The funny thing about the English language is…well, that it’s a funny language. It’s crazy that you can write “rite” and pronounce it “right”. And that when you do write “right”, it might refer to your turn being right…even if you rightly turned left.
Aside from the obvious confusions of such everyday words, including “that” and “which”, and “may” and might”, there are several more substantial words that many people mispronounce. Here are just a few examples, which hopefully will no longer be an issue for you once you’ve read this article.
Alzheimer: Alzheimer’s disease is named for Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German neurologist who was instrumental in identifying the first published case of “presenile dementia”. Many people incorrectly pronounce it “old timers disease”. Who can blame them? But still, that is not its name.
Sorbet: Perhaps for desert you might like some sherbert. The problem is that there is no such thing. It is written, and pronounced, sherbet. And if you want to be really correct, it is actually written “sorbet” and pronounced “Sorbay“.
Espresso: Expresso coffee is another oops that a lot of people make, especially since there is nothing express about it. It is written “espresso” (that’s Italian for you), with the emphasis on the middle syllable. It is a type of coffee, made in special espresso machines that are different from regular coffee machines.
Liable: Libel is a word. You can be sued for libel if you slander somebody. But many people also use this word to mean “likely”, as in: “He is libel to walk through that door with a birthday gift for me any minute now.” Aside from wishful thinking, that is not the correct word. It should be “liable”, as in “He is liable to walk through that door any minute now, having totally forgotten that it’s my birthday.”
Library: I am sure you’ve heard people say “libary”. Where did the “r” go? I mean the other “r”?
February: I am sure you’ve heard people say “Fubyuary”. What, another missing “r”? People sure don’t like their “r”s.
Cache: Do you pronounce this word “cashay”? No, that would be “cachet”, which has a whole different meaning. Do you pronounce it like “catch”? Nope. The “che” is pronounced like “sh”. So “cache” is pronounced like “cash”.
Niche: How many times have I heard this one pronounced like “nitch”. But that is wrong. Like “cache”, the che” is pronounced like “sh”. And the “i” is pronounced like “ee”. So “niche” is properly pronounced “neesh”.
GIF: This one has been debated over and over on the Internet. How does one properly pronounce this image file format? It turns out that I have been pronouncing it wrong for years, and I suspect I will continue to do so for years more. The man who created the Graphics Interchange Format, Steve White, says the “G” should be pronounced like a “J”.So it is pronounced “jiff”. But I will probably still pronounce it “guiff”.
Suite: If you pronounce a suite of rooms it like “suit”, you have it wrong. The correct pronunciation is “sweet”.
Triathlon: If you have been pronouncing it “triathalon” all these years, I have just one question for you: where did you get the extra “A”? Because somewhere out there, a word is missing the “a” that you’ve put in “triathlon”.
Tenterhooks: Have you ever been anxiously waiting for something? You’ve been on tender hooks, right? Well, actually, you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks. Tenters are frames used for stretching cloth while it dries, and the hooks keep the cloth stretched out so that it doesn’t shrink. Of course, that could leave you feeling tender, but the word is “tenterhooks”. There is a good picture here.
Whet: You can wet your throat, but you whet your appetite. Whet means to prepare, to build anticipation or desire for something. You can’t leave off the “h”.
What: Here, too…don’t forget to pronounce the “h”. This word is not “wat”.
Why: There’s an “h” in “why”, too. You get the idea. “Wh”s all over are losing their “h”s. It’s a national epidemic.
Sneaked: You can get by with “snuck” in most places, but it is really pronounced “sneaked”.
Hierarchy: You might be pronouncing this “hi-archy”. In fact, it is pronounced “higher archy”.
Regardless: Are you one of those people who says “irregardless? Whoops! There is no such word. The word is “regardless”.
Pronunciation: Since we are on the topic of pronunciation, it is worth noting that it is not pronounced “pronounciation”. There is no “ou” in pronunciation.
Now you know. If you can clear up a few bad habits like these, you’ll be speaking much better English.
Mike Prince is an English major (can you tell?) and a self-professed know-it-all. He writes his articles mostly so that you can know it all, too.