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54 Words Even Smart People Mispronounce

If you pronounce these words differently, don’t worry—many people do. But here’s how they were originally meant to be pronounced 50, 100, or 200 years ago—and, according to the dictionary, still should be.

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How to pronounce TRANSIENT

This one depends a lot on where you’re from. In the United Kingdom, “tran-zee-ent” is common, but in the United States it’s also correct to use two syllables, as in it’s “tran-shent.” Check out these fancy words that will make you sound smarter.

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How to pronounce STATUS

You have two choices here too. Both “stay-tus” and “stah-tus” are correct. These are company names you’ve been mispronouncing this whole time.

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How to pronounce PRELUDE

Similarly, both “pray-lood” and “prel-yood” are right. Make sure you don’t use these words and phrases that make you sound stupid.

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How to pronounce VALET

Valet is another word that has evolved over the years. It does seem to originally come from France, but evidence shows it was originally pronounced as “val-it.” Now, most Brits say “val-it” to mean the butler who helps you get dressed. In most other English-speaking countries, the “val-ay” is the person who parks your car or carries your bags to your hotel room for you. More words that can get complicated? Food names. Here are ones that you’re probably pronouncing wrong.

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How to pronounce FORTE

If you’re discussing someone’s “forte,” as in a strength, the “e” is silent. “Fortay” is correct only if you’re using it as a musical term. Don’t miss the 30 most beautiful words in the English language.

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How to pronounce ERR

To err is human, and in the United States there are two acceptable pronunciations of “err.” It can rhyme with “hair” as in “er.” Originally it was said like “air.” In the United Kingdom, the standard pronunciation rhymes with “her.” Check out these 41 grammar rules that will make you sound smarter instantly.

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How to pronounce GALA

Should be: “gay-luh.”

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How to pronounce APPLICABLE

It’s perfectly fine to put the emphasis on the first syllable, as in “app-lic-able”, but you can also say “a-plic-able.” Find out 24 more things you’ve been saying wrong this whole time.

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How to pronounce SPHERICAL

It’s “sferr-i-kal,” not “sfeer-i-kal.” Here are some funny words that sound fake (but aren’t).

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How to pronounce DECREASE

If you’re using it as a noun, it’s de-crease. If you’re using it as a verb, it’s de-crease. Think you’re a wordsmith? Learn the 33 middle school vocabulary terms that most adults still get wrong.

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How to pronounce CARAMEL

“Kah-ruh-mull” is the original way, although “kar-mull,” which was once a Midwestern regional pronunciation, is also acceptable. Some chefs like to “kare-a-mal-ize” their desserts with “kare-a-mel” but they eat square-shaped Kraft “kar-mulls” at Halloween.

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How to pronounce MAUVE

It once rhymed with “stove,” but now the “au” is sounded as “aw.” You’re safe with “mov.” Start using these 10 almost-extinct words right now to save them from word death!

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How to pronounce REGIME

The first syllable is sounded as “ray.” The word as a whole is pronounced “ray-gime.”

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How to pronounce JOUST

In the 13th century, it was pronounced (and spelled) like the word “just.” Today, you would pronounce it “j-oust.” Find out the 15 terms that used to mean completely different things.

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How to pronounce EITHER

“Eee-thur” or “aye-thur”? Your choice! (And so is “nee-thur.”)

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How to pronounce QUASI

Today it’s often pronounced “kwah-zee,” but it’s more correct to say “kway–zi.” Do you suffer from quasi-chronic pain? (We hope not, because that’s not real.) Check out the 35 medical terms you probably mispronounce.

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How to pronounce LONG-LIVED

Today we say the “lived” as “livd,” but until the 20th century, it was pronounced “lyved.”

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She doesn’t troll computers; she controls finances, which is why this management title is technically pronounced “con-tro-ller.” Find out the 10 amazing, uncommon English words we don’t use but really should.

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Ever thought about how to pronounce gyro? It may have the same root word as gyroscope, but this spinning Greek meat deserves a proper Greek pronunciation: “yee-roh.”

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This dated term for food rhymes with whittle—as in “vittle”—not rituals.

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How to pronounce ESPRESSO

The Italian coffee is pronounced how it’s spelled, “es-press-o,” and note there is no “x.” In France it’s sometimes called “un express” and then it’s fine to say the “x.”

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bon mot

How to pronounce BON MOT

Even worldly Veronica Lodge on Riverdale got this one wrong. The French phrase translates directly as “good word,” and is often used to mean a “witty remark.” To say it properly, barely pronounce that “n,” adding a little nasal tone, and don’t say the T at all. It’s kind of like “bohn mo” And when you pluralize it, don’t say the “s.”

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bon appetit

How to pronounce BON APPETIT

The “bon” in “bon appetit” isn’t exactly the same as the “bon” in “bon mot.” Because “appetit” starts with a vowel, you blur the “n” at the end of “bon” into the “a.” The “t” at the end of “appetit” is silent. So, it’s like “bo-nap-e-tea.” If you say these 9 words, we can tell were you grew up.

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How to pronounce MACARON

How you pronounce this cookie depends on exactly which one you’re referring to. The beautifully-colored French almond-based sandwich cookies are pronounced “mac-a-ron,” with that tricky nasally “n” that you barely pronounce at the end. If you’re talking about several macarons, the “s” is silent. A macaroon, with the “oo” stretched out as in “moon,” is the coconut haystack cookie. And you do say the S when you have a plate of them.

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How to pronounce SCONE

No one knows for sure, but many say this tea-time pastry was invented in Scotland. Scots and others in the northern British Isles pronounce it to rhyme with “cone,” though some others in the United Kingdom and in other English-speaking countries rhyme it with “gone.” This is one where you get to choose how to say it, though we suggest “skoon” on this side of the pond. You might be using these 70 words and phrases all wrong.

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How to pronounce NOUVEAU

This French word for “new” is not said like “no-vu,” but rather “new-vo.” And “nouveau riche” is pronounced like “new-vo reesh.”

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How to pronounce SANS

This French word for “without” is occasionally tossed into an English sentence, perhaps when ordering a sandwich (“sans mayo, please”). While it’s acceptable to pronounce it how it’s spelled in the United States, to say it properly, don’t pronounce the last “s” at all and the “a” shouldn’t be like in “sand” but instead like in “saw.” Try to barely pronounce the “n” and make it a bit nasally, as in “sahn.” Learn these 36 words that only English majors will know from the Thesaurus.

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How to pronounce NICHE

Americans often pronounce this word to rhyme with “pitch,” but most other English-speakers pronounce it as “neesh,” with the latter gaining in popularity even in the United States. You’re correct whichever one you choose, though know that non-Americans may raise their eyebrows at “nitch.”

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How to pronounce ZEBRA

Americans say “zee-bra” and Brits say “zeb-ra.” Both are correct. But since the animal is from Africa, don’t people from the continent know best? Note that the South African host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, says “zeb-ra.”

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How to pronounce CLIQUE

While it’s tempting to pronounce this how it’s spelled, with the French-sounding “eek” ending, it’s actually pronounced “click.” Here are 10 words you’ll only find in English.

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chaise longue

How to pronounce CHAISE LONGUE

This French couch is technically pronounced like “chezz long” and the words translate as “long chair”. When it was first brought over from France in the 1700s, people mispronounced it as “chays lounge.” It stuck and that pronunciation is also used for the poolside deck furniture that’s so nice to lounge on. Go ahead and say “chays lounge” in the United States, but you might want to switch to “chezz long” (and stretch out the G a little) the next time you’re on the French Riviera.

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amuse bouche

How to pronounce AMUSE BOUCHE

Chefs will sometimes send this bite-sized appetizer out to a table to show off their cooking skills. Literally translated as “(to) entertain (the) mouth.” Don’t say “ah-myoo-zay.” Instead, it’s “a-muze boosh.” Foodies will also want to know how to pronounce “Zagat.”

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How to pronounce WORCESTERSHIRE

Both the sauce and the English town, Worcester where it comes from, aren’t as complicated as the spelling indicates. “Wus-ter” is correct, when talking about the English county; add the “shire” at the end for the sauce.

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How to pronounce CHALET

The French mountain cottage doesn’t have a hard CH as in “chess,” it’s like “shall.” And, like many French words ending in a hard consonant, you don’t pronounce the “t.” It’s “shall-ay” with more emphasis on the first syllable. Check out these funny words you probably didn’t know existed.

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How to pronounce WHET

Pronounce the “whet” in “whet your appetite” the same way you pronounce “wet.” Saying these words makes you sound old.

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How to pronounce BRUSCHETTA

If you’re ordering this in an Italian restaurant, feel free to use the correct Italian pronunciation with a hard K in the middle, as in “brus-sket-a.” Think of the “ch” like “zucchini” or “Pinocchio.”

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How to pronounce CROISSANT

>Americans at home can get away with saying “crus-saunt,” but the buttery French pastry is properly pronounced without the hard “t” at the end and with that barely pronounced nasally “n.” Aim for “kwa-sahn.” If you order two croissants, the “s” at the end is silent.

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foie gras

How to pronounce FOIE GRAS

This dish of fattened goose liver is pronounced as “fwah grah.” It’s commonly eaten as paté, which is pronounced “pah-tay.” Do you eat out at a lot of restaurants? Brush up on these 17 food names that you might be pronouncing wrong.

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How to pronounce FRITES

If you’re ordering steak frites, “frites” is properly said without the “s” and the “i” sounds more like a stretched out “ee.” Order your “freet” as the Belgian do—with a side of mayo.

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How to pronounce GENRE

The “g” is soft, like ‘jh” and the emphasis is on the first syllable, which rhymes with “on.” It’s “jhon-ruh.” Don’t miss these words from early dictionaries that no longer exist.

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How to pronounce CONCIERGE

Ask the “con-see-erge,” with a soft “g,” for help at your hotel.

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mazel tov

How to pronounce MAZEL TOV

Congratulating someone in Hebrew or Yiddish is more correctly said like “maz-ahl tove,” with the last word rhyming with “cove.” Check out this list of middle school vocab words adults still get wrong.

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How to pronounce BEIGNET

These delicious doughnuts are best served warm and best pronounced “ben-yay.” The “s” is silent in the plural.

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deja vu

How to pronounce DEJA VU

Seen this one already? That’s déjà vu, literally meaning “already seen.” Say it like “day-zjha vu.” Note that it’s not “view.” See the meaning of these words that don’t mean what you think they do.

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How to pronounce KAYAK

Careful that you don’t say “kay” like the woman’s name; it’s more like “kye” to rhyme with “tie.” Take your “kye-yak” out on the water.

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How to pronounce NAMASTE

Saying the Hindi word for hello the Anglicized way, “nah-mah-stay,” isn’t correct. It’s more like “nuhm-uh-stay.”

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How to pronounce PROVOLONE

This Italian cheese is “pro-vo-lo-nay.” You pronounce the last letter in many Italian words ending in “e”. “Calzone” is closer to “cal-zon-eh” than “cal-zone” for example. See the longest word in the English language that has 189,819 letters.

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How to pronounce LINGERIE

Often said in English with an “ay” ending and in three syllables, it’s more correct to say “law-jh’ree.”

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How to pronounce PHO

This Vietnamese soup is pronounced like “fuh,” most correctly when you stretch out the word a bit. It does not rhyme with “slow.” Check out these hilarious made-up words you’ll totally want to start using.

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prix fixe

How to pronounce PRIX FIXE

A fixed-price meal is properly said “pree feeks.”

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How to pronounce ESCARGOTS

If you’d like to order snails (preferably with garlic butter), say “es-car-go.” You got it, the last “s” is silent. See these common pairs of words that almost everyone confuses.

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How to pronounce SAUNA

Though “saw-na” is correct in the United States, the Finnish word is correctly said “sow-na.” These words can make you instantly funnier.

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How to pronounce GUACAMOLE

Technically, the “g” is said like a “w.” So, in Mexico, this avocado dip is “wak-a-mol-ay.”

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How to pronounce QUINOA

It’s not at all pronounced how it’s spelled; say “keen-wah.” Next, see how to improve your vocabulary in just one day.

Johanna Read
Johanna Read, Canadian writer and photographer, writes about travel (including under COVID-19), wildlife, food, health and wellness, and responsible tourism. She aims to encourage travel that is culturally, economically, and environmentally sustainable. Johanna also writes occasionally about public policy, leadership, and management. She draws on her management consulting work (where she specializes in organizational culture and employee wellness) and on her background as a Government of Canada policy executive. Her BAH (psychology and sociology) and MPA (health policy) are from Queen's University. Johanna's bylines include Reader's Digest, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, USA Today, and Canadian Traveller. See her portfolio; follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.