10 hardest words to pronounce in English that’ll twist your tongue

hardest words to pronounce
Trying to pronounce some of the hardest words in English will leave you tongue-tied. Source: AFP

If you struggle to pronounce some words in English, you are not alone. English is one of the most difficult languages to learn due to its many grammar rules and complexities.

As such, it is no surprise that English has some of the hardest words to pronounce, leaving both native and non-native speakers tongue-tied. 

The English language is a melting pot of diverse influences, with a lexicon that has been around for centuries. 

These challenging words seem to defy the logic of phonetics. From seemingly simple words like “squirrel” to complex words like “otorhinolaryngologist.” 

Worse, the way some English words are spoken follows a complex pattern. Unlike certain languages like French or Spanish, the connection between the written form of words and their spoken form isn’t always straightforward.

Things like silent letters and words borrowed from other languages are just two of the many reasons why these difficult-to-pronounce words exist in the first place. 

hardest words to pronounce

Did you know “ketchup” was borrowed from the Chinese word ” ke-stiap“? Source: AFP

English words borrowed from other languages

English is known to be full of loanwords.

In fact, about 80% of English is borrowed from as many as 350 languages around the world. These borrowed words follow their conventions for pronunciation which confuses many who have just started learning the language. 

Here are some examples of English words that have been adopted into English:

  • Jungle: The word “jungle” was borrowed from the Hindi word “jangal”
  • Sugar: The word “sugar” was borrowed from the Arabic word “sukkar”
  • Ketchup: The word “ketchup” was borrowed from the Chinese word “ke-stiap”
  • Cigar: The word “cigar” was borrowed from the Spanish word “cigarro”

Hardest words to pronounce in foreign languages

Difficult words to pronounce are not just limited to the English language.

Today, there are around 7,100 languages spoken in the world. Each has its list of difficult words to pronounce. 

Here are some examples: 

  • German: Fünfhundertfünfundfünfzig – this word translates to five hundred and fifty
  • Spanish: Murciélago – this word means bat when translated
  • Russian: мгла (mgla) – this word translates to haze in English 
  • Welsh: Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole – this is the name of a town in Wales
hardest words to pronounce

An acai bowl is made of frozen acai palm fruit that is pureed and served with fruits. Source: AFP

10 hardest words to pronounce in English

If you’re curious about some of the most challenging words to pronounce in English, here are our top picks.

1. Açai

Açai has become popular in the last few years, and so has its pronunciation. This berry is difficult to pronounce due to its Portuguese origins, where “ç” is pronounced as “s.” When the word was adopted into English, the pronunciation of the letter “ç” changed to more closely align with English phonetics.

“Açai” is not the most complex word to pronounce, but it can be quite a tongue twister. You may have heard people pronouncing it in several different ways. From “ah-kye” to “ah-sigh,” people attempt to pronounce this word in many ways. 

However, the correct way to pronounce this word is “ah-sigh-ee.” This word is one of the most common words Americans pronounce wrongly, and its pronunciation is one of the top searches with 20,400 monthly searchers.

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “ah-sigh-ee”

Example sentence: She started her day with a nutritious bowl of açai topped with fresh fruits and granola.

2. Rendezvous

Rendezvous can be used as a noun or verb and refers to “a meeting at an agreed place and time.”

With a foreign origin and a French pronunciation, this is one of the most challenging words to pronounce in English.

Many fall victim to mispronunciation of this word due to its complex spelling and the irregularities of English phonetics. The combination of silent letters, intricate vowel combinations, and unfamiliar consonant clusters can confuse even the fluent.

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “ron-day-voo”

Example sentence: We agreed to meet at the park for our romantic rendezvous under the stars.

3. Beguile

Beguile is a verb that means to deceive or charm someone in a sly or deceptive manner. This word is commonly misspelt due to its unusual spelling, leading to its mispronunciation. 

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “bee-gile”

Example sentence: The con artist used his cunning words to beguile victims into giving him their money.

hardest words to pronounce

Quinoa gained popularity as a healthy substitute for rice. Source: AFP

4. Quinoa  

Quinoa is at the top of the list for those who are health-conscious due to its “superfood” characteristics.

However, that is not the only list that it tops. “Quinoa” is one of the most complicated words to pronounce in English.

Despite its popularity, many people struggle with pronouncing this word. This is mainly due to its unique blend of numerous vowels.

Though pronouncing it as “kee-no-a” is becoming popular, this isn’t the correct pronunciation.

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “keen-wah”

Example sentence: She replaced rice with quinoa in her stir-fry recipe for added nutrients.

5. Schadenfreude

Though not a common word used in everyday conversation, those familiar with “schadenfreude” know that it is one of the hardest words to pronounce in English.

It originates from German and has been adopted into English. It means “pleasure or satisfaction felt at someone else’s misfortune.” The pronunciation of “schadenfreude” also comes from German, so it does not follow typical English pronunciation guidelines.

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “shaa-duhn-froy-duh”

Example sentence: Jake’s constant failures seemed to bring Sarah an odd sense of schadenfreude.

hardest words to pronounce

Gnocchi is a famous Italian pasta made from flour, eggs and potato. Source: AFP

6. Gnocchi

English has borrowed many words from other languages. The next on the list of hardest words to pronounce in English is a word of Italian origin. 

“Gnocchi” refers to a type of dumping-stye pasta made of flour, egg and potato. In Italian, this popular dish translates to “lumps.” 

As delicious as it sounds, its pronunciation is quite challenging. Many English speakers pronounce the word as “noh-ki.” The problem is that in Italian, “gn” has a “ny” sound. For those who are familiar with the correct pronunciation of “lasagna,” this word shouldn’t be too difficult. 

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “NYOH-kee”

Example sentence: The restaurant’s signature dish featured gnocchi made from sweet potatoes and served with sage butter.

hardest words to pronounce

A charcuterie board usually has a sample of different cheeses. Source: AFP

7. Charcuterie

A great charcuterie board is hard to resist and even harder to say. These boards have become a trendy snack that people create for picnics, date nights, or indulging on their own. 

A charcuterie board is a selection of cold, cured or smoked meats, cheese and fruits served on a wooden board or platter. 

While it sounds delicious, it is a mouthful to say, even for English speakers. From “charkutery” to “shahcutery” and “charcuterie”, people have pronounced this difficult word many different ways. 

According to Google, how to pronounce “charcuterie” was among the top searches in 2021

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “shahr-koo-tuh-ree”

Example sentence: She prepared a charcuterie spread for the picnic, which included prosciutto, salami, and artisanal cheeses.

8. Subtle

“Subtle” is one of the hardest words to pronounce in English because of its silent “b.” Many assume the word is pronounced as “sub-tl.”

The word refers to something that is not obvious or not easy to see. 

There is a joke that goes, “whoever put the “B” in subtle deserves a pat on the back.”

The humour in the joke comes from the fact that the addition of the letter “B” in the word “subtle” is quite subtle itself.

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “suh-tl”

Example sentence: Her perfume had a subtle floral scent that lingered softly in the air.

hardest words to pronounce

Ph is a Vietnamese word that was adopted into English. Source: AFP

9. Pho

While this word only has three letters, it is one of the hardest words to pronounce in English.

“Pho” is a famous Vietnamese soup dish with rice noodles, broth, meat and herbs. While it sounds delicious, many avoid ordering it as they struggle to pronounce the word.

Borrowed from the Vietnamese word spelt “phở,” the word first appeared in English in 1935. When taken into English, the vowel was replaced with an “o,” as the vowel sound for ở does not exist in English. The pronunciation, however, remained as “fuh” (rhymes with “duh”) rather than “foh.”

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “fuh”

Example sentence: I decided to warm up on a chilly day by enjoying a bowl of delicious pho at my favourite Vietnamese restaurant.

10. Isthmus

An “isthmus” refers to a narrow passage of land between two seas. 

The word isthmus is a challenge for many because most English speakers would be tempted to pronounce the TH in this word. However, in this case, the TH is silent similar to the silent TH in asthma.

Many are confused as the combination of “th” does not exist in some languages, such as German and Dutch. What’s funny is that it is silent, so you can ignore it anyway. 

Pronunciation: This word is pronounced as “is-muhs”

Example sentence: The resort was nestled on a beautiful tropical isthmus with beaches on both sides.