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Hardest Words

English is a notoriously difficult language for non-English speakers, mainly due to its many unusual pronunciations and non-standard spelling rules. Add in silent letters, and you've got a language packed with words that have pronunciations that can be anyone’s guess.

Here are a few examples...


Worcestershire (“WOO-ster-sher”) sauce is a unique blend of soy, vinegar, garlic, and a handful of other ingredients that originated in the town of Worcester (“Wu-ster”), England. Worcester is a historic town most famous for its primary invention -- you guessed it: Worcestershire sauce.


This little section of land has water on both sides, connecting otherwise separated expansive land masses (think “Isthmus of Panama” – a good place for a canal). But don't be fooled by the spelling. The "th" is silent, and it's pronounced "is-muss."


In some parts of the United States, this adjective for a non-urban area can be slurred together as one syllable. It's a bit of a tongue twister with the double “r.” The standard pronunciation is two syllables: “ROO-ruhl” (or “Roar-al” if you’re in New Jersey.)


"Squirrel" is one word with two syllables that sound like one. The furry creatures are pronounced "SKWIR-uhl," or “Skwirl”.


This spelling hints at the word’s French origins. The English pronunciation is "mem-wahr," but the "-oir" can be mispronounced by non-native speakers to sound like "choir," which is another hard word to say (KWY-er).

"Et cetera"

Both native and non-native English speakers tend to pronounce this Latin phrase as “EX-set-er-uh.” The phrase is actually pronounced as “ET-set-er-uh” with a "t" sound in the first syllable.


This superfood is said to have nutritional superpowers, and its pronunciation also requires linguistic super abilities. Native to the Andean region, this Spanish word has various pronunciations, but the primary is “KEEN-wah.”


This state name keeps popping up among the most confusing pronunciations. "Massachusett" was an Algonquian tribe that lived along the coast. It’s not so hard if you sound out all the syllables as "ma-suh-CHOO-suhts." Tough pronunciations are not surprising in a place that makes the classic opening: "It was a dark, dark, night," sound like: "It wuz a doc, doc, nite."

The state also has its own city named Worcester.


This one may be easy to pronounce, but its use is harder to understand, especially for American speakers. It may sound stuffy now, but "thou" was considered informal and was only used when a speaker had a degree of familiarity with the other person (like “tu” and “usted” in Spanish). Using "thou" with someone of higher status, like a king, was disrespectful. "You" was the polite (formal) version of "thou," and not the other way around.


Difficult pronunciations are not the only thing that can make words hard for us to use. Some words are especially difficult because of the obligations they infer.

I Do,” is easy to say on a couple’s wedding day. “I Still Do” can be a lot harder after an argument (but gets easier after a decade or two of repeated practice).

I’m sorry” is difficult because of what it must admit. A sincere “I’m sorry” can be the most soul-baring thing a human can offer.

I Forgive You” might be easy to say, but it is not always easy to do. Being forgiven is the most beautiful sound of all.


Thanks to WordGenius for inspiring this.

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