5 words of English that are impossible to pronounce correctly the first time

There are many jokes about the pronunciation of English words. Because most lexemes are pronounced randomly, and the same letter can even denote several different sounds in one word.

Many of these words cannot be pronounced correctly if you do not know how to do it in advance.

A great example of the Intermediate level is the word “queue”. Because it is pronounced like [kjuː]… Our teachers often joke that you can drop four of the five letters of a word and still read it correctly.

But in English there are some words that are generally unrealistic to pronounce correctly, if you do not peep in the transcription in advance. We will talk about them today.

Difficult words and Spelling bee competition

In the USA and Britain, the Spelling bee competition is very popular among schoolchildren and students.

The participant is told a word, and he needs to spell it correctly. Despite the apparent simplicity, it is quite difficult, because many English phonemes have developed under the influence of historical factors and their spelling does not correspond to the general rules of pronunciation.

The competition has become so popular that today it is held in more than 20 countries around the world. Even in those where English is not the official state language.

In this article, we have collected some of the words that took part in Spelling Bee and caused the most difficulties for the participants.



Sound is clearly heard when pronouncing a word [r] instead of the letter l. But why does the letter L convey sound at all [r]? As always, history is to blame.

In the XV-XVI centuries, the English language actively borrowed military words from French. For example, it was then that the words spread in military affairs cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon and, in fact, coronel. Yes, it is coronel, with the letter r.

The French, in turn, themselves stole the word coronel among the Italians, but they did it somewhat casually, because in Italian the word sounded like colonello. Due to dissimilation, the first “l” became “r”.

In the XVI-XVII centuries, English linguists actively translated Italian works on military affairs and, under their influence, the word coronel brought closer to the Italian original – they began to write it as colonel

At the same time, two equivalent pronunciation options have been preserved – and French through [r], and Italian through [l]…

Nevertheless, the French version of kor-o-nel took hold and became the main one. Over the course of several centuries, it lost its vowel and began to be pronounced as ker-nel.

And so it happened that the language is English, the word is Italian, and the pronunciation is French. It’s easy to get confused.



Another military rank on the list of the most difficult words to pronounce. It is especially difficult for Russian speakers, because “false friends of the translator” are included. Lieutenant – what could be simpler?

Because it is pronounced lef-ten-nent. Where did the sound come from? [f], now we will explain.

In English there is a word “lieu” – [luː], which translates as “land plot”. Another word with French roots “tenant” – [‘tenənt] translates as owner or tenant. That is, “lieutenant” – literally translated as “landowner”.

We are interested in the word “lieu”. In Old French, it also had a different form – “leuf “. And linguistic researchers believe that it was she who influenced the pronunciation of the word. In the Middle Ages, there was a form “leuftenant “, which was used on a par with “Lieutenant”And it so happened historically that in writing “lieutenant” supplanted other options, but the sound [f] remained in the pronunciation.

Interestingly, only the British version is sinning like that. In American pronunciation, everything is more standard: [lu:ˈten.ənt]…



Anemone is a herbaceous plant also called anemone. And the main linguistic joke here is that the letter “e” at the end of a word is voiced.

We are so accustomed to the fact that in the end of English words the letter “e” in the vast majority of situations is quiet that it is extremely difficult to perceive vocabulary differently. Anemone seems like a common word for which the usual rules can be applied. But no.

The word has an ancient Greek origin. And it consists of the lexeme ἄνεμο, which denotes the wind and the matronymic suffix -ώνη… That is, the anemone is the “daughter of the winds”. Actually, that is why it is still called anemone.

But in ancient Greek, this suffix was pronounced as [-oni]… In this form, the word got into Latin, and from there into Old English. The most interesting thing is that the pronunciation has not changed. So many thanks to the Greeks can be said for the modern confusion.

The complexity of this word was even played up in the cartoon “Find Nemo”.



One of the hardest to remember words for someone who learns English as a second. False friends contribute to this.

In the Russian language there is a word “hegemony”. But to be honest, this is a rather curved tracing paper from ancient Greek. The word also got into the English language from ancient Greek, but retained its original sound.

And here it is not even a matter of the complexity of the word itself – it is practically common. And in the perception of it by the Russian-speaking.

Relearn and stop calling him in English like [ge.ɡem.ə.ni] very difficult. Even people with the Fluent level stumble upon it. And if you also consider that in British and American English there are two different ways to pronounce a word, then many simply avoid it altogether, so as not to strain their brains once again.



With a slight movement of the hand, the letter combination CH turns into the sound of KW. Suddenly? Oh yeah. After all, many students just want to pronounce it like a familiar “chorus” with an English accent. But it turns out completely indecent, so do not try to repeat it.

The reason for this strange pronunciation is again Old French. Sponsoring most of the oddities in English, so to speak.

Ancient Greek had the word χορός, which, in fact, means “chorus” and is pronounced as [хорос]… It passed into Latin practically unchanged – chorus… And the French are great. In Old French, the word suddenly began to look like “quire” or “quaer “ and began to be pronounced according to French rules.

Under the influence of the Norman language, it passed into English, but its spelling changed slightly closer to the Latin version. The result is weird. The spelling is kind of like Latin, but not quite. The pronunciation is kind of like French, but also not quite.

Bonus. GIF

Online edition Mashable held present researchhow people pronounce popular terms from the internet. So, 70% of people pronounce the word GIF as [gif]… And only 30% – [dʒif]…

Interestingly, the second option is considered true – this is exactly the pronunciation that Steve Wilhite, the inventor of the .gif file format, implied.

The thing is that dictionaries give the main pronunciation just [gif]…

This is one of those examples where the public influences the pronunciation of a particular word and over time, the incorrect pronunciation spreads so much that it becomes correct. Actually, the lion’s share of the English pronunciation of words was created in this way.

It is a pleasure to memorize all these transcriptions on your own. But you can make it much nicer with the help of the interactive EnglishDom tutorial. Register for a free trial lesson with experienced teachers and evaluate its capabilities yourself.

Online school EnglishDom.com – we inspire to learn English through technology and human care

For Habr readers only first lesson with a teacher in an interactive digital textbook for free! And when buying classes, you will receive up to 3 lessons as a gift!

Get a whole month of premium subscription to the ED Words app as a gift… Enter promo code march2021 on this page or straight in the ED Words app… The promo code is valid until 05/01/2021.

Our products:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *