Do You Actually Know How to Say These Commonly Mispronounced Words?


By: Zoe Samuel

6 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

In Medieval times, before the printing press came along and literacy became cool for non-clerics and non-aristocrats, standardized spelling and vocabulary weren't really a problem. There was no right way to handle these sorts of things - and that meant there was no right or wrong way to say many words. We can see from the rhyme schemes of older poems that there were differences of opinion, to say the least.

These days, the English language is the most commonly-spoken across the world, and includes in its many dialects a variety of correct options for pronouncing certain words. Much of the idea that there is only one right option in such instances comes from snobbery rooted in class or cultural discrimination. However, even if you put linguistic pomposity aside, there are some words that do have a right or wrong pronunciation. Some of these are words that entered the lexicon from a foreign language, many of them are food items. Others are older Latin, Norse, Greek, or Germanic words whose meaning would be altered were they to be said differently. Still, others are simply words that everyone pretty much agrees on only have the one correct emphasis or vowel. 

So let's run through a few of them and see whether or not you are a linguistic expert!

How do you say "colonel"?

Colonel is pronounced "kernel," whether you're talking about the KFC guy or someone currently in the military.


How do you say "salmon"?

Salmon is another silent L, as it is another French word. Basically, if the word might be French, be ready for a letter to be silent.


How do you say "sergeant"?

As this is another French one, the "ge" in the middle has moved from a French "je" - as in the sound in the borrowed word "aubergine" - to a hard English "je" as in jerk!


How do you say "proscuitto"?

Proscuitto is one where people really try too hard to make it sound affected. Pronouncing the "o" is necessary, and the "scui" in the middle is a common Italian sound that comes out like the English "sh."


How do you say "buffet"?

It's buh-FAY. Buffet pronounced "BUH-fett" is a word, and also the name of a very successful investor - but it means to get pushed around like a ship in a lot of wind, and you don't want that association at your barbecue, now, do you?


How do you say "forte"?

This is a much-abused word in the US. If you want a way to remember it, imagine saying you're turning 40 and trying to make it sound ironically cool: for-tay.


How do you say "nuclear"?

Yep, "nuclear" is a near homonym for "new-clear." The more homey "noo-koo-lar"-type pronunciations made popular by George W. Bush are, in fact, just patronizing people.


How do you say "lieutenant"?

Lieutenant has different correct pronunciations in England, America, and France, even though it is the same word, but in the USA, it's just pronounced in the most simple "as-is" way. It's very common for American accents to simplify words like this.


How do you say "fajita"?

Fajita is a Mexican dish and a Spanish word. J in Spanish is called "hota," hence the H sound.


How do you say "often"?

Often lost its hard T when it lengthened from oft. This is common in words with Anglo-Saxon origins that survived the arrival of Norman: they get a little softer.


How do you say "realtor"?

This one is so easy that people trip over it. They're selling real estate. Keep it real and just say "real!"


How do you pronounce the full version of "etc."?

This is Latin for "and all the rest." If you want a reminder in it, watch the scene in "The King and I" where Anna Leonowens teaches the King of Siam: they say it correctly about 15 times in several minutes.


How do you say "mischievous"?

Mischievous is one of those French words where the pronunciation has sort of half-Anglicizied, making it a tough one. The key thing is to remember that whatever you did with the first and second "i," there is no third one!


How do you say "pernickety"?

Pernickety, not persnickety. Sorry to be pernickety, but however many local news anchors try to add flavor by putting in that "s," it's not really there.


How do you say the name of the continent that is on the south pole of this planet?

There's a much-neglected "c" in the name of Antarctica. In this case it's because it is literally harder to wrap your tongue around it - but it's one of those words that is fun to say once you get used to saying it right!


How do you say "cache"?

Cache, as in the place Windows keeps putting your files for no discernible reason, is just "cash." The word pronounced "cash-ay" and spelled "cachet" means having a certain respect or distinction.


How do you say "mayonnaise"?

There are three syllables here. Just remember there are no good rhymes - not player, not layer, not pair - and you'll be all set.


How do you say "almond"?

Almond is a common one. The recent etymology is the French "alemande," which probably explains why it has a silent L - the French do love to mess with you.


How do you say "moot"?

Moot is a simple word: just moot. This is called yod-dropping, and it's OK in this instance.


If you were to attend an orientation, how would you say the verb in this sentence: "It's time to get everyone ____"?

It's "oriented." "Orientated" is also a word now, but only because so many people got it wrong that it came into common use. If you want people to be impressed, don't add that extra "tate" for no reason!


How do you say "potable"?

Potable water is not pronounced like water that goes in a pot. It's water that is safe to drink. It comes from the Latin "potare," to drink.


How do you say "escape"?

There are no eggs involved here: it's uh-scape. Compare it to a word like "escapade," which shares the same root, to remember the hard sounds.


How do you say "respite"?

Despite and respite may look the same, but the first comes from the Latin "despiccere" meaning to scorn, and the second comes from Latin "respectus," meaning refuge.


How do you say the past participle of "sneak"?

"Snuck" is fun to say but, technically, it is not correct. The right word is "sneaked."


How do you say "suite"?

You were allowed to drop the yod on "moot," but not on "suite." It's still far too French for that.


How do you say "sommelier"?

This is a French word that isn't even trying to pretend it made it all the way into English, and it is pronounced accordingly.


How do you say "electoral"?

This comes from Latin "electio," to pick out. It has four distinct syllables and doesn't change the pronunciation of its root, so "election" and "electoral" are essentially the same.


How do you say "dengue"?

This word comes partly from Swahili, via Spanish. It's dengy, like dinghy, with "den-ghi" being an acceptable alternative.


How do you say "niche"?

Niche is a simple one once you know that the French "ch" is always a "sh."


How do you say "pizza"?

This Italian word is most easily understood by seeing it as two words put together (even though it isn't): piz, pronounced "peets", and za. Squash them together and say it quickly to get it right!


How do you say "genre"?

Genre is a much-abused word where people assume it must have Anglicized by now. It hasn't. It's still just "zhon-rah".


How do you say "quinoa"?

Quinoa arrived in English via Spanish. It's one to get right, because if you get it wrong, it's not that people will think less of you, it's more that they literally won't understand you.


How do you say "aunt"?

While "ah-nt" as a homonym for "aunt" is correct in British English, in the US it should be the same as "ant," the insect.


How do you say "gauge"?

This word is more from the Anglo-Saxon "gage" than the French "gauger." Just ignore the U and you'll do fine.


How do you say "mauve"?

Mauve was invented as a word when a dye was created by William Henry Perkin, a chemist, who wanted a name for it and borrowed from French.


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