27 Words Even Smart People Mispronounce

It’s easy to mispronounce words you don’t know, no matter how smart you are. If we’ve never had occasion to hear something said, after all, we can give it our best guess but never know for sure.

You’ll often hear people who read a lot, and widely, mispronounce a word on their first try because they’ve only read it, not heard it, and these 27 words are especially tough.

If you’d rather avoid the situation where you say it wrong in public, here are the correct pronunciations for some really complicated words.

27. Joust (j-oust)

Back in the 13 century, people said it “just,” but the word has evolved (maybe since no one physically jousts anymore) to be pronounced j-oust.

26. Transient (tran-zee-ent OR tran-shent)

If your’e from the United Kingdom, you probably say “tran-zee-ent”, though that’s also popular in the States.

Some Americans, though, prefer and use the two syllable “tran-shent.”

25. Either (eee-thur OR aye-thur)

You can choose here, eee-thur or aye-thur – you can even swap them out depending on your mood and the day!

Go crazy!

24. Status (stay-tus OR stah-tus)

Guess what? You’re not saying this one wrong, because both “stay-tus” and “stah-tus” are technically correct. Pick your poison, friends!

23. Quasi (kway-zi)

I was definitely saying this one wrong – “kwah-zee” – instead of the correct way, which is “kway-zi.”

22. Prelude (pray-lood OR prel-yood)

The difference is subtle, but once again, you can pick between the two choices of “prey-lood” or “prel-yood,” because both are technically correct.

21. Long-lived (long-liv d)

People used to pronounce this word “long-lyved,” but post 20th century, “long-livd” is universally accepted as correct.

20. Valet (val-it OR val-ay)

This word has evolved over the years, and was originally French and pronounced “val-it.”

In Britain, the word pronounced that way means a butler who helps you dress, while a val-ay is a person who parks your car and/or carries your bags.

Since most of us only employ the second (and only on occasion), the second pronunciation is generally considered to be correct.

19. Comptroller (con-tro-ller)

This is a person who controls finances, so the “mp” becomes an “n” when you pronounce this management title.

18. Forte (fort OR fort-ay)

This one surprised me, y’all – if you’re talking about someone’s strength, the ‘e’ is silent.

You only pronounce it fort-ay if you’re using it in the musical sense.

17. Gyro (yee-roh)

This one is tough, because most of us don’t actually speak Greek, but it’s “yee-roh.”

There are too many wrong pronunciations to count!

16. Err (er OR air)

In the United states, pronouncing this to rhyme with hair or air is correct, but in the U.K., it rhymes with ‘her.”

Go figure.

15. Victual (vittle)

This outdated term for food is pronounced “vittle,” not like “ritual,” but only a really pretentious person would need to use it, I think.

14. Gala (gay-luh)

Sorry, gal-uh people, but you’re just wrong – this should always be pronounced gay-luh.

13. Espresso (es-press-o)

Unless you’re in France (where you can order an “un express”), there’s no ‘x’ in this word.

Sorry, y’all.

12. Applicable (APP-LIC-able OR A-PLIC-able)

This one is another choose your own adventure, except it’s more like choose your own emphasis.

Applicable or aplicable are both correct.

11. Bon Mot (bohn mo)

If you want to sound worldly and use this term to mean “witty remark,” you’ll want to make sure you’re saying it correctly, right?

Barely pronounce that ‘n’, get all nasally, and ditch the ‘t.’

10. Spherical (sferr-i-kal)

Another example of why English exists just to mess with us. This isn’t pronounced like the word “sphere-i-Kal,” but instead, “sferr-i-Kal.”


9. Bon Appetit (bo-nap-e-tea)

In this French tern, you hit the n a little harder, but blend it straight into the ‘a.’ Also, that last ‘t’ is silent.


8. Decrease (DE-crease or de-CREASE)

It depends on how you’re using it. If it’s a noun, it’s de-crease, but if it’s a verb, it’s de-crease.

Who has time to parse your sentence before saying it, though?

7. Macaron (mac-a-ron)

We all love to scarf these down, but can you say it?

If you’re referring to the pretty-colored sandwich cookies, it’s “mac-a-ron,” and there’s no ‘S’ even if you eat an entire box.

I like that.

If you’re eating coconut haystack cookies, those are “mac-a-roons,” and feel free to pronounce the ‘s’.

6. Caramel (kah-ruh-mull OR kar-mull)

“Kar-mull” used to be a regionally accepted Midwestern thing, but has become acceptable worldwide, as is “kah-ruh-mull.”

And don’t let anyone tell you differently.

5. Scone (skoon)

In Scotland, where these delicious pastries were invented, they pronounce it to rhyme with “cone,” but some other places in England and the like choose to rhyme it with “gone” instead.

In America, they recommend “skoon,” though I’ve personally never heard it.

So you do you, y’all.

4. Mauve (mov)

Many people think this word rhymes with stove, or use an “aw” sound to make the “au,” but “mov” is safe and actually correct.

3. Nouveau (new-vo)

The French word for “new” isn’t pronounced “no-vu,” but “new-vo.”

Just a little way to impress your friends and enemies the next time you want to insult someone at a party.

2. Regime (ray-gime)

Hold onto your hats, folks, because the first syllable is “ray.”

The second syllable is a soft g still, though.

1. Sans (sahn)

This is the French word for “without,” and despite the way you hear it most of the time, the last ‘s’ is silent.

Not only that, but the ‘a’ should be long, like in “saw,” and you should barely pronounce the ‘n,’ either.

I’m feeling better about myself already, how about you?

What word do you commonly hear mispronounced? Educate us in the comments!