The 10 Hardest English Words to Pronounce

Phonetic alphabet written on a chalk board

With silent letters, weird spellings and sounds borrowed from dozens of different languages, English words can be pretty difficult to pronounce. That’s why we’ve created a list of some of the hardest English words to help you learn how to say them correctly. We asked our Instagram followers, as well as our students and staff, which words they struggled with the most when they first started learning English.

The Most Difficult English Words

1. Onomatopoeia

Okay so this is a difficult one even for English people. One of our Instagram followers, Abdulla from UAE, chose this as one of the trickiest English words because of the multiple vowel sounds, and we have to agree!

Pronounced: Ono-mato-pee-ah

2. Thorough

With a silent ‘g’ and an excessive amount of vowels ‘thorough’ can confuse even the most experienced English speakers. To make matters worse, this word is also pronounced differently by English speakers in America to those in the UK- making it even more difficult!

British pronunciation: thur-er
American pronunciation: ther-ow

3. Exactly

So ‘exactly’ might not look too difficult but there’s something about the combination of the ‘t’ and ‘l’ sounds that causes new English speakers a lot of trouble. In fact, you might find that you have to practise this sound combination quite a lot until you can say words like ‘partly’ ‘hardly’ and ‘smartly’ with ease.

Pronounced: eks-akt-lee

4. Murderer

One of our Spanish followers, Monica, chose ‘murderer’ as one of the most difficult words to pronounce because of the multiple ‘r’ sounds. Whereas in Spanish ‘r’s are alveolar (rolled), the ‘r’ that’s repeated in murderer is a lot softer and a lot harder to say. 

Pronounced: mer-der-rer

5. Worcestershire

Ah Worcestershire, the infamous sauce that no one knows how to pronounce. The problem comes from the fact that the sauce is named after the county of “Worcestershire” and British people ignore half the syllables in the names of their counties. The general rule is that if the place name comes from the Latin word castrum (e.g. Bicester, Leicester, Gloucestershire) then you ignore the ‘cester’ and say ‘ster’ instead. The only exception to the rule is Cirencester.

Pronounced: wuster-sher

6. Loughborough

The second ridiculous British name on our list is the city of Loughborough. Much like ‘thorough’, the silent ‘g’ is there to trick you, but this time only ONE of the ‘g’s is silent and the first ‘g’ actually makes an ‘f’ sound. Isn’t English fun?

Pronounced: luff-ber-er

7. Debt

The ‘b’ is silent everyone!

Pronunciation: Det

8. Year

Okay, so no one can really agree on how to pronounce the word ‘year.’ If you’re a posh British person you might say ‘yur,’ if you’re from the US you might say ‘yee-er’ and then most other people in the UK  will probably say ‘yeer.’ If you’re new to learning English, just pick one and stick to it.

Pronounced: however you like

9. Squirrel

When we asked which English words that were hardest to pronounce, this one came up a lot! Gurcan, one of our agents who is originally from Istanbul, chose this as one of the most difficult words to pronounce in English. It doesn’t help that Americans and British people pronounce the word totally differently!

American pronunciation: Sk-wirl
British pronunciation: Skwi-ril

10. Strength

So the ‘th’ sound is pretty difficult at the best of times, but it’s even harder when it’s at the end of a word. This is because it is a dental fricative (i.e. a sound which is pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the teeth), which is not present in many other languages. If you want to learn to say it like a pro, you can practise this by sticking your tongue against your front teeth and breathing out repetitively.

Pronounced: Streng-th

If you want to learn to speak English like a native, then check out our online learning platform where you can learn English with videos, songs and movie trailers. If you’re interested in studying English abroad, then check out our English Language Schools in the UK and Ireland.

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About Beth

Beth is a language enthusiast and former EFL teacher. After studying Modern Languages at university, her love of adventure led her to travel all over the world. Now settled in sunny Brighton, she loves writing blogs to encourage people to visit her native England.

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