The following is a list of words and names which are often pronounced by native speakers of the English language in ways which many others consider to be incorrect. In some cases this is because of disagreement of how to pronounce borrowed foreign words; in others it is a dispute arising from the effect of spelling on a word not pronounced as it is spelled. Many heated arguments are disagreements between the residents of a place and outsiders on how to pronounce the name of a place.

Note: 'AHD' is the American Heritage Dictionary. 'M-W' is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (American). 'OED' is the Oxford English Dictionary (British). 'MQD' is the Macquarie Dictionary (Australian).

Note: The pronunciations below are displayed in two formats: in each pair, the first is in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and the second is in SAMPA, an ASCII encoding for IPA. IPA does not render properly without a Unicode-compatible font containing the IPA symbols. See International Phonetic Alphabet for English and SAMPA chart for English for information on how to decipher the different phonetic symbols.

Table of contents
1 Native English words
2 Recently (200 years or fewer) borrowed words
3 Names

Native English words

  • arctic - (1) [ˈɑɹ.tɪk] ["Ar.tIk], (2) [ˈɑɹk.tɪk] ["Ark.tIk]
    The debate is whether or not the <ct> cluster is pronounced [kt] or just [t]. M-W lists both, with (1) first, but OED only lists (2). Generally, the same pronunciation for the <ct> cluster is used for both arctic and antarctic. However, M-W lists (2) first for antarctic.
  • ask - (1) [æsk] [{sk], (2) [ɑsk] [Ask], (3) [æks] [{ks]
    (1) is the standard North American pronunciation, and (2) is the standard pronunciation in other English-speaking countries. (3) is common in the U.S. but is often considered substandard. Most dictionaries do not list this pronunciation (3), but M-W does, although it is labeled dialectical.
  • controversy - (1) [ˈkɑn.tɹə.ˌvɚ.si] ["], (2) [kən.ˈtɹɑ.və.si] [k@n."]
    (1) is listed in all dictionaries. (2), with stress on the second syllable, is listed as an optional British pronunciation, even in American dictionaries like M-W, although notably, (2) is not listed in OED.
  • err (1) [ɝ] [3`], (2) [eɪɹ] [eIr] [3]
    (1) rhymes with 'her', (2) is homophonous with 'air'. Most American dictionaries list both (1) and (2) although some list (2) before (1). OED and MQD only list (1). At least in the U.S. (2) is heard much more often than (1).
  • February - (1) [ˈfɛb.ju.ˌweɪɹ.i] ["fEb.ju.%weIr.i](2) [ˈfɛb.ɹu.ˌweɪɹ.i] ["]
    (1) and (2) are listed in North American dictionaries, and (2) alone in non–North American dictionaries. Strict prescriptivists insist on (2), with both 'r's pronounced. However, (1) is most common and accepted by most. M-W has this comment: "Dissimilation may occur when a word contains two identical or closely related sounds, resulting in the change or loss of one of them. This happens regularly in February, which is more often pronounced (1) than (2), though all of these variants are in frequent use and widely accepted."
  • Chinese - [tʃɑɪ.ˈniz] [tSai."niz]
    Most dictionaries only list the pronunciation with stress on the second syllable. Some recommend stressing both syllables, a rare exception.
  • genealogy (and related words) - (1) [ˌdʒˈæl.ə.dʒi] ["{.@.dZi]. (2) [ˌdʒˈɑl.ə.dʒi] ["Al.@.dZi] (1) is the historical pronunciation and reflects the spelling; it is listed by all dictionaries. AHD and M-W list both forms but (2) is listed first by both. In British English, form (2) is regarded as an simple mispronuncation and British dictionaries list only form (1).
  • harass - (1) [hə.ˈɹæs] [h@."r{s] (2) [ˈhæɹ.əs] ["h{r.@s]
    The debate is whether stress should occur on the first or second syllable. Most dictionaries list both pronunciations. AHD has this usage note: "Educated usage appears to be evenly divided on the pronunciation of harass. In a recent survey 50 percent of the Usage Panel preferred stressing the first syllable, while 50 percent preferred stressing the second. Curiously, the Panelists' comments appear to indicate that each side regards itself as an embattled minority." For British usage, see Frank Spencer.
  • indict - (1) [ɪn.ˈdaɪt] [In."daIt] (2) [ɪn.ˈdɪkt] [In."dIkt]
    (2) is a spelling pronunciation not listed in any major dictionary. (1) is the standard pronunciation.
  • mores - (1) [ˈmɔɹ.eɪz] ["mOr.eIz], (2) [mɔɹ-ˈeɪz] [mOr."eIz], (3) [mɔɹz] [mOrz]
    Most dictionaries list (1), and some have (2), with stress on the second syllable, as an acceptable alternative. No major dictionary lists (3) as an acceptable pronunciation, and it is considered uneducated usage.
  • loch - (1) [lɔk] [lOk], (2) [lɔx] [lOx]
    This Scottish word for lake is pronounced by most English speakers as (1), with a final [k], as the voiceless velar fricative [x] is not normally in the sound inventory of English. Scots, however, and those English speakers who have acquired [x] for words like 'Chanukah' and 'Bach', will pronounce it as (2).
  • mortgage - (1) [ˈmɔɹ.gɪdʒ] ["mOr.gIdZ], (2) [ˈmɔɹt.gɪdʒ] ["mOrt.gIdZ]
    The "intrusive" [t] in (2) is a spelling pronuniciation, and is not listed as an acceptable pronunciation in any dictionary. (1) is standard.
  • nuclear - pronunciations include [ˈnu-kli-ɚ] ["nu.kli.@`], [ˈnju-kli-ɚ] ["nju.kli.@`], [ˈnu-kjə-lɚ] ["nu.kj@.l@`] -- more at nucular
  • och, a Scottish cry of affirmation, should be pronunced [ɔx] [Ox], with the velar fricative, like in 'loch'.
  • often - (1) [ˈɔ.fən] ["O.f@n], (2) [ˈɔf.tən] ["Of.t@n]. Many dictionaries list (2) as an acceptable pronunciation, but all list (1) first. (2) is a spelling pronunciation.
  • pianist - (1) [pi.ˈ.nɪst] [pi."}.nIst] (2) [ˈpi.ə.nɪst] ["pi.@.nIst]
    American dictionaries generally list both (1) and (2), with (1) first. OED and MQD only list (2). Some insist on (1), often to make a greater distinction between pianist and penis.
  • primer, educational material as in grammar primer [ɔx] [Ox], pronounced with short i as in 'him' (not long i, as correctly used for a type of paint).
  • realtor - (1) [ˈɹi(ə)l-tɚ] ["ri(@)l.t@`], (2) [ˈɹi-lə-tɚ] ["ri.l@.t@`]
    (1) is the "correct" pronunciation (it is a trademark, and thus how it is to be pronounced can be defined by the trademark holder) (2) is listed in M-W, but it is marked as a disputed or substandard pronunciation.
  • temperature - (1) [ˈtɛm.pə.ɹə.tjʊɚ] ["tEm.p@.r@.tjU@`], (2) [ˈtɛm.pə.ɹə.tʃɚ] [tEm.p@.r@.tS@`], (3) [ˈtɛm.pɚ.tʃɚ] [tEm.p@`.tS@`], (4) [ˈtɛm.pɹə.tʃɚ] [`]
    (1) is the pronunciation given by OED. (2) is the pronunciation given by most American dictionaries. (3) and (4) represent common processes of schwa-deletion, and vowel-r metathesis, respectively. All are common and acceptable, although (1) is probably more common in Britain than in the U.S.
  • valet - (1) [væ.ˈleɪ] [v{."leI], (2) [ˈvæ.lɪt] ["v{.lIt]
    (1) is the pronunciation given in most dictionaries, although OED gives (2) first, probably because of a British tendency to make French words sound less French.

Recently (200 years or fewer) borrowed words

  • cafe, café - (1) [kæ.ˈfeɪ] [k{."feI], (2) [ˈkæ.feɪ] ["k{.feI], (3) [kæf] [k{f], (4) [keɪf] [keIf]
    (1), with the stress on the second syllable, is most common in the U.S., and American dictionaries list it as the only possible pronunciation. (2), with the stress on the first syllable, is most common outside the U.S., and is listed in both the OED and the MQD.(3) is listed in both OED and MQD for the word caff, which is defined as colloquial or jocular slang for cafe. MQD labels (4) as a humorous pronunciation for cafe.
  • forte - (1) [fɔɹt] [fOrt], (2) [ˈfɔɹ.ˌteɪ] ["fOr.%teI], (3) [ˌfɔɹ.ˈteɪ] [%fOr."teI]
    The pronunciation of forte when it means one's strength or strong point, is disputed. M-W has this comment about usage: "In forte we have a word derived from French that in its "strong point" sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated (2) and (3) because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation (1), however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would rhyme it with English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard, however."
  • Hans - (1) [hɑns] [hAns] (2) [hæns] [h{ns] (3) [hɔns] [hOns]
    The German pronunciation of this name is [hans] [hans], and the vowel is short. The closest English pronunciation is thus (1). However, the German vowel [a] [a] is distinct from [ɑ] [A] and so some English speakers use the front vowel [æ] [{] (rhyming with scans). In some dialects, the phone corresponding to [ɑ] [A] is too high, and so they pronounce the name (3), which is usually with an elongated vowel (rhyming with pawns). This is least like the German pronunciation of the three.
  • Iran - (1) [ɪ.ˈɹɑn] [I."rAn], (2) [ɪ.ˈɹæn] [I."r{n], (3) [ɑɪ.ˈɹæn] [aI."r{n]
    (1) is the preferred pronunciation in most dictionaries, and the only pronunciation listed in OED. MQD lists (2) first. (3) is considered uneducated or unacceptable to some. It is the pronunciation which is least like how it is pronounced by the people who live in Iran.
  • Iraq - (1) [ɪ.ˈɹɑk] [I."rAk], (2) [ɪ.ˈɹæk] [I."r{k], (3) [ɑɪ.ˈɹæk] [ai."r{k]]
    (1) is the preferred pronunciation in most dictionaries, and the only pronunciation listed in OED. MQD lists (2) first. (3) is considered uneducated or unacceptable to some. It is the pronunciation which is least like how it is pronounced by speakers of Arabic.
  • Islam - (1) [ɪ.ˈslɑm] [I."slAm], (2) [ɪz.ˈlɑm] [Iz."lAm], (3) [ˈɪz.læm] ["Iz.l{m]
    (1) is closest to Arabic. (2), (3), and other variations with [z] [z], [æ] [{], and stress on the first syllable are all common, however.
  • Kyoto - (1) [ˈkjoʊ.toʊ] ["kjoU.toU], (2) [ki.ˈoʊ.toʊ] [ki."oU.toU]
    The Japanese pronunciation of the name of this city is [kjoː-to] []. Thus (1) is the English pronunciation most like the original Japanese. (2), however, is more common, as syllables beginning with [kj] are infrequent in English and are often broken into two syllables.
  • Lima - (1) [ˈli.mə] ["li.m@], (2) [ˈlɑɪ.mə] ["laI.m@]
    The capital of Peru is usually pronounced (1) (similar to the Spanish), although sometimes it is pronounced (2), which is how the name of the bean is pronounced.
  • paella - (1) [pa.ˈe.ja] [pa."e.ja], (2) [pɑɪ.ˈeɪ.jə] [paI."eI.j@], (3) [pɑ.ˈɛ.lə] [pA."E.l@]
    (1) is how it is pronounced in Spanish. (2) is the closest English approximation to the Spanish. (3) (with the /l/ pronounced) is the most common pronunciation given in dictionaries.
  • Qatar - (1) [qʌ.tˤʌɾ] [qV.t_?\\4], (2) [ˈkʌ.tʌɹ] ["kV.tVr], (3) [ˈkɑ.tɚ] ["kA.t@`], (4)[ˈkʌ.tɚ] ["kV.t@`], (5) [ˈgʌ.tɚ] ["gV.t@`], (6)[kə.ˈtɑɹ] [k@."tAr]
    (1) is approximately how it is pronounced in Arabic. (2) is thus the most straighforward approximation using sounds of English, although [ʌɹ] [Vr] is very uncommon at the end of words. (4)(sounds like cutter) is the next closest approximation, and (3) (sounds like cotter) is similar to (4) except it uses the vowel [ɑ] [A] as the spelling might imply, instead of a vowel normally associated with the letter /u/. (5) (sounds like gutter) is commonly heard because to some ears, English [g] sounds closer to Arabic [q] than English [k] does. Finally, (6) (sounds like guitar with initial [k]), with stress on the second syllable, is often heard, possibly because it sounds more "foreign" than the other renderings.
  • reich - (1) [ʁaɪç] [R\\aIC], (2) [ɹɑɪx] [raIx], (3) [ɹɑɪk] [raIk], (4) [ɹɑɪtʃ] [raItS]
    The German pronunciation is approximately like (1), and the closest pronunciation using sounds of English is (3), which is the most common pronunciation. Some English speakers have the [x] [x] sound (like in 'loch' and 'chanukah') and so may produce (2). (4) is uncommon, but is how composer Steve Reich pronounces his name.
  • Saddam - (1) [sə.ˈdɑm] [s@."dAm], (2) [sə.ˈdæm] [s@."d{m], (3) [ˈsɑ.dəm] ["sA.d@m]
    (1) is closest to the Arabic, and is how the name is usually pronounced. (2) and (3) are extra-Englishified pronunciations favored by Texan presidents.
  • señor - (1) [se.ˈɲoɾ] [se."Nor], (2) [sɛn.ˈjɔɹ] [sEn."jOr], (3) [sə.ˈnɔɹ] [s@."nor]
    This Spanish word for mister is pronounced (1) in Spanish. (2) is the English approximation. The letter 'ñ' is usually pronounced [nj] [nj]in English, and (3), with a plain [n] [n], is not listed as an acceptable pronunciation in any major dictionary.


  • Arkansas - (1) [ˈɑɹ.kən.ˌsɔ] ["Ar.k@n.%sO] (2) [ɑɹ.ˈkæn.zəs] [Ar."k{n.z@s]
    Arkansas is the name of both a state and a river. (1) is commonly used for both the state and the river, and (2) is usually used only for the river. Some insist (2) is the only correct pronunciation for the river. In the state of Kansas, (2) is often used to refer to the state, as well.
  • Boise - (1) [ˈbɔɪ.zi] ["bOI.zi], (2) [ˈbɔɪ.si] ["]
    (2) is the pronunciation used by locals, but (1) is more common outside of Idaho.
  • Caribbean - (1) [kæɹ.ə.ˈbi.ən] [k{r.@."bi.@n] [kə.ˈrɪ.bi.ən] [k@."]
    Most dictionaries list both pronunciations as acceptable. The Disneyland ride (and related entertainment offerings) "Pirates of the Caribbean" is pronounced with (1). It is sometimes suggested to use (1) for the noun (as in Pirates of the Caribbean) and (2) for the adjective (a Caribbean island), but there is no etymological reason to support such a distinction.
  • Hawaii or Hawai'i - (1) [ʔi] [] , (2) [ha.wa.ʔi] [ha.wa.?i], (3) [hɑ.ˈwɑ.i] [hA."wA.i] , (4) [hɑ.ˈwaɪ.i] [ha."waI.i], (5) [hɑ.ˈvɑ.i] [hA."vA.i] , (6) [hɑ.ˈvaɪ.i] [hA."vaI.i]
    The name Hawaii is pronounced either (1) or (2) in Hawaiian. <w> in Hawaiian is pronounced either [v] or [w] in free variation. The apostrophe <'> signifies glottal stop ([ʔ] [?]). So in English we have variations with [w] (3, 4) and [v] (5, 6). Hawaiian [aʔi] is rendered in english either as [ai] (3, 5) or [aIi] (4, 6). All pronunciations are standard, although the varieties with [w] are probably more common.
  • Linux (1) [ˈlɪnʊks] ["lInUks] (2) [ˈlinuks]["linuks] (3) [ˈlɑɪnəx] ["laIn@ks] (1) [ˈlɪnəks] ["lIn@ks]
    A source of much debate on the internet, the "correct" pronunciation of Linux is not something likely to ever be settled. The person for whom the operating system is named, Linus Torvalds, is a Swedish-speaking Finn, and offers his take, both in audio [1] and prose [1]. Neither provides an entirely satisfactory answer, as the cross linguistic barrier gets in the way. The fundamental problem is that both English and Swedish have both tense and lax variants of the high vowels: [i]/[I] and [u]/[U]. Example words are, "bean" vs. "bin" and "who'd" vs "hood". Swedish has equivalent distinctions with e.g. the words sil [sil] "strainer" vs. sill [sIl] "herring" and bot [but] "penance" vs. bott [bUt] "lived". However, the vowels are located somewhat differently in the vowel space, and Swedish [I] and [U] are phonetically more similar to English [i] and [u], respectively. So when Linus Torvalds says (Swedish) [lInUks], it sounds to English speakers like (English) [linuks]. So, depending on whether a phonetically accurate or phonemically accurate borrowing from Swedish is intended, both (1) and (2) are legitimate. However, when Linus Torvalds describes the pronunciation in terms of English words and uses English words with the short (or lax) vowels, one might conclude that his intention is for Linux to be pronounced with those vowels in English, as (1). (4) is simply a result of the standard phonological process in English of reducing unstressed vowels to schwa, and is a simply a more English-sounding version of (1). Phonetically the difference between unstressed [U] and schwa is very slight. (3) is a result of changing the final /s/ in the English name "Linus" (as in Linus & Lucy or Linus Pauling) to /x/. However, the name Linux is derived from the Swedish name "Linus", not the English name "Linus", so the legitimacy of (3) is dependent on the legitimacy of translating names from language to language. This would be like George Bush becoming "Jorge Arbusto" when he visits a Spanish-speaking country.
  • Louisville - (1) [ˈlu.i.vɪl] ["lu.i.vIl], (2) [ˈlu.ə.vɪl] ["lu.@.vIl]
    Local pronunciation in Kentucky is (2), although this may just reflect a local dialectical tendency to reduce unstressed [i]s to schwa. (1) is listed first in most dictionaries.
  • Melbourne - (1) [ˈmɛl.bɚn] ["mEl.b@`n] (2) [ˈmɛl.bən] ["mEl.b@n] (3)[ˈmɛl.ˌbɔɹn] ["mEl.%bOrn]
    (1), with rhotic schwa, and (2), with non-rhotic schwa, are the standard pronunciation for rhotic, and non-rhotic dialects, respectively. (3), with an unreduced vowel in the second syllable, is not listed in any major dictionary.
  • Moray - (1) [ˈmʌ.ɹi] ["mV.reI] (2) [ˈmɒ.ɹeɪ] ["mQ.reI] (3)[ˈmɔː.ɹeɪ] ["mO:.reI] (4)[mɒ.ˈɹeɪ] [mQ."reI] (5)[mə.ˈɹeɪ] [m@."reI] (6)[ˈmɔ.ˌɹeɪ] ["mO.%reI]
    (1) (like murrey) is how the name of the Scottish region is pronounced. (2)-(6) are all pronunciations given by M-W, OED, and MQD for how the name of the eel is pronounced.
  • Shrewsbury - (1) [ˈʃɹuz.bə.ɹi] ["Sruz.b@.ri], (2) [ˈʃɹəʊz.bə.ɹi] ["Sr@Uz.b@.ri]
    This English town can be pronounced either (1) or (2). (2) sounds as though the town were spelled Shrowsbury.
  • Uranus - (1) [ˈjʊ.ɹə.nəs] ["jU.r@.n@s] (2) [jʊ.ˈɹeɪ.nəs] [jU."reI.n@s]
    Most dictionaries list both (1) and (2). (2) is more common, although (1) is often used to avoid ambiguity with your anus.
  • Washington - (1) [wɔʃ-] [wOS-], (2) [wɔɹʃ-] [wOrS]
    (1) is the most common pronunciation, but there is a tendency in American midlands dialects to insert an "intrusive" [ɹ] [r] between [ɔ] [O] and [ʃ] [S], giving (2) for the first syllable of Washington, and for the word wash.
  • Worcester - (1) [ˈwʊ.stə] ["], (2) [ˈwʊ.stɚ] ["`], (3) [ˈwɝ.stɚ] ["w3`.st@`], (4) [ˈwɔɹ.tʃɛs.tɚ] ["wOr.tSEs.t@`]
    (1), without either 'r' being pronounced, is the pronunciation insisted upon both by residents of the county town of Worcestershire in England and of Worcester, Massachusetts. (2) and (3), however are more common among speakers of rhotic dialects of English. (4) is often heard from those who are not familiar with the name, but it is not pronounced that way by locals of any of the places that bear the name.

See also: Engrish