There’s no doubt, English is a universal language, with over a billion and a half people speaking and writing it to conduct business at the very least.

It is, therefore, not unusual when the pronunciation of words, even by first language English speakers proves tricky! If this is you, don’t worry because there are great methods to prevent you from breaking English pronunciation rules.

When it comes to the pronunciation of words in the Oxford dictionary (which lists almost 2000 words), many mistakes in English speaking can result.

Keep reading for those that commonly break English pronunciation rules.

The best ESOL (English) tutors available
1st lesson free!
Christene
5
5 (7 review/s)
Christene
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Annamarie
5
5 (5 review/s)
Annamarie
R300
/h
1st lesson free!
Phozisa
5
5 (13 review/s)
Phozisa
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Andre
5
5 (2 review/s)
Andre
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Busisiwe
5
5 (5 review/s)
Busisiwe
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Almari
5
5 (4 review/s)
Almari
R244
/h
1st lesson free!
Cami
5
5 (2 review/s)
Cami
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Cindy
5
5 (4 review/s)
Cindy
R130
/h
1st lesson free!
Christene
5
5 (7 review/s)
Christene
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Annamarie
5
5 (5 review/s)
Annamarie
R300
/h
1st lesson free!
Phozisa
5
5 (13 review/s)
Phozisa
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Andre
5
5 (2 review/s)
Andre
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Busisiwe
5
5 (5 review/s)
Busisiwe
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Almari
5
5 (4 review/s)
Almari
R244
/h
1st lesson free!
Cami
5
5 (2 review/s)
Cami
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Cindy
5
5 (4 review/s)
Cindy
R130
/h
1st lesson free>

Pronunciation of English Words that are Difficult

Interestingly, it’s not the long and difficult words in English where the pronunciation of words becomes tricky, it’s the easy, everyday words.

One way to learn the rules of English pronunciation is to learn how to recognise syllables. Syllables are those small units of sound that can divide a word. These usually consist of one vowel and one consonant.

One of the words that create the most mistakes in English speaking is the word ‘usually’ which can prove tricky for both native and foreign speakers of English.

The word ‘usually’ comprises four syllables (u+su+al+ly).

When used without mistakes in English speaking, this word is pronounced ‘you-zhu-all-lee’.

Society is another tricky word, but if you remember to follow the rules of English pronunciation that remind us to break down the word into syllables it can help.

When it is mispronounced, it sounds like so-shur-ty as if it only has three syllables, but breaking it down like this (so+ci+eh+ty) will help.

Society is especially complicated because its origin or root word, social, is pronounced so-shull by native English speakers. Avoid mistakes in English speaking with this particular word by following the syllable rule. The correct pronunciation (so+ci+al) will result by noticing that there are three syllables, not two!

two women walking and talking
Make sure to learn the English syllable rule. - Source: Pexels

The Pronunciation of English Words with ‘br’

Words that are similar in sound, yet often result in mistakes in English speaking are the words, February and Library. This is because the combination of the two letters together (br) is difficult to say, especially when they are found in the middle of the word.

English pronunciation rules get violated when this word that describes a calendar month is called feb-you-airy. Similarly, this occurs when the building where books are kept is called a lie-berry.

The pronunciation of English words like this is incorrect.

Remembering to sound out a word syllable by syllable, will help you to see that this short month of the year has four syllables: fe+bru+a+ry. Notice that the second syllable is pronounced ‘brew’.

In the same way, break down the book building, li+bray+ree.

English Pronunciation Rules for Words that Describe Dimension

Make sure that you apply rules of English pronunciation to these words that describe dimensions like height, width, length, and depth.

Many foreign English speakers pronounce the first word as heighth, by giving it the same ending as the others on this list.

One would think that all the pronunciation of English words in this category would end with the same sound, however, height ends with t, therefore, it is spoken hi+t, and not hi-t-th.

The best ESOL (English) tutors available
1st lesson free!
Christene
5
5 (7 review/s)
Christene
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Annamarie
5
5 (5 review/s)
Annamarie
R300
/h
1st lesson free!
Phozisa
5
5 (13 review/s)
Phozisa
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Andre
5
5 (2 review/s)
Andre
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Busisiwe
5
5 (5 review/s)
Busisiwe
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Almari
5
5 (4 review/s)
Almari
R244
/h
1st lesson free!
Cami
5
5 (2 review/s)
Cami
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Cindy
5
5 (4 review/s)
Cindy
R130
/h
1st lesson free!
Christene
5
5 (7 review/s)
Christene
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Annamarie
5
5 (5 review/s)
Annamarie
R300
/h
1st lesson free!
Phozisa
5
5 (13 review/s)
Phozisa
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Andre
5
5 (2 review/s)
Andre
R180
/h
1st lesson free!
Busisiwe
5
5 (5 review/s)
Busisiwe
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Almari
5
5 (4 review/s)
Almari
R244
/h
1st lesson free!
Cami
5
5 (2 review/s)
Cami
R200
/h
1st lesson free!
Cindy
5
5 (4 review/s)
Cindy
R130
/h
1st lesson free>

Pronunciation of Words Probably and Supposedly

These words are adverbs. Not only are they closely related in meaning, but the pronunciation of words like this can also pose problems!

Probably, which means highly likely, tends to break English pronunciation rules by changing to prolly or probly.

Rules of English pronunciation, when broken, don’t tend to always impact comprehension of what is being said, however pronunciation of words like this is simply wrong!

Using that all-important syllable rule, the word is proh-ba-bly.

The other word in this group does not suffer misuse because of a dropped syllable. Instead, English students everywhere tend to change the third syllable, pronouncing it as supposably.

This is logical but incorrect.

Think of words like acceptably, disposably, and lamentably: inevitably those learning English will adopt the -ably suffix to the word supposed instead of the correct adverbial -ly.

When learning English as a foreign language, it cannot be underestimated: recognise syllables as the safest way to follow rules of English pronunciation. This will also improve your writing skills.

Breaking it down to Suh+po+sed+ly will provide you with the correct pronunciation of this adverb, every time.

See the different English courses on Superprof.

Per versus Pre Words 

As you study English, your skills will be tested by prefixes pre- and per- with regards to the idea you are attempting to express.

  • Pre- means in advance or before
  • Per- indicates utterly or very

However, these are not interchangeable!

Take the word prerogative for instance which is one of the most incorrectly pronounced nouns in English because of its two r’s. It means privilege or right due to a pre-existing circumstance.

The prefix shows the meaning.

two women in conversation over coffee
Practise your spoken English at every opportunity. - Source: Pexels- Source: Pexels

ESL learners tend toward saying perogative when pronouncing this word.

This also tends to happen with the adjective preemptory which has the same prefix and is often pronounced peremptory or preem- tory. Here, the first syllable sounds like cream which makes for an understandable error.

The pronunciation of words with the double ee is spoken with a long sound: leek, meek, seek.

The word preemptory which is a result of a prefix attached to an old English word means without duties.

This word, as well as another with the same prefix, is often spelled with a hyphen: pre-emptory, pre-existing, where the double-e is separated.

The Same Except for One Letter

The ESL student (English as a Second Language) can discover clues to correct writing and pronunciation by looking at vocabulary with similar spelling.

Do remember though that this method doesn’t always help because of the many exceptions in English grammar.

Take the word gauge looks similar to gauze, except for one letter. One would assume that they would have the same sound resulting in the frequent mispronunciation of gaw-dge.

Of course, every English teacher will swear to you that gaw-ze is indeed the correct pronunciation, they will all be equally sure that gay-dge is the correct way to say gauge.

The next word pair appears in the sentence below.

Despite your hard work, you want no respite from learning English vocabulary.

Respite is often pronounced res-pit – where the first syllable is stressed; while the second word places emphasis on the second syllable, but pronounces all three: des-PI-te.

Building Proficiency in Writing and Pronunciation of Words

girl using phone and headphones
Connect with a language buddy or tutor to practise your English pronunciation.- Source: Pexels

Basic English students are encouraged to depend on the International Phonetic Alphabet as a way to learn how to articulate English words.

Intermediate ESL lessons are filled with students who make use of audio renderings for vocabulary that is provided by most online dictionaries.

It is true that first language English speakers naturally teach their children by repeating words over and over, so that sound is mimicked.

However, repeatedly listening to recorded words does not provide the same benefit.

This is because parents of toddlers enunciate the words, speaking each syllable with the correct tone and inflection.

Furthermore, these incredibly young students have the added advantage of watching the speaker's mouth move, making it easier to copy.

An audio recording will not provide that vital link – between the position of the mouth and sound. Besides, it also offers the entire word, as spoken by native speakers, rather than every syllable is spoken individually.

If you are serious about learning English, we also suggest these techniques to increase fluency.

  • Reduce your dependence on recorded words.
  • For correct English pronunciation, break words into
  • Develop writing skills which will lead to improved speaking
  • Keep a journal to later write a blog.
  • Disable those word processing tools that automatically correct spelling mistakes.
  • Remember that spell-check can be helpful.
  • Practise spoken English at every opportunity.
  • Learn new vocabulary only once you have mastered current words.
  • Language courses will help to avoid bad grammar and sentence construction.

The British Council offers a website that is filled with tools and exercises to support your English studies.

Whether you want to study English in a recognised ESOL class, or take online English lessons with a private tutor, or attend a language school, there are many ways to go about learning English.

Mispronounced Idioms

Doggy Dog World

‘A dog eat dog world’ refers to a cruel and ruthless environment where the failure results in being eaten by a metaphorical top dog.

This is not the same as a ‘doggy dog world’ in the way a toddler may refer to a puppy.

For All Intensive Purposes

For all intents and purposes means with practical intentions.

Intensive purposes are ones that would be concentrated on something, for a short time.

Taken for Granite

The phrase ‘taken for granted’ means a belief in insignificance.

The children took their nanny for granted

Taken for granite would mean that many people were mistaken for a rock type!

If you are an international English student, don't take this article for granted!

Need an ESOL (English) teacher?

Enjoyed this article?

5.00/5 - 1 vote(s)
Loading...

Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.