The Spelling Challenge: Overcoming Hard Words to Spell and Pronounce

Pronouncing ‘colonel’ right on the first try? Mission impossible. 🥵

The Spelling Challenge: Overcoming Hard Words to Spell and Pronounce

Struggling with hard words to pronounce? You’re not alone. Hard words to spell and pronounce in the English language are usually trouble for non-native speakers. However, some words are so tricky they even get English native speakers tongue-tied. If you manage to say say ‘rural’, ‘juror’ or ‘colonel’ without breaking a sweat, you must be a diction expert.

So, how do we overcome stammering when saying complicated words? By making a list of all of them, of course! Let’s gather some of the hardest English words to pronounce and simply confront our fear. To make sure this is 100% useful in real life, we’re not gonna include words like ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ or ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’. Let’s be honest: nobody ever says these words. Instead, we will focus on practical words. For example, some of the hardest English words to pronounce are:

  • rural
  • juror
  • colonel
  • miscellaneous
  • Worcestershire
  • anemone
  • choir
  • schadenfreude
  • synecdoche

And now, let’s move on to the extended list of hard-to-pronounce words.

Top 30+ hardest words to pronounce in the English language

1. Accessory

The double consonants in ‘accessory’ don’t make things easier. The double C followed by an E and the double S are always a tricky trio to pronounce. As we’ll also see with ‘successful’, it can become downright embarrassing.

How to pronounce it: uhk-SES-uh-ree

2. Anemone

Finding Nemo fans will remember this one. ‘Anemone’ is such a confusing word to pronounce, even little Nemo struggles with it. It’s the vowels that make the pronunciation difficult in this situation.

How to pronounce it: uh-NEM-uh-nee

3. Cavalry

You may not need to pronounce ‘cavalry’ on a daily basis, but when you do, you better do it in style.

How to pronounce it: KAV-uhl-ree

4. Choir

Why is ‘choir’ not pronounced the same way as ‘chair’? Well, it seems that the antique spelling of ‘choir’ was actually ‘quire’. As you can see, this obsolete spelling makes much more sense for how this word is pronounced today.

How to pronounce it: KWIRE

5. Cinnamon

‘Cinnamon’ is often mispronounced because of the unusual spelling. However, once you get the hang of it, it should pose no trouble.

How to pronounce it: SIN-uh-mən

6. Colonel

If you get dizzy every time you pronounce ‘colonel’, you’re not alone. Many people who learn English as a second language can’t get it right even after becoming fluent. It simply is one of the hardest words to pronounce for non-native English speakers.

How to pronounce it: KUR-nuhl

7. Coup

What makes ‘coup’ difficult to pronounce for English speakers is its French origin. ‘Coup’ was adopted from French into English but kept its original pronunciation, which is ‘koo’. Once you remember how to pronounce ‘coup’, the word will no longer seem so menacing. In fact, it’s quite easy to pronounce!

How to pronounce it: koo

'Hard words to spell' by Sincerely Media©

8. Debt

The mystery behind the word ‘debt’ is the silent B. Once again, non-native English speakers usually struggle with this one until they understand they simply must ignore the B.

How to pronounce it: det

9. Dogecoin

Apparently, this is a very popular topic. Even since crypto’s rise in popularity, people started to wonder what’s the pronunciation of ‘dogecoin’ (DOHJ-coin). Quite a natural thought – we might add – as dogecoin seems to be one of the ‘coolest’ cryptocurrencies out there. It probably has something to do with the dog.

How to pronounce it: DOHJ-coin

10. Draught

This is yet another common case of confusion caused by the many intricacies of the English language. ‘Draught’ looks like it should be pronounced ‘drot’. However, that is not the case.

How to pronounce it: draft

11. Entrepreneur

Whoever invented this word wanted to sound really cool. Maybe they did, but that’s not how we sound when we try hard to pronounce and even spell ‘entrepreneur’.

How to pronounce it: ahn-truh-pruh-NUR

12. Epitome

‘Epitome’ was adopted into English from Greek. This is why you’re required to pronounce all of the vowels in this word. Quite unlike English, we know!

How to pronounce it: ih-PIT-ə-mee

13. Espresso

Normal people tend to replace the first S in ‘espresso’ with an X. Luckily (we’re ironic), there’s always a coffee connoisseur around to correct them. The reason we find this word hard to pronounce is that it comes from Italian.

How to pronounce it: e-SPRES-oh

14. Faux

Yet another loanword — this time from French. The same as with ‘coup’, you just need to remember that ‘faux’ is pronounced ‘foh’. Once you know this, you’ll get it right every single time. In case you’re not familiar with it, ‘faux’ refers to imitation or fake items – usually in the fashion industry.

How to pronounce it: foh

15. GIF

We know what you’re thinking. Is it ‘jif’ or ‘gif’? Plot twist: both ways to pronounce it are actually correct.

How to pronounce it: jif or gif

16. Gnocchi

As you can see, English is big on loanwords. Gnocchi is a word of Italian origin that refers to a varied family of dumplings in Italian cuisine. YUM!

How to pronounce it: NYOK-kee

17. Hyperbole

Like ‘epitome’, ‘hyperbole’ is a word of Greek origin. This means that, once again, English must ask nothing like itself and actually pronounce the final E.

How to pronounce it: hy-PUR-buh-lee

18. Isthmus

Many English speakers struggle with the pronunciation of TH. Luckily, the TH is ‘isthmus’ is silent – the same as in ‘asthma’. Good news, right? This makes everything easier to pronounce.

How to pronounce it: IS-muhs

19. Juror

Even when alone inside a word, R sounds are never easy to pronounce. When they come in pairs, it’s even worse because it’s double trouble. The only way to overcome the hard pronunciation of R sounds is to just practice.

How to pronounce it: JOOR-awr

'How to pronounce colonel' by Ayla Verschueren©
How your dog looks at you when you’re trying to pronounce these words 😆

20. Massachusetts

Pronouncing ‘Massachusetts’ feels like a very risky and long trip. You never know when you can get lost. This is why you have to take it easy, spell it a couple of times and slowly but surely get to the normal speed. Then, it should roll right off your tongue.

How to pronounce it: mas-us-CHOO-sits

21. Miscellaneous

Apart from the considerable length, ‘miscellaneous’ also features double consonants and the tricky SCE trio. Hard to pronounce, but not impossible!

How to pronounce it: mis-uh-LAY-nee-uhs

22. Mischievous

The most common way people mispronounce this word is ‘mis-CHEEVE-ee-us’. Their mistake is that they add an extra I after the V. While this was the old spelling of the word, nowadays, ‘mischievous’ has only three syllables.

How to pronounce it: MIS-chee-vus

23. Murderer

If you thought two Rs were difficult to pronounce, how about three?

Before you hyperventilate, find that the final R in ‘murderer’ is actually silent. Therefore, no need to worry about it.

How to pronounce it: MUR-duh-ruh

24. Onomatopoeia

Ooono — you lost me right there. What is this?

Onomatopoeia is a literary tool that describes words imitating the sound they represent, like ‘buzz’ and ‘meow’. The reason why this word is so hard to get right is its incredible number of vowels that tongue-tie us, especially at the end with no less than five vowels in a row.

How to pronounce it: on-uh-mat-uh-PEE-uh

25. Quinoa

‘Quinoa’ has become quite fancy to eat in recent years. Even so, people still struggle with its pronunciation. Is it ‘qwin-o-ah’?

Nope, but you’re getting there.

How to pronounce it: KEEN-wah

26. Rural

Like ‘murderer’ and ‘juror’, ‘rural’ can be a nightmare of a word (just try saying this sentence out loud). It all depends on your relationship with pronouncing the R sound.

How to pronounce it: ROO-ruhl

27. Schadenfreude

‘Schadenfreude’ probably looks like the most unfamiliar word in the entire list. And for a good reason! ‘Schadenfreude’ is a loanword from German and it means “pleasure or satisfaction felt at someone else’s misfortune”.

How to pronounce it: SHAH-den-froy-duh

28. Scissors

Native English speakers should have no problem pronouncing this word. Non-natives, on the other hand, get easily confused by the SC pair and the double S.

Well, things are much simpler than you believe because the SC is pronounced simply ‘s’.

How to pronounce it: SIZ-erz

29. Sixth

What’s worse: the X in the middle of the word or the TH at the end? We’ll tell you: all three of them together. Whether you’re a native or a non-native, the ‘xth’ sound is never easy to pronounce.

How to pronounce it: siksth

30. Squirrel

Squirrels are cute, but this word is not. ‘Squirrel’ is probably one the hardest words to pronounce in the English language for non-native speakers.

The key is to remember that this word has only two syllables.

How to pronounce it: SKWUR-uhl

'Anemone pronunciation' by Külli Kittus©

31. Successful

Remember that time when you or someone you know mispronounced ‘successful’? Sorry to bring back that memory… Embarrassing, right? We feel you. That’s why you should pronounce ‘successful’ successfully 20 times fast right now so you chase away the evil spirits of mispronunciation!

How to pronounce it: suhk-SES-ful

32. Synecdoche

Hard to spell and hard to pronounce: the perfect combination.

‘Synecdoche’ is a word of Greek origin; therefore, you’ll absolutely need to pronounce the final E. Besides, let’s not forget that the first C and the CH are pronounced as hard K sounds. Ready?

How to pronounce it: si-NEK-duh-kee

33. Womb

Once again, non-native English speakers get confused by the final B when pronouncing this word. Rest assured, there’s not even a shadow of a B in the pronunciation of this word. Just forget about it.

How to pronounce it: woom

34. Worcestershire

It looks like it’s pronounced ‘wor-cest-er-shi-er’, but it’s not. British English does that quite often. Take Leicester, for example — where’s the CE in its pronunciation?

British English is out to get us with these pronunciations, but we know better!

How to pronounce it: WOOS-ter-sheer

One honorable mention is ‘otorhinolaryngologist’. At 21 letters long, this word is hard to pronounce mainly because of its length. It refers to an ear, nose and throat doctor and is pronounced ‘oh-toh-rye-no-lar-ing-GOL-uh-jist’. Lucky for you, instead of saying this incredibly long and hard-to-pronounce word, you can simply say ENT (Ears Nose Throat). Phew, that was close!

What other hard words to pronounce do you struggle with? Let’s discuss this in the comments. 👇 We might as well make a “Hard Words to Pronounce” support group.

Are hard words to spell hard to pronounce?

Not always. For example, most of us have no trouble pronouncing ‘embarrassed’ or ‘awkward’. Still, we often get confused in writing and spell them ‘embarassed’ and ‘akward’. Well, that’s embarrassing…

On the other hand, there are words in the English language that pose problems in both pronunciation and spelling. ‘Entrepreneur’ and ‘successful’ are only two such examples. Fortunately, if we find ourselves in trouble with no access to the internet, we can always use synonyms.

If you’re ready to confront a ‘scary’ list of hard words to spell, read our piece on The 24 Most Commonly Misspelled Words in English.

What are some words with silent letters?

Silent letters can make the pronunciation and spelling of certain words even trickier. Take the above-mentioned ‘scissors’ for example. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s hard to pronounce and spell it from memory the right way. Here are some of the most common words with silent letters:

• Silent B: comb, debt, doubt, lamb, subtle
• Silent C: muscle, scissors, science
• Silent D: Wednesday, sandwich
• Silent G: align, design, foreign, gnash, gnome
• Silent H: heir, honest, rhyme, vehicle, ghost
• Silent K: knife, knee, knowledge, knuckle
• Silent N: autumn, column, hymn, solemn
• Silent P: corps, pneumonia, psychology, receipt, raspberry
• Silent S: island, aisle, debris, viscount
• Silent T: ballet, beret, castle, mortgage, whistle
• Silent U: biscuit, building, catalogue, guess, guitar
• Silent W: answer, sword, two, who, write

What are some words with tricky consonant clusters?

English is full of words with tricky consonant clusters that can be difficult to pronounce. Here are some of the most challenging:

• Strengths: STRENGTHS
• Sixth: SIKSth
• Tsunami: tsoo-NAH-mee
• Twelfth: TWELFTH
• Squirrel: SKWUR-rəl
• Asthma: AZ-mə
• Clothes: KLOTHZ
• Conscientious: kon-shee-EN-shəs
• Exquisite: ək-SKWIZ-it
• Glimpse: GLIMPS
• Crisps: KRISPS
• Rhythm: RITH-əm

What are some words with challenging vowel sounds?

Did you think vowels were easier? Not a chance. Some English vowel sounds are notoriously difficult to pronounce. Here are some of the most challenging words when it comes to vowel sounds:

• Colonel: KER-nuhl
• Synecdoche: si-NEK-duh-kee
• Epitome: ih-PIT-ə-mee
• Entrepreneur: ahn-trə-pruh-NOOR
• Chaos: KAY-oss
• Heir: AIR
• Antarctic: ant-ARK-tik
• Algorithm: AL-gə-rith-əm
• Thorough: THUR-oh
• Quiche: KEESH

What are some words with tricky stress patterns?

Yet another ‘culprit’ that makes certain English words difficult to pronounce is stress pattern.

Stress patterns refer to the emphasis placed on certain syllables within a word. English words can have tricky stress patterns, making them difficult to pronounce. Here are some examples:

• Photography: fuh-TOG-ruh-fee
• Remuneration: ri-myoo-nuh-REY-shun
• Anecdote: AN-ik-doht
• Applicable: AP-li-kə-bəl
• Inevitable: in-EV-i-tə-bəl
• Comfortable: KUMF-tər-bəl
• Vegetable: VEJ-tə-bəl

What are some words with challenging diphthongs?

Diphthongs are vowel sounds that consist of a combination of two vowels. As you might have guessed, them too can make words hard to pronounce. Some examples include:

• Choir: KWY-ər
• Oyster: OY-stər
• Coin: KOYN
• Boycott: BOY-kot
• Mouth: MOUTH
• Soil: SOIL
• Prowl: PROWL
• Howl: HOWL
• Daughter: DAW-ter
• Auto: AW-toh
• Guarantee: GAR-ən-TEE
• Bureau: BYOOR-oh

What are some words with regional pronunciation differences?

English has many accents and dialects. As a result, certain words can have different pronunciations depending on the region. British English and American English, in particular, are quite famous for their pronunciation differences. Here are some examples:

• Schedule: SHED-yool (British English) or SKED-yool (American English)
• Tomato: tuh-MAH-toh (British English) or tuh-MAY-toh (American English)
• Herb: erb (American English) or herb (British English)
• Laboratory: LAB-rə-tor-ee (American English) or lə-BOR-ə-tree (British English)
• Advertisement: əd-VERT-iz-mənt (American English) or AD-vət-iz-mənt (British English)
• Controversy: KON-trə-vur-see (American English) or kən-TROV-ər-see (British English)

What are some words with homophones?

To end on a positive note, we’re gonna look at some homophones. Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. Sounding similar makes these little words easy to confuse. That’s why some people, even English native speakers, famously mix up “your” and “you’re”. Here are some more examples:

• To, too, and two
• There, their, and they’re
• Allowed and aloud
• Your and you’re
• Its and it’s
• Weather and whether
• Brake and break
• Peace and piece
• Bare and bear
• Stationary and stationery
• Here and hear
• Write and right

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Diana Lăpușneanu

Movie geek turned content writer, Diana is passionate about storytelling, mythology and art history. She is currently expl ... more about Diana.

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