19 Words Even Smart People Mispronounce

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Luckily, pronunciation is not the same thing as comprehension.

If you travel in the hinterlands of vocabulary, though, you might be saying these words all wrong. This list will change that.

1. Valet

When to Frenchify and when not to Frenchify? The question has been haunting English-speaking pseudo-intellectuals for centuries. Well, despite its upper-crust connotations, the word “valet” actually doesn’t pack the francophone’s disdain of terminal consonants.


Yep. It’s “val-let.” If you live a lifestyle that requires the use of this word in more than hypothetical situations, you should probably pronounce it correctly.

2. Banal

Maybe this is a personal one. Since our anguished, existential adolescence, we’ve been pronouncing this word to rhyme with…well…the most famous phase of Freudian early-childhood development.


We were wrong. It’s supposed to rhyme with “canal.” Dang, were we ever pretentious back in the day. We’d like to chalk it up to the banality of youth and assume we’ve grown out of it, but you be the judge.

3. Either

Long before Chingy’s 2003 hit “Right Thurr” made “thurr” a common and beloved syllable, folks were arguing over whether this word should be pronounced “ee-thurr” or “eye-thurr.”

The right pronunciation, according to the dictionaries that we frequent (and oh boy, do we ever frequent those dictionaries), depends on which side of the Atlantic you live on. In the United Kingdom, they use the haughty “eye-thurr.” In the States, it’s “ee-thurr.”

And in Chingy’s world, it’s “Right Thurr.”

4. Neither

The same pronunciation rules apply to “either’s” opposite. If you’re reading this in the U.S. of A., stick to “nee-thurr.”


As for the old “singular-vs.-plural” debate on these words, well, that’s a bit beyond the scope of this piece, isn’t it? In brief, though: “Either” and “neither” can be singular or plural pronouns, depending on usage.

So if you write, “Either usage is fine with us,” the subject “usage” is singular, and demands a singular verb. If you write, “Either the birds or the lions are going to attack,” you’re dealing with plural subjects, and should conjugate accordingly.

5. Transient

This is two syllables, not three. That is, “tran-zhent,” not “tran-zee-ent.” There’s an easy way to remember this one. Just think about the word’s meaning, which is something close to impermanent, short-lived, or whatever.


So make the word more short-lived. Lose that third syllable.

6. Applicable

We’ve all heard someone snort, “Those details are not app-lick-able to this lawsuit.” Or maybe that’s just us. (We’ve heard it a lot.)

Anyway, the joke is on our plaintiffs, because the word should be pronounced “app-lick-able.” Let the record note that the plaintiff placed the emph-ass-iss on the wrong syl-lab-ble.

7. Status

Whew, here’s a fraught word in any discussion of “proper” pronunciation. You might argue that any pronunciation is fine, as long as it’s generally agreed-upon among the speakers involved in the conversation.


Enough suspense. It’s “stay-tuss.” Boom. Mind blown.

8. Decrease

How can we decrease the number of words you mispronounce? Well, not by throwing a trick question at you, that’s for sure.


With apologies, then, we have to admit that there are two ways to pronounce the word “decrease,” depending on how you use it. The noun, as in, “I’d like to see a decrease in the number of edits this piece is receiving,” should be pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable. ” De-creese.”

When you use the word as a verb, though, as in, “Let’s decrease the negativity in the comments section, people,” the emphasis moves to the final syllable. “De-creese.”

9. Regime

We wish this were pronounced “reh-jeem” so that we could write clever political pieces about a certain frustrating “meh-gime.”


But the pun is DOA. This word should be pronounced “ray-jeem.” It turns out that BBC News had it right all along.

10. Cache

A cache is basically a hidden stockpile, or a hoard, of whatever. We’re convinced that this meaning explains why people often mispronounce it as “cash-shay.”


They don’t want Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to get away with saying he has a “cache of cash” in every desert. But in this, as in so much prior to his extradition to the U.S., El Chapo gets his way.

Cachet (cash-shay) refers to high status (stay-tuss, remember?) A cache is pronounced “cash,” and the former is often full of the latter.

11. Prelude

Here’s one for the classical music lovers out there! Say “Yay-uh!” Put your batons in the ay-yuh!


Anyway, it’s “prel-yude.” Or “prelly-ude,” with the space between the first and second syllable sped up a bit, a quick accelerando-ritardando, then back to tempo primo. (Wave ’em like you just don’t cay-uh!)

At any rate, it’s not “pray-lude.” So there’s that.

12. Err

To err in pronunciation is human; to pontificate about proper pronunciation, divine. Or is that “tiresome”? And what’s the difference?


If you’re going to use the verb “to err” in spoken English, anyway, your audience might be the type who actually cares about pronunciation. So wow them with your correctness. It’s “er,” to rhyme with “burr.” It’s not “air,” to rhyme with “bear.”

The specter of Chingy rises again.

13. Quinoa

When this ancient grain first hit the modern scene, we counted ourselves among the multitudes who approached the Whole Foods counter and asked for the “quinn-oh-ah” salad.


Oh, how those Whole Foods employees giggled into their plastic gloves.

Avoid our fate by giving this word its preferred pronunciation: “keen-wah.”

14. Almond

You’re about to feel like you woke up to find that socks have been for your hands this whole time. Or that the road is made of rubber, and tires, concrete.


You’re apparently not supposed to pronounce the “l” in “almond.” It’s “ah-mund.” Welcome to your new reality.

15. Gala

How many times have you been invited to a fancy gal-luh, only to find that the vall-ay service is too busy to park your Porsh?


Same. Anyway, that would be one mistaken party, because it’s supposed to be pronounced “gay-luh.” Oh, and for the record, the “val-let” drivers should ask for the key to your “Porsch-uh.”

Let’s go bowling instead.

16. Bowling

Just kidding, you’re probably actually pronouncing this one the right way. We just wanted to keep you on your toes.

17. Spherical

When you want to go for a round of that popular indoor game in which you roll heavy, spherical objects at a crowd of lathed towers of rock maple, make sure you ask your friends to join you in language they can understand.

That means pronouncing “spherical” the right way. As in, “sfer-ick-cal,” not “sfeer-ick-cal.”


Or could you just say, “Let’s go bowling.”

18. Mauve

The florists and interior designers who actually use this word might disagree about its pronunciation. Like all questions about language, the closer you look at the problem, the more complex it becomes.


You see, mauve, that soft color that rests somewhere between pink and purple, used to be pronounced “mohv.” At some point, though, the Frenchiness of the word got washed out by all of us English speakers, who insist on saying, “mawve.”

These days, it seems like the “ow” crowd has won out, at least in the United States. But if your nail colorist insists on saying “mohv,” don’t rush to judgement. Maybe the dude took French in high school.

19. Chipotle

Oh, what a pepper. And what a pronunciation. We always pronounced it “chi-poat-lay” until this helpful video clip put us straight. From now on, we’ll be getting our burritos from a fast-food chain called “shahn-toodle.”

At least they don’t have a quinoa burrito on the menu yet.

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