50 Incorrect Pronunciations That You Should Avoid

By Maeve Maddox

Fred Astaire drew laughs back in the Thirties with his song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in which the lovers can’t agree on the pronunciation of words like either, neither, and tomato.

incorrect pronunciations

On a personal level, I cringe when I hear someone sound the “t” in often or pronounce pecan with a short “a,” but I have to acknowledge that both these pronunciations are widely accepted alternate pronunciations that can be justified by the spelling.

Alternate pronunciations, however, are a different matter from out-and-out mispronunciations. The latter, no matter how common, are incorrect, either because of the spelling that indicates another pronunciation, or because of what is widely agreed upon to be conventional usage. Word of caution: I’m writing from an American perspective.

Here are 50 frequently mispronounced words. The list is by no means exhaustive, but provides a good start.

1. aegis – The ae in this word is pronounced /ee/. Say EE-JIS/, not /ay-jis/. In mythology the “aegis” is associated especially with the goddess Athene. It is her shield with the Gorgon’s head on it.

2. anyway – The problem with this word is not so much pronunciation as the addition of an unnecessary sound. Don’t add an s to make it “anyways.” The word is ANYWAY.

3. archipelago – Because the word is from Greek, the ch is pronounced with a /k/ sound. Say /AR-KI-PEL-A-GO/, not /arch-i-pel-a-go/.

4. arctic – Note the C after the R. Say /ARK-TIK/, not /ar-tik/.

5. accessory – the first C has a “hard” sound. Say /AK-SESS-OR-Y/, not /ass-ess-or-y/.

6. ask – The S comes before the K. Say /ASK/ not /aks/.

7. asterisk – Notice the second S. Say /AS-TER-ISK/, not /as-ter-ik/.

8. athlete – The word has two syllables, not three. Say /ATH-LETE/, not /ath-uh-lete/.

9. barbed wire– Notice the AR in the first syllable. Say /BARBD/, not /bob/.

10. cache – The word is of French origin, but it does not end with an accented syllable. A cache is a hiding place or something that is being hidden: a cache of supplies; a cache of money; a cache of drugs. Say /KASH/, not /ka-shay/.

11. candidate – Notice the first d. Say /KAN-DI-DATE/, not /kan-i-date/.

12. cavalry – This word refers to troops that fight on horseback. Say /KAV-UL-RY/, not /kal-vuh-ry/. NOTE: Calvary refers the place where Jesus was crucified and IS pronounced /kal-vuh-ry/.)

13. chaos – The spelling ch can represent three different sounds in English: /tch/ as in church, /k/ as in Christmas, and /sh/ as in chef. The first sound is heard in words of English origin and is the most common. The second sound of ch, /k/, is heard in words of Greek origin. The third and least common of the three ch sounds is heard in words adopted from modern French. Chaos is a Greek word. Say /KAY-OS/, not /tchay-os/.

14. clothes – Notice the TH spelling and sound. Say /KLOTHZ/, not /kloz/.

15. daïs – A daïs is a raised platform. The pronunciation fault is to reverse the vowel sounds. The word is often misspelled as well as mispronounced. Say /DAY-IS/ not /dī-is/.

16. dilate – The word has two syllables, not three. Say /DI-LATE/, not /di-a-late/.

17. drowned – This is the past participle form of the verb drown. Notice that there is no D on drown. Don’t add one when using the word in its past form. Say /DROWND/, not /drown-ded/.

18. et cetera – This Latin term is often mispronounced and its abbreviation is frequently misspelled. Say /ET CET-ER-A/, not /ex cet-er-a/. For the abbreviation, write ETC., not ect.

19. February – Just about everyone I know drops the first r in February. The spelling calls for /FEB-ROO-AR-Y/, not /feb-u-ar-y/.

20. foliage – The word has three syllables. Say /FO-LI-UJ/, not /fol-uj/.

21. forte – English has two words spelled this way. One comes from Italian and the other from French. The Italian word, a musical term meaning “loud,” is pronounced with two syllables: /FOR-TAY/. The French word, an adjective meaning “strength” or “strong point,” is pronounced with one syllable: /FORT/.

22. Halloween – The word for the holiday Americans celebrate with such enthusiasm on October 31 derives from “Hallowed Evening,” meaning “evening that has been made holy.” The word “hallow” comes from Old English halig, meaning “holy.” Notice the a in the first syllable and say /HAL-O-WEEN/, not /hol-lo-ween/.

23. height – The word ends in a /T/ sound, not a /TH/ sound. Say /HITE/, not /hith/.

24. heinous – People unfamiliar with the TV show Law and Order: S.V.U. may not know that heinous has two syllables. (The show begins with this sentence: “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous.”) Say /HAY-NUS/, not /heen-i-us/.

25. hierarchy – The word has four syllables. Say /HI -ER-AR-KY,/ not /hi-ar-ky/.

26. Illinois – As with Arkansas, the final “s” in Illinois is not pronounced. Say /IL-I-NOY/ (and /Ar-kan-saw/, not /il-li-noiz/ or /ar-kan-sas/). NOTE: Some unknowledgeable folks may still be trying to pronounce Arkansas as if it had something to do with Kansas. The pronunciation /ar-kan-zuz/ is waaay off base.

27. interpret – The word has three syllables. Don’t add one! Say /IN-TER-PRET/, not /in-ter-pre-tate/.

28. incident – Something that happens is an “incident.” Don’t say “incidence” when you mean a specific event. There IS a word “incidence,” but it has a different meaning.

29. “irregardless” – See the real word, regardless.

30. jewelry – The word has three syllables. Say /JEW-EL-RY/, not /jew-el-er-y/. The pronunciation /jewl-ry/ is common but not correct, as it removes one syllable from the word.

31. library – Notice where the R comes in the word. Say /LI-BRAR-Y/, not /li-ber-ry/.

32. medieval – The word has four syllables. The first E may be pronounced either short [med] or long [meed]. Say /MED-EE-EEVAL/ or /MEE-DEE-EEVAL/, not /meed-eval/.

33. miniature – The word has four syllables. Say /MIN-I-A-TURE/, not /min-a-ture/.

34. Mischievous – This is the adjective form of mischief whose meaning is “calamity” or “harm.” Mischievous is now associated with harmless fun so that the expression “malicious mischief” has been coined as another term for vandalism. Mischievous has three syllables with the accent on the first syllable: /MIS-CHI-VUS/. Don’t say /mis-chee-vee-us/.

35. niche – The word is from the French and, though many words of French origin have been anglicized in standard usage, this is one that cries out to retain a long “e” sound and a /SH/ sound for the che. Say /NEESH/, not /nitch/.

36. orient – This word has three syllables. As a verb it means to place something in its proper position in relation to something else. It comes from a word meaning “east” and originally meant positioning something in relation to the east. Now it is used with a more general meaning. Say /OR-I-ENT/, not /or-i-en-tate/.

37. old-fashioned – This adjective is formed from a past-participle: “fashioned.” Don’t leave off the ED. Say /OLD-FASHIOND/, not /old-fashion/.

38. picture – There’s a K sound in picture. Don’t confuse picture with pitcher. Say /PIK-TURE/, not /pitch-er/. Pitcher is a different word. A pitcher is a serving vessel with a handle.

39. precipitation – This is a noun that refers to rain or snow, or anything else that normally falls from the sky. As with prescription (below), the prefix is PRE-. Say /PRE-CIP-I-TA-TION/, not /per-cip–i-ta-tion/.

40. prescription – Note the prefix PRE- in this word. Say /PRE-SCRIP-TION/, not /per- scrip-tion/ or /pro-scrip-tion/.

41. preventive – The word has three syllables. A common fault is to add a syllable. Say PRE-VEN-TIVE/, not /pre-ven-ta-tive.

42. pronunciation – This word is a noun. It comes from the verb pronounce, BUT it is not pronounced like the verb. Say /PRO-NUN-CI-A-TION/, not /pro-nounce-i-a-tion/.

43. prostate – This word for a male gland is often mispronounced. There is an adjective prostrate which means to be stretched out facedown on the ground. When speaking of the gland, however, say /PROS-TATE/, not /pros-trate/.

44. Realtor – The word has three syllables. Say /RE-AL-TOR/, not /re-a-la-tor/.

45. regardless – The word has three syllables. Please don’t add an IR to make it into the abomination “irregardless”.

46. sherbet – The word has only one r in it. Say /SHER-BET/ not /sher-bert/.

47. spayed – This is a one-syllable word, the past participle form of the verb to spay, meaning to remove the ovaries from an animal. Like the verb drown (above) the verb spay does not have a D in its infinitive form. Don’t add one to the past participle. Say /SPADE/, not /spay-ded/.

48. ticklish – The word has two syllables. Say /TIK-LISH/, not /tik-i-lish/.

49. tract – Religious evangelists often hand out long printed statements of belief called “tracts.” That’s one kind of “tract.” Houses are built on “tracts.” Then there’s the word “track.” Athletes run on “tracks.” Animals leave “tracks.” Don’t say /TRAKT/ when you mean /TRAK/, and vice-versa.

50. vehicle – Although there is an H in the word, to pronounce it is to sound hicky. Say /VEE-IKL/, not /vee-Hikl/.

51. wintry – Here’s another weather word often mispronounced, even by the weather person. The word has two syllables. Say /WIN-TRY/, not /win-ter-y/.

Got any to add to the list?

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1,306 Responses to “50 Incorrect Pronunciations That You Should Avoid”

  • Maeve

    Corky,
    In my view, the English word “homage” is pronounced with aspirate h.
    https://www.dailywritingtips.com/two-kinds-of-homage/

  • venqax

    @ Mehitabel Cotullus: I sympathize with most of your list. I can’t say, though, that I’ve ever actually heard anyone way “solay” for sole. I don’t doubt it could happen. I’m also not sure what you mean by claw-set for closet. Are your referring to the mispronunciation of the voiced S? So, klaw-zet?

  • Language cop (Mary J. Williams)

    I find it hard to believe that NUCLEAR did not make your list. When I hear nu-cu-lar–especially from people who should know better–it detracts considerably from that person’s credibility.

  • Corky

    Where is the discussion about the pronunciation of ‘homage’? I don’t care about the preference for a hard or silent ‘h’ (herb vs. -erb; Martha Stewart like the ‘h’), but hearing ‘oh-MAJ’ stops me like a fingernail scraping a chalkboard and I lose the rest of the remark–definition 2b above notwithstanding. There are so many references to a French derivation and French pronunciation like that but I have yet to see any proof of the modern French connection. What think you all?

  • Mehitabel Cotullus

    My faves:
    realtor pronounced as real-a-tor
    jewelry as jew-le-ry
    window sill as window seal
    closet as claws-et
    bruschetta as brushetta
    filet of sole as filet of so-lay
    machinations as mackinations – I know this one is sticky as the original root word is Greek, but it is derived from the French word, machine

  • Maeve

    Devin: I think you must have been having a bad day when you posted that rant. I hope you are feeling better now.

  • Maeve

    Pari: I suppose you’re joking.

    Rachel R. : I bow to Merriam-Webster most of the time for American pronunciation, but when it comes to medieval, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I lived in London for seven years in my youth, where I studied medieval history and literature. I heard the word pronounced so often with a short e in the first syllable that my ears recoil from MEED-evil. I have no problem with three syllables rather than four. I see that Cambridge gives only the three-syllable pronunciation, but oxforddictionariesonline gives the four-syllable first and the three-syllable second.

  • Pari

    Please add cucumber to this list. it has to be pronounced as KYU-KAM-BERG .Buts some pronounce it KU-KU-MBER

  • Rachel R.

    Oh, and “neesh” is apparently the preferred pronunciation of niche in Britain (and, yes, arguably, the truer pronunciation to its origins), but “nitch” is the preferred American pronunciation.

  • Rachel R.

    Although I agree with you overall, and appreciate having many of these called out (I’d rather not be “axed” anything, thankyouverymuch 😉 ), a couple of them are not quite accurate.

    I’m not sure where you’re getting that medieval has four syllables, and won’t attempt to argue that a four-syllable pronunciation isn’t A correct pronunciation, but it’s not the expected pronunciation. (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/pronunciation/english/medieval)

    And jewl-er-y drove me nuts, too (like aluminium), until I realized they’re holdovers from British pronunciation, which comes from a different SPELLING. (Jewellery and aluminium, rather than the American jewelry and aluminum.)

    (Also, as for wintry and ticklish, I think those often sound like three syllables where only two are intended — especially with slower speakers — because their letter combinations are more awkward than some others.)

  • Devin

    To Maeve Maddox, one other that gets to me besides “ask”…a simple 3 letter word being pronounced “aks”, is the pronunciation of the word “Police”. PLEASE set a lot of people straight that it is NOT pronounced, correctly at least, “PO-leece” with a strong emphasis on ‘PO’ and with a slightly drawn out ‘O’, but instead it’s “po-LEECE”. Am I correct, or at least close to it, or are millions around me right? I don’t want to aks another source(lol). Oh, another is the word “more”. I hear TONS of people just say “mo” with no ‘r’ in their pronunciation at all. Of course I’m referring to words from Ebonics, which is nothing more than trying to legitimize laziness. *(Let me clarify right here that this is NOT a race related thing because I’ve observed it, heard it from every race around me and the ones I’ve encountered in the lower 48 US States which I’ve traveled several times, and heard these word pronunciations from the saggy pants bunch to college grads, white, black, Asian, Latino, Pakistani, you name it, and Ebonics is part of their “language”. Besides that, I’m not a racist and don’t tolerate them.) Anyway, “they” go to the same English classes with the same teachers as everyone else, and it’s like everything goes in one ear and out the other, yet they get a passing grade and ultimately graduate, diploma in hand, and not a brain cell ever being detected. THEN they wonder why they have a hard time finding a job or certain other things in life.
    If you have time, I have another for you to translate and correct(actually the entire sentence …”choo”, as in “Wha choo gots de boEE?”. IF you find the time, why not just write a book called “Breaking Away From Ebonics. Learning to speak your FIRST language as well as, or better than, people from other countries who speak English as their second or third language!”. I’ll just ask for a simple 20% of the profits in perpetuity for the idea and the name(or any changes TO the name). Haha. Oh, and the ‘in perpetuity’ part shouldn’t last long because my health is bad, so get on da stick brah! You gots stuffs to do yo. 😉 Regards, A 10th grade drop out.
    P.S. If you need assistance with some ‘word’ ideas, please let me know. I only have to go about 2 miles from my home to the small village there, and record some from several people at once for you to listen to and I’ll help decipher/de-code for the book if you need any help. For instance, there’s a larger town near here called Albemarle, but most around here simply call it “Abma”. Go figure.

    You might also include some phrases as well, like “The Dr. said I have high blood” or “My momma tole me go to da sto en git so milk en bret” ?!?!??? hahaha 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • venqax

    @Tłumacz techniczny: The article didn’t say that the Greeks pronounce it like a “k”. It said that in English, in words with “ch”s that are derived from Greek, the “ch”s are pronounced like “k”s. That is, generally, true and explains the proper way to say archipelago: arKipelago. That’s all. It really doesn’t matter how it’s pronounced in Greek. We aren’t speaking Greek. Character, chemistry, architect, archeology, chorus, chord, etc.

  • venqax

    @Freddie: What are you on about? The word is wintry. WIN-TREE. Two syllables. The word is NOT wintERy. Not spelled that way nor said that way. Quite obviously. And what does that have to do with baboons– other than that baboons can’t read so they might say “winter-y”.

  • Tłumacz techniczny

    “3 . archipelago – Because the word is from Greek, the ch is pronounced with a /k/ sound. Say /AR-KI-PEL-A-GO/, not /arch-i-pel-a-go/.”
    – No, no and no!
    Listen to Greek original – “h” sounds! Not “k”. It is from Greek, and Englishmen pronounce that way, but not of this reason.

  • Freddie

    Well, where to start….

    Win-try…? WIN-TRY..?! Who do you take me for..?! Some kind of “boo-boon” (Figured I’d take a leaf out of your book with that awful pronunciation) – it’s quite obviously Win-ter-y.. please update this

    Yours sincerely,
    Xoxo

  • Peter

    Anyway, according to Wikipedia, the man himself pronounced “Dr. Seuss” to rhyme with goose (but the Seuss in his proper name to rhyme with voice)

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