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February 2020

Commonly Mispronounced English Words by Non-Native Speakers

Never make these pronunciation mistakes again

Learning a new language can offer much confusion. Not only are you expected to memorise new terms, but you’ll encounter false friends (foreign words that sound like native words but have different meanings), as well as foreign words that seem similar. The English language does not lack such confusing words, and students of the language must distinguish these words properly or risk running afoul with grammar and meaning. Save yourself from a mistake or three by learning these differences today.

Breath vs. Breathe

It’s amazing how just one letter can change the meaning of a word. Breath (click for pronunciation) refers to the breath that you take in and out of your nose. You’ll find this word in phrases such as giving something a ‘breath of new life’ or, when you’re tired, needing to ‘take a breath’.

Breathe, on the other hand, refers to the act of breathing. You could use this word in phrases such as ‘Calm down! Don’t forget to breathe!’ or as an imperative with ‘Breathe, John! Get your head up. You don’t have gills!’

Bath vs. Bathe

Bath and bathe are another pair of words distinguished by a single letter. Like the previous example, ‘bath’ is a noun referring to cleansing oneself, usually in a tub. For example, one could say they ‘need to take a bath’ because they are dirty. The word is also used in other terms such as ‘bathroom’ and ‘bathtub’.

‘Bathe’ refers to the act of washing: ‘He started to bathe himself in the lake before he saw the hippos’.

Desert vs. Dessert

Desert and dessert are two different words with wildly different meanings. Both are nouns, but the former refers to a long stretch of barren land (like the Sahara Desert). The latter refers to a sweet after-dinner treat (like cake or ice cream).

It gets even more complicated because ‘desert’ can also be pronounced like ‘dessert’ when the meaning of the word refers to abandoning someone or something: ‘He deserted his friend in the jungle when he heard the baboon’s mating call’.

Advice vs. Advise

Advice is what is given to you when you need an opinion. The person giving the advice is the person advising you. If you were to advise another person with advice, you would be the one giving the recommendation. This rule is true, in spelling and meaning, in both British and American English.

Vine vs. Vineyard

The relationship between vine and vineyard is one of changing pronunciation. Indeed, a vineyard is a ‘yard’ full of ‘vines’ (where wine grapes are grown). However, the pronunciation of the ‘vine’ part of ‘vineyard’ changes, as you can hear in the links provided. As you can hear in the link for ‘vineyard’, the ‘yard’ part of ‘vineyard’ can also be pronounced in two different ways!

Hungry vs. Angry vs. Hangry

For speakers of languages without a prominent ‘h’ sound (such as Italian), the pronunciation of hungry, angry, and hangry can become muddled. ‘Hungry’ is a common feeling for those lacking food. ‘Angry’ refers to the feeling of being enraged or bitterly annoyed. ‘Hangry’ is a neologism (a newly created word, mostly used colloquially) that refers to anger brought about by hunger.

While you wouldn’t use ‘hangry’ in a formal conversation, making sure you differentiate between ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’ is important. You wouldn’t want someone to mistake your hunger for anger, in which case they might assume you were hangry.

Which English words trouble you the most when it comes to pronunciation? Let us know on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” telc English for more articles on language learning advice!