20 Hard English Words to Pronounce

This guide will help you learn the hardest English words, so you say them right every time.

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By Barney Meekin · February 21, 2024 · 6 minute read

Have you ever read an English word in a book or a magazine and had absolutely no idea how to pronounce it? If you have, don’t fret, It’s a common feeling. While some things in English are simple, English pronunciation and spelling don’t always match, making it quite tricky for learners.

Sometimes, the pronunciation doesn’t seem to make sense at all.

For example, “what,” and “who” are simple, common words. But if you saw them for the first time, you probably wouldn’t pronounce them both correctly. Because even though they share the same first two letters (“wh”) they are pronounced very differently. And this is where the frustration can begin.

But don’t give up! In this article, we’ll dive into 20 hard English words. We’ll discover why English pronunciation is so difficult and how alphabet phonics, spelling, and silent letters combine to confuse language learners.

Why are there hard words to pronounce in English?

Firstly, English is a blend of different languages. It includes thousands of loan words from languages like Latin, Greek, French, and German. English is interesting in that, unlike other languages, it often keeps the original pronunciation of its loan words. This means there's a huge variety of sounds in English.

Secondly, English has evolved over centuries, but spoken English has changed faster than written English. This means that some words have modern pronunciation despite retaining antiquated spellings.

Silent letters are a common example of this. For example, the 'b' in "subtle" or the 'w' at the start of "write” reflect the historical pronunciation of the word. However in contemporary speech, those silent letters have no purpose.

And finally, unlike languages with consistent vowel sounds, English vowel sounds change a lot. For example, the 'o' sound in "women" and "hot" sound completely different.

These three factors combine to make English pronunciation a huge challenge for language learners.

Can’t pronounce some words in English?

hard english words

We hear you, some English words like “clothes” or “February” can be hard to pronounce. Luckily, we’ve got your back. Learn and practice pronouncing hard words in English with Busuu’s free online courses and learning resources!

20 hard English words to pronounce

Below you’ll find 20 of the hardest English words to pronounce. In this list, you’ll see words with complicated spellings, uncommon word stress patterns, and silent letters. For each hard word, we’ve included the simple pronunciation, IPA notation , meaning, and an example sentence to help you learn in context.

1. Anemone - [uh-NEM-uh-nee] (əˈnɛməni)

Meaning: Flowering plant or sea creature
Example sentence: "Clownfish live in sea anemones."

2. Awry - [uh-RYE] (əˈraɪ)

Meaning: Off course or wrong
Example sentence: "His plans went awry because of his sickness."

3. Cache - [cash] (kæʃ)

Meaning: Hidden collection of items
Example sentence: "He discovered a cache of ancient coins in the cellar."

4. Clothes - [klohz] (kloʊðz)

Meaning: Worn on the body
Example sentence: "She bought some new clothes for the trip."

5.Coupon - [KOO-pon] (ˈkuːpɑːn)

Meaning: Discount voucher
Example sentence: "I have a coupon for a free coffee."

6. Debris - [duh-BREE] (dəˈbriː)

Meaning: Scattered waste pieces
Example sentence: "After the storm, the streets were full of debris."

7. Draught - [draft] (drɑːft)

Meaning: Cold air in a room
Example sentence: "I can feel a draught. Is the door closed?"

8. Espresso - [es-PRES-oh] (ɛˈsprɛsoʊ)

Meaning: Strong coffee
Example sentence: "I love espresso in the morning."

9. Facade - [fuh-SAHD] (fəˈsɑːd)

Meaning: Building front or fake appearance
Example sentence: "The old building has a beautiful facade."

10. February - [FEB-roo-air-ee] (ˈfɛbruːˌɛri)

Meaning: Second month of the year
Example sentence: "His birthday is in February."

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11. Gnocchi - [NYOH-kee] (ˈɲɔkki)

Meaning: Italian potato pasta
Example sentence: "She made a delicious sauce to go with the gnocchi."

12. Height - [hite] (haɪt)

Meaning: How tall something is
Example sentence: "The height of the building was impressive."

13. Irony - [EYE-ruh-nee] (ˈaɪrəni)

Meaning: Opposite of what's expected
Example sentence: "Irony is one of the most effective figures of speech."

14. Island - [EYE-land] (ˈaɪlənd)

Meaning: A piece of land surrounded by water.
Example sentence: "We spent our vacation on a beautiful, tropical island."

15. Jewelry - [JOOL-ree] (ˈdʒuːəlri)

Meaning: Rings and necklaces, etc.
Example sentence: "She wore beautiful jewelry to the party."

16. Knack - [nak] (næk)

Meaning: A special skill or talent. Example sentence: "She has a knack for making friends easily."

17. Lingerie - [lahn-zhuh-RAY] (ˈlɑ̃ʒəˌreɪ)

Meaning: Women's underwear and sleepwear.
Example sentence: "She received an elegant set of lingerie as a gift."

18. Mnemonic - [nee-MON-ik] (nɪˈmɒnɪk)

Meaning: A device or pattern that helps you memorize something.
Example sentence: "She used a mnemonic to remember the order of the planets."

19. Thorough - [THUR-oh] (ˈθʌroʊ)

Meaning: Complete and detailed.
Example sentence: "He conducted a thorough review of the document."

20. Vegetable - [VEG-tuh-buhl] (ˈvɛdʒtəbəl)

Meaning: A plant or part of a plant used as food
Example sentence: "Carrots are her favorite vegetable."

Tips to mastering these hard English words

Mastering these hard English words is a gradual process. So don’t worry if you’ve been pronouncing some of them wrong in the past – they’re on this list for a reason. Looking at their spelling — even of the simple words on this list — often gives no clue to the pronunciation.

Want to know the best way to master hard English words like these and improve your pronunciation? Consume content. Whether it’s listening to the radio, reading while listening to an audiobook, or watching a movie, pay attention to how people say these words. With consistent listening, pronouncing even the most confusing words will become second nature.

Listening and reading in English at the same time is another way to improve your pronunciation. It will help you link the sounds you hear to the words you see. You can also do this same with podcast transcripts or videos or Netflix shows with subtitles.

It can be tough, don’t give up though, but you will get through it! (Sorry, we couldn’t resist… 🙂)

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