10 Words Learners Often Mispronounce and Get Confused About

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Today  we’re going to be talking about words that are often mispronounced and mixed up with other words that have completely different meanings.

You can listen to the episode below.

You can also listen to this episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Make sure you listen to the episode to hear how each word is pronounced. Here are the words that learners often mispronounce and get confused about:

1. “Natural” and “Neutral”

We often see people incorrectly using the word “neutral” in their reviews for beauty products. Take this sentence, for example: “These eyelash extensions look very neutral.

However, the correct word to use when describing something that appears to exist in nature, or is not man-made, is “natural”.

Her makeup looks very natural.”

Now, I know what you might be thinking — neutral and natural sound so similar, right? Surely they mean the same thing.

Well, I’m here to tell you that just because some words sound similar, it doesn’t mean they have the same meaning. In fact, these two words couldn’t be more different in meaning.

“Natural” refers to something that occurs in or comes from nature, like natural beauty. On the other hand, “neutral” means unbiased or impartial, like in this sentence: 

I aim to stay neutral in this conflict.”

2. “Crepe” and “Creep”

One is spelt “crepe”, and the other is spelt “creep”.

The word “crepe” can either refer to a thin pancake, usually of French origin, or a light, thin fabric with a wrinkled surface.

Read this sentence out loud:

I bought a box of delicious crepes for Iftar and a blue crepe shawl for Eid!

“Crepe” is pronounced “krayp”.

People often mispronounce this word by saying “creep”. Now, this can lead to terrible misunderstandings, as the word creep, can be used refer to an unpleasant or suspicious person, like in this sentence:

Stop being such a creep and keep your hands off my box of crepes!

3. “Slip” and “Sleep”

These two words might sound alike, especially if you’re pronouncing them quickly, but their meanings are quite different.

“Slip” often refers to a sudden loss of balance, or losing one’s footing and sliding unintentionally for a short distance, like when you slip on a banana peel.

On the other hand, “sleep” is the state of rest that typically recurs for several hours every night.

So be careful not to slip while walking to your bed, or you might find it hard to sleep!

Now why do learners often mispronounce words like these?

The differences in the pronunciation of long and short vowels between pairs of words like “sleep” and “slip”, and “eat” and “it” may not be noticeable to learners, particularly if they come from a linguistic background where such contrasts are not as significant.

For example, the Malay language does not have vowel length contrast, and therefore, there are no phonemically long or short vowels in the Malay language unless the speakers shorten or lengthen them intentionally for specific purposes.

That’s why learners often mispronounce these words. So if you’ve ever confused someone by making them think you said you’re going to “slip” when you meant to say that you’re going to “sleep”, try practising with pairs of words that sound similar but have contrasting vowel lengths, like “beat” and “bit”, “feet” and “fit”, and “peak” and “pick”.

4. “Pressure”

This word can refer to the force exerted by one object on another. How do we pronounce this word?

The answer is “preh·shuh”.

Not “prezzure” or “preh-jhuh”.

5. “Divorce”

How do you pronounce this word, which refers to legally ending a marriage?

Because I grew up in the UK, I only heard this word pronounced differently when I came back to Malaysia, where I’ve come across people saying “die-vorce”.

The correct way to pronounce this word is “DEE-vorce”.

6. “Colleague”

A “colleague” is what you call someone you work with, often in the same profession or organisation. They’re your coworkers, your teammates, and sometimes even your friends.

I often hear learners say “cligue”, which can sound quite odd for non-Malaysian English speakers.

This is my cligue, Ammar.”

The correct pronunciation of the word has two syllables, with the stress falling on the first syllable.

It sounds like “ko·leeg”.

Try saying this sentence:

This is my colleague, Ammar.”

7. “Mischievous”

Our next word is a word even native speakers often mispronounce. This word is spelt “mischievous”, and is used to describe someone or something that likes to cause trouble or play pranks.

I often hear the word mispronounced “mis-chie-vi-ous,” with four syllables.

Gwen is a very mischievEIOUS cat.

However, the word actually only has three syllables, mis-chie-vous, with the stress on the first syllable [mis-chuh-vuhs].

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mischievious was actually a fairly standard alternative spelling.

Today, however, both the four-syllable spelling and the four-syllable pronunciation are generally regarded as nonstandard.

So it’s mischievous.

Gwen is a very mischievous cat.

8. “Worcestershire”

Now here’s another word often pronounced incorrectly all over the world. Its spelt “Worcestershire”.

This word is most often associated with  a type of sauce that was invented in a county of the same name in England.

So how do you pronounce this word?  Now, people often look at the spelling and try to pronounce it based on how it’s spelt, so they often end up saying Wor-ces-ter-shire.

However, it’s actually pronounced WUUS-tesher, or WUUSteshier, as in, “Can you pass me that bottle of Wuustesher sauce, please? Thanks.”

9. “Epitome”

This word is often used to describe something or someone that represents the characteristics of a particular concept or idea.

I’ve heard many English language learners pronounce this word as “epi-tome”.

However, the correct way to pronounce this word is  “ih-PIT-uh-mee”, with the stress on the second syllable. This pronunciation can sometimes be confusing for non-native speakers due to its spelling.

So, repeat after me. It’s “IH-PIT-UH-MEE”.

He is the epitome of kindness.

10. “Salmon”

Our final word for the day is a type of pinkish-orange fish typically found in cold waters.

This word is often mispronounced by English language learners because the “l” in this word is actually silent, and this can be confusing for non-native speakers. However, the correct pronunciation does not include the “l” sound.

So it’s not “saLmon”. It’s “sam-uhn”.

Saying saLmon with the L pronounced like this can confuse listeners can lead to confusion or misunderstanding, as it sounds similar to “salmonella,” which is a harmful bacteria commonly associated with foodborne illnesses.

So make sure you pronounce “salmon” correctly, especially if you’re actually handling the fish, as mispronouncing the word may cause concerns regarding food safety!

So there you have it, ten words that are often mispronounced or mixed up with other words!

Remember to practise saying these words out loud until you get the sounds correct! 

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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