Tongue twisters: 10 hardest English words that confuse even the English

hardest english words
The hardest English words are an exercise for the tongue. Source: AFP

With complex grammar rules, words being spelt entirely differently than they’re spoken, and many words that sound the same but mean totally different things, there is no denying that English is one of the hardest languages to master. 

The hardest English words are overstuffed with seemingly unnecessary letters, feel like they should be spelt differently, or just don’t make sense. 

As one of the world’s most widely spoken languages, English is rich and diverse, but it can be a challenge even to those who grew up with it. 

Much of this is due to the inconsistency between English spelling and its actual sounds. While other languages like Spanish or Italian generally follow more predictable sound-to-letter pronunciation, English deviates from these rules.

This confuses us, especially if we’re new to the language.

To make matters worse, English includes homographs, i.e. words that share the same spellings but mean and sound differently. For example, the word “read” can be pronounced as both “reed” (present tense) and “red” (past tense).

And with accents changing every 25 miles, this only adds more confusion. This is most obvious in how Americans speak English compared to the Brits.

Throughout the history of the English language, it has taken words from various cultures and languages. 

Around 80% of the English language consists of words from other languages such as Latin, Hindi, Arabic and many more. 

hardest English words

Heetae Lim learnt English from scratch to study in Australia. Source: Heetae Lim

Despite its difficulty, it isn’t impossible. Just ask South Korean Heetae Lim, who learnt English from scratch, to become a doctor in Australia.

“It’s definitely a daunting challenge when you come to a foreign country, and you’re learning English from scratch,” he says. But with constant practice and support, he proved that it can be done. 

Get ready to be tongue-tied as we discover some of the hardest English words to pronounce. 

10 hardest English words to pronounce

1. Posthumous 

When we talk about something happening after someone’s death, we say that it happened posthumously. But it’s not “post-hu-mus,” as it appears; it’s pronounced “pas-chu-mus.”

“Posthumous” is an adjective used to indicate events, honours, awards, or artistic works that take place or are released after the death of a person or after the author’s demise.

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “POS-chuh-muhs.”

Example sentence: After the well-known artist’s untimely death, a posthumous exhibition showcased a collection of his previously unseen masterpieces, which were presented to the public for the first time.

2. Segue

This is one of the hardest English words to pronounce. Don’t be fooled by its spelling, the pronunciation of this word is nothing like it. 

How do you pronounce this oddly spelt word? When you say it, it should rhyme with “weekday.”

“Segue” is a term used to describe a smooth and uninterrupted transition from one topic, section, or part of a conversation, performance, or presentation to another. It is often used to maintain continuity and flow, allowing for a natural progression without any abrupt changes.

When you proceed without pause in a conversation, you make a smooth segue.

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “SEG-way.”

Example sentence: After discussing the historical background, the speaker seamlessly segued into the current challenges facing the industry, keeping the audience engaged throughout the entire presentation.

hardest english words

Sesquipedalian,” one of the hardest English words to pronounce, is a way to describe that friend who likes to use words that feel as long as the Great Wall of China. Source: AFP

 3. Sesquipedalian

It is an adjective that describes a long word or a person who tends to use long and complex words in their speech or writing. 

It originated from 17th-century Latin and originally meant “a foot and a half long” — a cheeky reference that fits its meaning.

One would think it would mean something really mysterious and fascinating. But no, just “long.”

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “ses-kwuh-PEY-dee-lee-uhn.”

Example sentence: Her writing was filled with sesquipedalian vocabulary, leaving readers both impressed by her linguistic prowess and reaching for a dictionary to decipher her eloquent prose.

hardest english words

Real fur or faux fur? In this debate, you’re’ in for a tongue-twisting journey as you’ll have to use some of the hardest English words to pronounce.

4. Faux

When it comes to the hardest English word to pronounce, faux is almost always at the top of the list. This word, which means “not real or genuine,” looks like it should rhyme with “fox” (the animal) when pronounced. However, it instead rhymes with “low” (the opposite of high).

“Faux” is an adjective of French origin that means “false” or “artificial.”

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “foh.”

Example sentence: She adorned her living room with faux fur throws and decorative pillows to create a luxurious ambience without using real animal products.

5. Onomatopoeia

“Onomatopoeia” is a literary device that refers to words that imitate or resemble the natural sound associated with the object or action they describe — examples include “boom” or “buzz.”

Although the imitated words are usually very short, the word onomatopoeia is weirdly long and difficult to pronounce. Just looking at the word will make you stutter. 

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “on-uh-mat-uh-PEE-uh.”

Example sentence: The comic book artist skillfully used onomatopoeia like “buzz,” “meow” and “crash” to make the action scenes involving a cat more vivid and dramatic.

hardest English words

Thanks to Mary Poppins, we discovered one of the longest and hardest English words to pronounce. Source: AFP

6. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

For every Mary Poppins fan, this word should be easy to pronounce. The easiest way to practise this word is either by singing or by breaking it up into small parts. 

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is a made-up, whimsical, and highly exaggerated word that gained popularity from the 1964 Disney musical film “Mary Poppins.” The word portrays something extraordinary, fantastic, or beyond ordinary description. It is often associated with joy, excitement, or wonder.

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “soo-per-kal-i-frag-i-lis-tik-ek-spee-al-i-doh-shus.”

Example sentence: When they saw the magnificent fireworks display, the children shouted, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” in amazement.

hardest english words

Chef Martha Ortiz prepares “Vampire” ceviche, flavoured by “sangrita,” a non-alcoholic beverage that includes Worcestershire sauce, one of the hardest English words and sauces to pronounce. Source: AFP

7. Worcestershire

Without any doubt, this is one of the most tongue-twisting hardest English words to pronounce. It will make you feel small and untalented or make you laugh until you cry. 

It is a difficult word, but if you are having difficulties with it, you are definitely not alone.

“Worcestershire” has more than one meaning. It is more commonly known as the county located in the West Midlands region of England.

Its other meaning is “Worcestershire sauce” which is a popular condiment and flavouring agent used in cooking. It is a dark, tangy, and savoury sauce originating in Worcester, England. 

Example sentence referring to the county: Last year we visited England and explored the lovely landscapes and towns of Worcestershire.

Example sentence using “Worcestershire sauce”: The chef used Worcestershire sauce to give her curry a unique flavour.

8. Nauseous 

Have you ever found yourself struggling to spell the word “nauseous”? With so many vowels in one word, it can be tricky what order they go in. 

And, as if the spelling wasn’t puzzling enough, the pronunciation isn’t any easier. 

“Nauseous” is an adjective that describes the feeling of queasiness, mainly related to the stomach. It is frequently employed to express that something induces a feeling of discomfort or sickness.

Pronunciation: The word is pronounced as “NAW-zee-uhs.”

Example sentence: Eating the three-month-old cheese was a bad move. She felt nauseous all day.

hardest English words

Bologna is sometimes spelt as “baloney” to make it easier for English speakers. Source: AFP

9. Bologna

There’s a reason many meat packages spell it “baloney.” The word “bologna” derives from Bologna, Italy and is one of the hardest English words to pronounce. 

The correct pronunciation is “bo-LO-nyuh,” but it is common to say “ba-LO-nee.”

Bologna has more than one meaning:

Bologna is a city in Italy renowned for its rich history, architecture, and cuisine — and home to the oldest university in the world.

Bologna, also known as “baloney” in American English, is also a type of cooked, seasoned, and smoked sausage made of various kinds of meat. 

Meaning as a place name: During our trip to Italy, we went to Bologna and had the best gelato there.

Meaning as a food item: The restaurant serves the tastiest bologna sandwich.

10. Anemone 

Anemone actually has two meanings. Some may know it as the flower belonging to the buttercup family. They come in different shades of are typically scarlet, crimson, bluish purple, reddish purple, or white.

However, it is more commonly known because of sea anemones. An invertebrate sea creature with long, bright clusters of tentacles.

It is a predatory marine animal that looks like a colourful flower but is actually a close relative of corals and jellyfish.

If you remember the Pixar movie, “Finding Nemo,” clownfish are the only fish capable of staying in anemone without being stung by its tentacles.

What’s surprising is that it is one of the hardest words in the English language to pronounce – even Nemo struggled to pronounce it, and it’s his home. 

The pronunciation of this word rhymes with the enemy and is pronounced “uh-NEM-uh-nee.”

Example sentence: “The clownfish found refuge among the tentacles of the sea anemone, forming a win-win relationship in the underwater world.”