIT-uh-mee
May be mispronounced: eh-pi-TOME
What it means: a person or thing that characterizes a whole category to which it belongs


Espouse

How to say it: ih-SPOWZ
May be mispronounced: ex-POWZ
What it means: to follow or support an idea or theory as a cause 


Espresso

How to say it: eh-SPRES-oh
May be mispronounced: ex-PRESS-oh
What it means: a strong coffee of Italian origin, made by forcing hot water through finely-ground coffee beans  

Fatuous

How to say it: FACH-oo-uss
May be mispronounced: FAT-choo-uss
What it means: foolish, inane; devoid of intelligence 


Forte

How to say it: for-TAY
May be mispronounced: fort
What it means: a strong point or a strength

Grandiloquent

How to say it: gran-DILL-uh-kwuhnt
What it means: extravagant, lofty, or bombastic in style or manner, especially language 

Hegemony

How to say it: hih-JEH-muh-nee
May be mispronounced: hedge-ih-MOAN-ee or homo-JENNY
What it means: authority, leadership, or influence by a dominant social group


Inchoate

How to say it: in-KOH-it
What it means: only partly in existence; partially formed, as in an idea


Knell

How to say it: nel
May be mispronounced: knel (with the k)
What it means: the sound of a bell rung slowly to announce death or a funeral


Maelstrom

How to say it: meyl-struhm
What it means: a violent whirlpool 


Mauve

How to say it: mohv
May be mispronounced: mawv
What it means: a pale purple color 


Mischievous

How to say it: MISS-chuh-vuhs
May be mispronounced: mis-CHEE-vee-uhs (note the extra syllable)
What it means: naughtily annoying or troublemaking 


Nadir

How to say it: NAY-deer
What it means: the lowest point


Neophyte

How to say it: NEE-uh-fahyt
What it means: a beginner, a new participant 


Noisome

How to say it: NOI-sum
What it means: disgusting, as in odor; capable of causing nausea 


Panacea

How to say it: pan-uh-SEE-uh
What it means: a cure-all; a remedy for all illness or solution for all problems 


Phlegmatic

How to say it: fleg-MAT-ik
What it means: slow to react, not showing emotion; calm and composed


Protean

How to say it: PROH-tee-uhn
May be mispronounced: pro-teen

What it means: assuming various forms; changeable in shape, as an amoeba 


Puerile

How to say it: PYOO-er-il
What it means: relating to a child or childhood; immature, foolish


Pulchritude

How to say it: PUHL-kri-tood
What it means: physical beauty, comeliness 


Quinoa

How to say it: KEEN-wah
May be mispronounced: KEEN-oh-ah
What it means: a small edible crop seed 


Quixotic

How to say it: kwik-SOT-ik
What it means: insensibly extravagant or romantic


Sanguine

How to say it: SANG-gwin
May be mispronounced: sang-WHINE
What it means: cheerful, hopeful, confident, especially in a bad situation

Sherbet

How to say it: SHUR-bit
May be mispronounced: SHUR-burt
What it means: a frozen fruit-flavored dessert made without milk

Staid

How to say it: steyd
What it means: settled; sedate in character

Surfeit

How to say it: SUR-fit
What it means: an excessive amount


Timbre

How to say it: TAM-ber
May be mispronounced: TIM-ber (as in, that tree's about to fall down)
What it means: the sound or tonal quality of a particular voice or musical instrument

Truculent

How to say it: TRUHK-yuh-luhnt
What it means: defiant, quick to argue or fight


Vicissitude

How to say it: vih-SIS-ih-tood
What it means: a change in circumstance, usually undesired 


Zephyr

How to say it: ZEF-er
May be mispronounced: ZEF-fire
What it means: a soft, mild breeze