12 words you might be mispronouncing

You will probably find this post useful if:
1. You’re a teacher of English.
2. English is not your native language.
3. You have recently made the transition from advanced student to teacher.
4. You suspect that you might still make a few pronunciation mistakes, which never get corrected.
Here’s a list of some of the most common pronunciation mistakes I have heard in over fifteen years of lesson observation:

1. OK, guys, let’s work on the pronunciation of the TH sound now.
Maybe you’re saying /prəˌnɑʊnsiˈeɪʃən/, with the “nun” sounding like “noun.”  
You should say /prəˌnʌnsiˈeɪʃən/. The nun is pronounced like sun. The verb is to pronounce /prəˈnɑʊns/.
Listen to the noun here and to the verb here.
(Tip: right-click and choose “open in a new tab”. That way, you won’t leave this page.)

2. This course will help you get ready for the most important Cambridge exam.
Maybe you’re saying /kæmbrɪdʒ/ –  /kæ/ as in “cat.”
You should say /ˈkmbrɪdʒ/ – /km/as in “same.”  The same applies to “dangerous” /ˈdeɪndʒərəs/, for example.
Listen here.

3. You learned this in basic 2, remember?
Maybe you’re saying /ˈbeɪzɪk/, with a z sound. 
You should say /ˈbeɪsɪk/ with an s sound. By the way, “disappear” and “disagree” are also pronounced /s/.
Listen here.

4. This will help you increase your vocabulary!
Same thing: /s/ NOT /z/. When “increase” is a verb, the stress usually falls on the second syllable. When it’s a noun, the first syllable is usually stressed.
Listen here.

5. Can we check use of English, exercise 2, now?
When “use” is a noun, the s is pronounced s: /juːs/
Listen here.

6. Now let’s try this communicative activity.
Maybe you’re saying /kəmjuː’nɪ.kə.tɪv/, with the stress on the third syllable (ni).
You should say
/kəˈmjuː.nɪ.kə.tɪv/ in British English OR /
kəˈmjuːnɪkeɪtɪv/ in American English. In both cases, the stress falls on the second syllable (mu).
Listen here (AmE) and here (BrE).

7. Is this a noun or an adjective?
Maybe you’re saying “adjective”, with the stress on “jec.”
You should say/’ædʒektɪv/, with the stress on the first syllable (ad), NOT on the second one. The same applies to adverb.
Listen here.

8. What kind of pronoun is this?
Maybe you’re saying “pronoun“, with the stress on the second syllable.
You should say/ˈproʊnaʊn/ or /ˈprəʊnaʊn/, with the stress on the first syllable.
Listen here (AmE) and here (BrE).

9. Now fill in the blanks using the correct possessive pronouns.
Maybe you’re saying:
/’pɒsesɪv/, with an /s/ sound and the stress on the first syllable.
You should say/
pəˈzesɪv/, with a /z/ sound and the stress on the second syllable.
Listen here.

10. What color is that?
Maybe you’re saying: /ˈkɒlə(r)/ or /ˈkɑːlər/. If so, what you’re saying is “collar.” 
You should say /
ˈkʌlə(r)/. The /ʌ/ is the vowel sound in “sun”, “bus”, and “mother.”
Listen here (AmE) and here (BrE).

11. Can I have another volunteer, please?
Same thing: Say /əˈnʌðə(r)/ rather than /əˈnɒðər/. Remember: The /ʌ/ is the vowel sound in “color.” Practice saying “another color” fast, without changing the vowel sound.   
Listen here (AmE) and here (BrE).

12. Use the code on the last page to access the website.
Maybe you’re saying “access, with the stress on the second syllable.
You should say
/’ækses/, with the stress on the first syllable, for both the verb and the noun.
Listen here.

Bonus words to be added based on readers’ suggestions:
13. Accuracy – The stress falls on the first syllable, NOT on the second one: /ˈækjərəsi/. Listen here.
14. Certificate – Careful with the pronunciation of the last syllable. It does NOT sound like the verb “ate”: /
sərˈtɪfɪkət/. Listen here.
15. Iron – This one may surprise you: /
ˈaɪə(r)n/, NOT /ˈaɪrən/. So if you spent most of the 80s/90s saying “Iron Maiden” like most of your friends did, you were saying it wrong. Still baffled? Say “I earn” out loud. Said it? Now, say it again, stressing the “I” rather than the “earn.” That’s it. (Tony, thanks for the tip!) Listen here (AmE) and here (BrE).

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for “12 things you might be saying wrong”, coming up soon.


Comments 61

  • many thanks for your useful information

  • Superb! I find it extremely useful to hear the correct pronunciation that gives the non-native speakers a chance to practice while reading the text. Excellent presentation.

  • Congrats on the post, Luiz!

    It’s always good to remember that there are some words we may be mispronuncing. Looking forward to the next post.


  • I think the biggest breakthrough for me was discovering the /ʌ/ in a variety of words, such as colour or another. I think that Brazilians often overlook that.
    Anyway, I must admit that some /s/ vs. /z/ sounds still confuse me. Gotta work on those.
    Thanks for the post.

  • Bravo, Luiz! Really useful post. Thanks

  • I don’t know but I reckon there’s something that we should take into account: What kinda pronunciation are we talking about? The RP? Irish? Scottish? American? What kind of American?…

    Look at this:

    6. Now let’s try this communicative activity.

    You said, “/kəˈmjuː.nɪ.kə.tɪv/ in British English OR /kəˈmjuːnɪkeɪtɪv/ in American English.” But if you researcher, you’ll find, ” /kə’mju:.nɪ.kə.tɪv/ in American English. For me, they sound differently.

  • I’ve been mispronouncing ‘Certificate’. Gosh… Really? lol

    What about the pronunciation of SUBJECT?

    As a noun it sounds like /’sʌb.dʒekt/ but as a verb, /səb’dʒekt/

    Nice entry.

    • Yes, Bruno. The good news is that “subject” (stress in verb vs. noun) follows a “rule” that can help you with lots of different words: increase, record, present… But then again, there are duds like “access” (first syllable only) and “research”, which is pretty random: verb, almost always the second syllable / noun, usually the first syllable, but second one from time to time.

  • Hi Luiz Otavio,

    Another great blogpost and nice selfcheck list. I would suggest though that one would need to recording him/herself in natural flow of a conversation, and also the words in isolation. Then, compare. Have somebody else listening to both recording too may help as well.

    • Yes, of course, Rose. Nothing can replace face-to-face feedback and a word that may be pronounced correctly in isolation may be mispronounced within a sentence – for a variety of factors, including heavier processing demands. This list is meant to be seen as a starting point…

  • I meant to say need to record! 😉

  • Just great! It will be very useful since the topic of the month of our teacher training is pronunciation!! Thank you!!

  • It’s useful for Vietnamese Student as I am. Thanks so much.

  • Mai, thank you!!!

  • I probably mispronounce some of these words too, or have at some stage – English pronunciation is so counterintuitive! The funny thing is, even native speakers struggle with some of these words! Just the other day we were having a debate about how to pronounce ‘pronunciation’, with at least a third of us saying ‘pronounciation’. Goes to show, if they can’t get it right what chance do I have? lol

  • Eli, something told me you would comment on this particular thread…Don’t know why 🙂
    Yeah, English pronunciation is VERY counter intuitive and yes, native speakers don’t always agree.
    But when novice teachers embark on ELT, their perceived proficiency will often either take them places or hinder their progress and one of the benchmarks against which they will be assessed – often by other non-native speakers – is their adherence to “standard” British or American pronunciation.
    So it may well be that 1 out of every 4 native speakers – depending on the country, region, city – thinks that “pronOUNciation” sounds OK, but that doesn’t ultimately help novice teachers who are still trying to come to terms with their own language deficiencies and find their place in the sun.
    Complicated, isn’t it?
    Um beijo!

    • Querido, I totally agree with you. I am by no means advocating one shouldn’t aim for the highest of standards, I just wanted to point out the discrepancies amongst those who have allegedly already mastered the language. But then again, I suppose this happens to many languages.
      Super beijo!

  • Great post, Luiz. several connections can be made between this post and the error correction post you just made on FB. This is the type of intervention a teacher can / should make. You’re giving examples that are manageable to students, helping them correct their pronunciation by referring them to words that are familar to them and very unlikely to be mispronounced, like “sun”.

    Thanks for sharing these 😉

    • Yes, Terry, and, above all, I think students actually e n j o y knowing these things, you know.
      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  • Great post, Luiz! 😀

    Speaking of “Cambridge”, another common mispronunciation in dictionary titles is “Merriam-Webster.” If I don’t monitor myself, I always get the “Merriam” part wrong (i.e. I say “me” as in the object pronoun rather than “mE” with the “bed” vowel).

    I’ve also noticed that many teachers have problems with the pronunciation of in adjectives like “accurate” and “appropriate.” They pronounce it like the verb (/eyt/ rather than /it/).

    And along with “another” comes “above.” Oh, we could go on forever! Why did you get me started?

    Thanks again!

  • Nice entry!
    Just one thing…
    If we say something like “Can we check use of English, exercise 2, now?”
    The s becomes intervocalic… I guess it is natural then to say

    • Hey, Gabriela!
      Thanks for coming along!
      As far as I know, the intervocalic /s/, by default, remains voiceless in most cases, except, perhaps, with certain suffixes: ION (television), IAN (Parisian), and in some cases, IVE (abusive, which you can pronounce in two ways). So, unless I’m missing something (and I might well be), I don’t think the /s/ becomes a /z/ in “use of English” because of “of.”
      Um abraço!

      • Well, yes… I guess we could go deeper on the issue of intervocalic /s/ or /z/ …
        I was just thinking of why it sounded so natural to me to say /ˈjuːzəv/ and couldn’t believe that was a mistake! I’ve been trying to come up with a phonological ‘rule’ that would back me up. But then I just looked USE up in the dictionary and guess what?!?

        • Oh, no!! You´re right!! That´s USE as a verb!!
          I´ll have to go deeper on this!
          So far I think you are indeed right!

          • Gabriela,
            Here’s something you can do: Next time you’re watching the news English, be on the look out for examples of “use of…” – you’re bound to find a few. You’ll probably realize that it’s actually an /s/ that you’ll hear.

  • Great post, Luiz! Thanks.

  • Thanks for stopping by, Michele!

  • Vale pra estudante também… KKKK

    Mas oh, quanto ao post… Maravillhoso…

  • amazing post, thanks. needless to mention the extra syllable latin speakers tend to add when using past tense of regular verbs not ending in d and t. that in itself is an entire blog entry, though…

    • Jorge, thank you! Yeah, the problem you’ve mentioned deserves an entire post. Or maybe two, or three, or four… 🙂

  • Thanks, Luiz, that was a great post. Really useful! I’ve already shared it on FB. 🙂

  • Luiz, I found your post really interesting. I teach at Cultura Inglesa Flamengo and will definitely keep an eye on your blog!

  • Leonardo, thank you! Have you liked my FB page yet? https://www.facebook.com/thinkELT.

  • My colleagues sometimes refer to me as the pronunciation geek. Admittedly, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the topic. Having grown up in the Midwestern US, my English is pretty much Standard American. I mention all of this because #6 above has got me obsessing. Maybe it’s because I learned to be an English Teacher here in Brazil and have thus become influenced by my British colleagues but I can’t imagine ever referring to the Communicative Approach to teaching with this pronunciation: /kəˈmjunɪˌkeɪtɪv/. Nevertheless, I would describe a person who is unusually quiet or distant using that pronunciation. This is one of those “hmmmm” kind of things. It’s got me pondering.

    • Hi, Chris
      I think the term “communicative approach” is so quintessentially British (after all, the communicative movement did begin in the UK) that I for one find it impossible to even think of the word pronounced in a different way.
      But then again, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an American saying it. 🙂
      By the way, I really appreciate your comments. Thank you.

  • thank u so much for this useful information!! 🙂

  • Very nice post! How would you guys pronounce this word: “Innovative”?

    To my surprise, it’s not pronounced the way I thought it would be, following the the same pattern of “communicative”. The pronunciation is /ˈɪnəˌveɪtɪv/, with stress falling on the first syllable.

    • Thanks, Adriano.
      I have heard the word “innovative” on TV a lot via podcasts these days and every single person pronounced it the way you did.

  • Hi Luiz,
    Very useful posts! Thanks a lot! I’ll share your blog with Inglês Vera Cruz teachers.
    Andréa Calvozo

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