I've been thinking of this and I'd appreciate if a native speaker could reply.

Many times I see on the internet lots of English-related material about how to pronounce correctly, and that is mainly because in English you don't pronounce words as you write them.

I know that pronouncing a word correctly is an issue (sometimes unnoticed) to many students and even to advanced ones I would just like for a native speaker to share their insights on the matter and how/if this has been an issue to them.

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    Lots of native English speakers make mistakes in pronunciation. On the other hand, there are lots of would-be pretentious snobs on the internet who "correct" pronunciations which are not generally considered wrong. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 3:21
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    Yes. For rare words that someone has only seen written, but has not heard pronounced.
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 3:22
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    Occasionally, even amongst native speakers there is controversy about how to pronounce words correctly. That's CON-troversy, with the principal stress on the first syllable and the secondary stress on the third.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 5:57
  • Every single speaker of every single language in the world makes mistakes when speaking—that goes for both pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, everything. Our brains can’t always quite keep up with our talking speed, and so we accidentally say youthful instead of useful, or carrot instead of cucumber (I do that all the time, so annoying!), etc. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 19:27

3 Answers 3


Some native English speakers make systematic errors in pronouncing specific words, mostly out of habit. One example is "nuclear" which some people pronounce as "NUK-u-lar" instead of "NUK-lee-ar". (Former U.S. President George W. Bush made this mistake habitually.) This error is a type of transposition and substitution of syllables.

Another example where I have been guilty of mispronunciation: "amphitheater", which I pronounced as "amp-leh-thee-a-ter" instead of "am-fee-thee-a-ter". Essentially, I was mimicking the pronunciation of "amplification", a related concept if we think about a theater where we can hear clearly the sounds from the stage.

EDIT: Other pronunciation error might be seen as abbreviations. For example, some people pronounce "business" as "BID-ness" or "BIH-ness" instead of "BIZ-ness".

  • Thanks! It's interesting, I guess some difficulties come from analogy with the structure of other words (like your "amplitheater") while others might be due to the sounds themselves. I don't have trouble with "nuclear," but "anemone" really trips me up for some reason.
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 8:23
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    When my daughter was in a high school play, the director/teacher insisted that Persephone is pronounced "PER se fone" instead of "Per SEF en ee." When the students tried to correct her, she modified it slightly to "PAIR se fone," and she wouldn't budge. By the end of that play, I wanted to scream! (Actually, right from the start. It was maddening.)
    – W9WBH
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 9:13
  • nuclear is the example I was thinking of, too.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 21:42

In Britain particularly, it is usually impossible to know the correct pronunciation of a place name from its spelling. If you know IPA then here's a partial list to bamboozle you.

List of places in England with counterintuitive pronunciations: A–L

To a lesser extent this is true of surnames.

Here's another list. (Note that it is specifically American English)

100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English

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    And that second list is exactly what I was referring about "pretentious snobs on the internet who 'correct' pronunciations which are not generally considered wrong." He wants us to pronounce the 'l' in yolk. Does he want us to put 'l' in folk, walk, talk, palm, calm as well? (Some Americans put it into some of these words, but most of us don't.) Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 22:02
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    @PeterShor: I also like (read: disagree with) that list-writer's take on arctic, chomp at the bit, February, federal, forte, a whole nother, parliament, stomp, whet...
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 22:56

Yes, this happens regularly even for native speakers, particularly when we've learned particular words by reading them first, instead of hearing them first. I have used words I can write, and that I know the meaning of, that I still pronounce incorrectly.

You'll often see this issue in native speakers that are voracious readers as kids--they've picked up words from novels or the internet, but the people around them aren't as into reading, and don't use the words often enough for the child to learn the correct pronunciation. Or sometimes the word is pronounced so differently from the way it looks that they might have heard it, but didn't realize it at the time.

When I first learned "lyrics" I pronounced it incorrectly. (Lye-riks vs. leer-riks) Likewise, "deprecated". I pronounced it like "dee-pree-shee-ay-ted", but it's "dep-rih-kay-ted".

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    Note: depreciate is a different word from deprecate, though their meanings are somewhat similar (and in one sense they can be used interchangeably). Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:42
  • Welp, I just looked it up and it looks like I had some unholy mixup of the meanings, spellings, and pronunciation. Although it does support my point that native speakers get stuff wrong! :)
    – Zwi
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:46
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    Not at all an uncommon one, either. Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 20:46

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