Difficult English Words to Pronounce and Understand

The blog Difficult English Words to Pronounce and Understand looks into some strange spelling, pronunciation, and grammar that exists in the English language. We highlight frequent mistakes that English language learners (can easily) make.

Why is English Difficult strange English Words Jail Jailer Prison Prisoner Bestow Education

by Ciaran Donnelly

Oxymorons – Difficult English words to understand

An oxymoron is a figure of speech containing words that seem to contradict each other. Some examples include:

  • Accurate Estimate
  • Going Nowhere
  • Only Choice
  • Awfully Good
  • Act Naturally

Some people would say that happy Monday and good morning are oxymorons, but technically, they are not.

The word is derived from two Greek words: oxus (sharp) and moros (dull). So, the word oxymoron is actually an oxymoron! However, not all English words have this nice integration of meaning and understanding incorporated into them.

English words that are ironic

Why is abbreviation such a long word? Surely, it could have been shorter! Maybe it was so you could abbreviate the word abbreviation (abv.)?

Why is phonetically spelt with ph instead of f? Well, there is actually an answer to this one.

Most English words with the digraph ph come from Greek words. This ph is a standard transliteration of the Greek letter φ (phi). The reason for this is, in Ancient Greek, the letter φ was pronounced [pʰ], as opposed to π (pi). This is the case in other words such as elephant and orphan.

Internationally, dyslexia has no single definition. However, Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that causes problems that effect people’s abilities to read and/or write. Why is it such a difficult word to read? Was this an evil act? Well, we have another answer for you!

It is a combination of the Greek prefix of dys- (meaning bad, abnormal, difficult) and lexis (meaning words).

A palindrome is a word, phrase, or sequence that reads the same backwards as it does forwards. Am example is:

  • Never odd or even
  • Never odd or even

The explanation for this name can be traced back to the Greeks as well.

The word palindrome is derived from the Greek palin (back) and dromos (forward).

While we appreciate the etymology, we think the word palindrome should be a palindrome! This issue has been slightly alleviated (although cruelly) by the naming of aibohphobia. As you may have noticed, aibohphobia is a palindrome and refers to the fear of palindromes!

Do you want some more irony?

Hyphenated doesn’t have a hyphen, but non-hyphenated does!

Although, I do like that there is a b in subtle.

Pronunciation – Strange English words

This poem highlights how strange English spelling is and that it can’t be trusted for pronunciation. To discover how this poem should be pronounced, check out our YouTube video.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard but sounds like bird.
And dead; it's said like bed, not bead;
For goodness sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat,
(they rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
A moth is not a moth in mother.
Nor both in bother, broth in brother

Prefixes – Strange English words

A prefix is a word, letter, or number placed before another. Examples include in-, un-, bi- etc. However, they can sometimes be very confusing. Look at the below examples:

Unlockable- The one prefix can mean two completely different things:

Unlockable English Difficult Strange English Words Bestow Education
Unlockable meaning not able to be locked


Unlockable English Difficult Strange English Words 2 Meanings Bestow Education
Unlockable meaning able to be unlocked

Look at the below examples as well:

Inappropriate = Not Appropriate

Invaluable = Very Valuable

Inconceivable = Not Conceivable

Inflammable = Very Flammable

Do you have any other examples that are difficult English words to pronounce and/or understand? If so, please comment below.

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