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20 Simple Words You Thought You Were Pronouncing Correctly

The last five are the simplest but trickiest mispronounced words.
ILLUSTRATOR Bacs Arcebal
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So you think you know how to pronounce most English words? Try these ones.

We came up with a list of 20 grade school-level vocabulary words, which often stump adults when they are told pronounce them correctly. We did away with words longer than two syllables and kept the list short.

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1|   Bury

Wrong: BUH-ri

Correct: BEH-ri

Photo by Bacs Arcebal.
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People often mispronounce this word, saying buh-ree with an ever slightest sound of so that it almost sounds like brr-ree, instead of opening their mouths wide and saying beh-ri. It’s the same pronunciation as berry.

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2|   Scarce

Wrong: skars

Correct: skers

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A college professor once shamed a student for correctly pronouncing this word. “It’s skars, Ms. Fernandez,” he said. Little did he know that the correct way of pronouncing it is skers, just like how you pronounce scares.

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3|   Buyer

Wrong: BUH-yer

Correct: BAH-yer

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The letter u often throws off people who think they’re on the right track in pronouncing a basic word. Remember to open your mouth wide and emphasize the ah when pronouncing BAH-yer.

4|   Cousin

Wrong: KAH-sin

Correct: KUH-zin

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The common mistake in pronouncing this word is not so much on the pronunciation of the first syllable, but of the second syllable. Remember to pronounce it with a z, not s.

5|   Disease

Wrong: di-SEES

Correct: di-ZIZ

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Don’t get caught mispronouncing this as “di-SEES” or people might think you are saying decease.

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6|   Southern

Wrong: SAO-thern

Correct: SUH-thern

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The mispronunciation of southern stems from the fact that south is pronounced with a diphthong or a gliding vowel sound of aw/ao. But for southern, you lose the diphthong and just go with the short vowel sound of u.

7|   Oven

Wrong: OW-ven

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Correct: UH-ven

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We won’t blame you if you mispronounce this basic word. This is one of the thousands of nuances of the English language that you just have to keep in mind.

8|   Supreme

Wrong: soo-PREEM

Correct: suh-PREEM

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This is one of the most mispronounced words in the Philippines.  You’d hear it from the mouths of professionals such as lawyers and lawmakers referring to the “Soopreem” Court of the Philippines.

9|   War

Wrong: wahr

Correct: wohr

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The key to pronouncing war correctly is to open your mouth with rounded lips and enunciate a full, solid short o sound.

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10|   Duty

Wrong: JOO-tee

Correct: DU-tee / DYU-tee

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It’s not only Filipinos who mispronounce this word. Many Americans also mistakenly replace the d with a j.

11|   Jewel

Wrong: JOO-well

Correct: jul

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JOO-well just sounds so unrefined, it gave us di-ZIZ. It’s a tricky one though because most people would expect the e and the w to be pronounced.

12|   Shampoo

Wrong: SHAM-poo

Correct: sham-POO

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Just put emphasis on the second syllable, not the first.

13|   Fewer

Wrong: FYU-wer

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Correct: FEE-wur / fyur

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Just like in jewel, drop the e and the w and just say fyur. Listen to how it is pronounced here

14|   Poem

Wrong: poym

Correct: POW-em

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If you’re not sure about how to pronounce poem, you can just say poetry!

15|   Tuesday

Wrong:  CHOOSE-day

Correct: TOOZ-day

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Tuesday comes from the Germanic god of war and the sky, Twesdæg or Tiw. It means “Tiw’s Day” in Middle English.

16|   Complex (Adjective)

Wrong: COM-plex

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Correct: com-PLEX

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If you’re referring to the adjective complex (i.e., complicated), the stress is on the second syllable of the word, hence, com-PLEX. But if you’re referring to a structure or building (i.e., a compound or facility), the stress is on the first syllable of the word, hence, COM-plex.

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17|   Graduate (Noun)

Wrong: GRA-ju-weyt

Correct: GRA-ju-wet

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If you’re referring to a person who is an alumnus of a school, the last syllable is pronounced wet, not weyt, hence, GRA-ju-wet. But if you’re referring to the act of finishing an academic course or degree, you pronounce it as GRA-ju-weyt.

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18|   Drawer

Wrong: DRO-wer

Correct: drawr

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Drop the e at the end of the word. Listen to how it is pronounced here

19|   Close (Verb)

Wrong: klows

Correct: klowz

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If you’re referring to the verb close (e.g., “Close the door.”), pronounce it with a z at the end, hence klowz. But if you’re referring to the adjective close (e.g., “We are close to each other.”), pronounce it with an s at the end, hence, klows.

20|   Use (Verb)

Wrong: yoos

Correct: yooz

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If you’re referring to the verb use (e.g., “Use this.”), pronounce it with a z at the end, hence yooz. But if you’re referring to the adjective use (e.g., “What’s the use?”), pronounce it with an s at the end, hence, yooz.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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