20 Hard Words to Pronounce That Even Get Language Buffs Tongue-Tied
From açaí to otorhinolaryngologist, these are some of the toughest words to spit out correctly. Ain't language grand?
These are some hard words to pronounce—can you get them on the first try?
When it comes to hard words to pronounce, açaí takes the cake on the Unscrambled Words list with a whopping 20,400 monthly searches for its pronunciation. This species of palm tree became popular in recent years thanks to its delicious fruit, which is often used to make smoothies and açaí bowls. If you order one of these yummy treats, make sure to pronounce it “ah-sa-EE.” It’s not the most misused word in English, but it’s a tough one on the tongue!
The pronunciation of this scrumptious Greek dish is hotly debated, but make no mistake—there’s one correct way to say it: “YEE-ro.” If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone—there are 17,660 average monthly searches for how to pronounce gyro. Now you can confidentially order one at your favorite Greek cuisine spot.
The different variants of COVID-19 are pretty easy to pronounce (Delta, Alpha, etc.), but there’s one variant name that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily: Omicron. On average, its pronunciation is searched 15,530 times each month. The correct way to pronounce it? “OH-muh-kraan,” with an emphasis on the beginning “OH” syllable.
Snack enthusiasts, this word’s for you. Charcuterie boards are trendy snack boards complete with smoked meats (and, perhaps, some cheese and fruit), but let’s be real—charcuterie is a mouthful to novices. The right way to pronounce it? “shahr-koo-tuh-ree.” Plenty of people flock to the internet for its pronunciation; it gets searched 15,140 times each month, on average. Feel free to break out that interesting word/food fact at parties.
Pronunciation: “n-WIN,” “win,” “noo-yen”
Nguyen is the most common last name in Vietnam, so there’s a good chance you could encounter someone who has this surname. Its pronunciation is searched, on average, 14,490 times per month—and, turns out, there could be a couple ways to pronounce it: “n-WIN,” “win” or “noo-yen.” If you aren’t sure which pronunciation is correct, simply ask the person, respectfully and with etiquette, how they pronounce it. Learn how to pronounce ask.
Now this has to be one of the most delicious hard words to pronounce—our stomachs are rumbling as we write! Think of gnocchi as, essentially, an Italian dumpling made from potatoes. Sounds tasty, right? Well, its pronunciation is, admittedly, a bit challenging. The correct way to pronounce it is “nyoh-kee.” If you didn’t know that, don’t fret—its pronunciation is searched, on average, 11,350 times each month. If you’re looking to test your vocab skills, check out these word puzzles that will leave you stumped.
Pronunciation: “gif” or “jif”
Plot twist: GIF is one of those words that can be pronounced two ways. You can pronounce it “gif” OR “jif”—whichever speaks to your heart. There’s plenty of average monthly search for the pronunciation of GIF—it made the Unscrambled Words list with 11,230 searches.
Let’s be honest—we’ve all mispronounced this food word. It looks like it’s pronounced “wor-cest-er-shi-er,” but it actually retains its British-English pronunciation. Worcestershire sauce originated in the town of Worcester, England, pronounced “Wooster,” while the term shire is the British word for “county” and sounds like the ending of “Hampshire.” Therefore, the word is pronounced “”wu-stuh-shr.” It’s a doozy, evidenced by the 8,880 average monthly searches for its pronunciation.
Who knew a meme cryptocurrency could be so hard to pronounce? Dogecoin may have started out as a joke, but it’s gained a loyal following. But how exactly do you pronounce it? If you bring it up in conversation, say “”dohj-coin,” not “dog-ee-coin,” The humorous cryptocurrency’s pronunciation is searched, on average, 7,540 times per month.
Pho is a popular Vietnamese soup-style dish, complete with rice noodles, broth, meat and herbs (hungry yet?). If you order it, though, don’t pronounce it as “f-oh”—it’s actually pronounced “fuh.” The word’s pronunciation is searched, on average, 7,270 times each month, so don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been pronouncing it wrong. By the way, do you know the longest word in the English language?
Alright, now we’re getting into everyday words that don’t exactly roll off the tongue. Case in point: colonel. This 16th-century word, derived from Middle French, is pronounced “ker-nul.” The first “o” sounding like an “e,” the “l” sounding like an “r” and the second “o” being completely silent really put the brain through the ringer. Here are the words even smart people mispronounce without realizing it.
Like Worcestershire, mischievous is one of those interesting hard words to pronounce—and many Americans have trouble saying it. In fact, you’ve probably heard people pronounce it as “mis-CHEEVE-ee-us,” when it’s actually a three-syllable word pronounced “MIS-chiv-us.” The problem lies in the fact that the old form of the word was spelled with an extra “i” toward the end, which was standard until the 1700s.
People can easily get confused by the pronunciation of this British word because it has a double irregularity: first with the a-u vowel combination, then with the g-h-t consonant blend. While it looks like it might be pronounced “drot,” it’s actually pronounced “draft” (sort of like the word laugh) and usually refers to an alcoholic beverage drawn from a keg. Remember this next time you take a vocabulary quiz!
While the popularity of this ancient grain has grown in recent years because of its “superfood” powers, many people still struggle with how to pronounce quinoa and its numerous vowel blends. If you apply Standard English rules, you might say “qwin-o-ah,” but it’s actually a Spanish word that has numerous acceptable pronunciations, including “KEEN-wah,” “ken-WAH” and even “KEN-o-ah.” (Believe it or not, you may have been saying these company names wrong all your life.)
On-o-what? Onomatopoeia is the hard-to-pronounce name given to a literary device referring to words that mean the sound they make, such as “buzz”, “meow” and “roar.” The pronunciation of onomatopoeia itself, however, is slightly less easy to understand, because more than half the six-syllable word’s 12 letters are vowels—and four of them are blended together at the end. What? Say “on-o-mot-o-PEE-a” and you’ll sound like an English lit professor. Can you tackle the toughest tongue twisters in the English language?
If you’re a fan of the family movie Finding Nemo, you might remember the scene where Mr. Ray asks Nemo what type of home he lives in. Nemo’s answer: “An anemonemone. Amnemonemomne.” It’s not surprising that even little Nemo trips over the word for his own wildflower habitat: The vowel-heavy word looks like it should rhyme with “tone” or “bone” and be pronounced “an-e-MOAN” or “ayn-moan,” but it’s actually a four-syllable word pronounced “ah-NEM-oh-nee.”
This two-syllable word, which is pronounced “is-muss,” refers to a narrow passage of land between two seas. It’s a tough word to pronounce for a few reasons. One, the “th” combination doesn’t even exist in some languages, including German and Dutch, which raises the difficulty level for nonnative English speakers. Then, to further complicate matters, the “th” is silent, so you can ignore it anyway. Still struggling? Keeping your tongue behind your teeth while saying this word can help with pronunciation.
This is the term given to an ear, nose and throat doctor, and it’s probably one of the most difficult-to-pronounce medical specialties in the history of, well, medicine. What makes it so tricky? Aside from the silent “h” and the irregular use of the consonant “y,” the word has 21 letters and nine—yes, nine—syllables. So if you have problems with the formal pronunciation of this medical word, which is “oh-toh-rye-no-lar-ing-GOL-uh-jist” you can just refer to the doc by the more informal title: ENT.
If someone is despicable or dishonorable, you may call them ignominious—that is, if you can pronounce it properly. Despite the word’s short length, its five syllables, filled with many “i”s and “o”s, are enough to get anyone tongue-tied. Pronounce it “ig-nuh-MIN-ee-us.”
For many nonnative English speakers (and even some native English speakers), the “xth” three-consonant cluster in words like “sixth” are quite the tongue twister. A Reddit thread asked users to weigh in on which words in the English language were hard to pronounce, and “sixth” made the list. One user commented, “What kind of word has an ‘s’ and ‘xth’ sound?” Not sure anyone has the answer to that yet, and we may never know.
Additional reporting by Kelly Kuehn.
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