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Which English words are you saying wrong?…are you sure? I’ll teach you how to correctly pronounce all of the most commonly mispronounced English words.
I guarantee you’re not saying these words correctly. In American English we have a set of common words. And native speakers tend to pronounce them one way, and non-native speakers pronounce them another way.
Today I’m going to tell you what those words are and how Americans pronounce them.
I’ve been teaching English for 20 years. Yes, I’m that old. I see my students making mistakes like these almost every day. We’re going to start with an example, then we’ll go over the rules, and a whole bunch more examples.
Ok, we’re going to start with this word.
You might be thinking, wait, that’s a really easy word. There’s no way I’m mispronouncing that. You know what, let’s do a few more examples right here from the beginning.
This word, this word, and also this word.
Look at all of these words. They have something in common. The mistake students make is the same. All of these words have more than one pronunciation. Native speakers almost always do the short one. And non-native speakers almost always do the long one. And that sounds less natural.
We have fam-ly, or family. In-tresing or in-ter-esting. Comf-table or com-for-table. Veg-table or veg-e-table.
By doing the shorter pronunciation yourself, you will sound more natural speaking English and also, good news, the shorter pronunciation is easier.
So it’s not fam-i-ly, but it’s fam-ly. Just two syllables. Family, family. Do you say it as three syllables? Fam-i-ly. Pronounce it with two. You’ll sound more natural. Let’s go hear 10 Americans saying this word.
Family. Two syllables.
Fam-ly. Family. Family. Say that with me. Family. Family.
Now, forget the sentences. Let’s just hear the word: family.
That’s a lot of family. You listen to it that many times, and you realize, wow this is what native speakers usually do. Family. Two syllables. Simple. Family.
What about ‘vegetable’? Do you say it ‘veg-e-ta-ble’? I hear my students do that all the time. I’ve almost never heard a native speaker do that. Veg-table. Not ve-ge-ta-ble. Just three syllables with first syllable stress. Vegetable. Alright, let’s go over to Youglish to see and hear lots of examples.
Vegetable. Three syllables. VEG-ta-ble. Vegetable. Say that with me. Vegetable.
Now, again, let’s hear just the word, not the whole sentence. You’ll really feel that three-syllable rhythm.
Vegetable. Three syllables, simple.
This word. I hear my students pronounce it ‘in-ter-est-ing’. In-ter-est-ing. Four syllables. Now, there are a couple of ways native speakers pronounce this word in American English, but the most common by far is: IN-chru-sting. Interesting. So in doing this, they drop the vowel between T and R, so we now have a TR cluster. This is often pronounced CHR, so that’s why you might hear a CH sound in this word. “Inchresting.”
Let’s go to Youglish and listen to Americans pronouncing this word.
“Inchrseting” or “interesting” – you might also hear a True T instead of a CH, though CH is more common. Interesting or interesting.
Now, occasionally, you’ll hear a native speaker make this four syllables. And in that case, there’s a good chance you’re not going to hear that T at all. “Inneresting”. It’s common to drop a T after N, so that’s what happens here. I noticed Rick Steves doing this as I was listening to examples.
But what I want you to take away from this, is just go with the most common pronunciation. Change your habit. Not ‘in-ter-est-ing’ but ‘inchresting’. Interesting.
Let’s listen to just this word many times.
Say that with me, interesting. Interesting.
Ok, comfortable. I hear my students say “com-for-ta-ble”, four syllables. How to do native speakers say it?
COMF-der-ble. Three syllables. First syllable stress. COMF-der-ble. You might hear the T as a D, COMF-der-ble. Or you might hear it as a T. COMF-ter-ble. Both are common, D is probably more common. Every once in a while, you’ll hear a native speaker pronounce this as four syllables, but not often. Simplify it. Three syllables. Comfortable.
Let’s listen to just the word many times.
Say that with me, comfortable, comfortable.
Ok, so how are you supposed to know in which words you can drop a syllable?
Is it CHOC-o-late, or do most Americans say ‘choc-late?’
Okay, so it’s two syllables. Choc-late.
Well, is it FAV-o-rit of ‘fav-rit’?
Okay, so it’s two syllables. FAV-rit.
There isn’t an absolute rule, because there are so few absolute rules in American English pronunciation. But there are some guidelines that can help you know when to drop a syllable.
When we drop a sound or a syllable like this, it’s called ‘syncope’. The example given here in this is ‘probably’. This word is often pronounced ‘PROB-li’, two syllables, prob-ly. I do have a video specifically on that word, i’ll link to it in the video description.
But, that doesn’t actually follow the ‘rule’, as I said, it’s not a perfect rule. It’s more of a guideline. And the guideline is: an unstressed vowel might be dropped if the next sound is R, L, or a nasal consonant M, N, NG.
Let’s look at the words we already studied. FAMILY – that was an unstressed vowel followed by M. It does follow that guideline.
Vegetable – hmm. Here, the dropped vowel wasn’t followed by R, L, or a nasal consonant so that one doesn’t follow the guidelines.
Interesting – that one does. The unstressed vowel was followed by R.
Comfortable – also followed by R.
Favorite – followed by R.
Chocolate, followed by L. Does follow the guideline.
Now I’m going to go over a few more common words here that have two different pronunciations, with one being shortened and that one more common. We won’t go look them up on Youglish, but I invite you to do that. It’s a great way to do research on how Americans actually pronounce different words and phrases.
Different. Two syllables. Not diff-er-ent, but diff-rent. Say that with me. Diff-rent.
Cam-er-a should be cam-ra. Say that with me. Cam-ra.
Cath-o-lic. We say that: Cath-lic. Two syllables. Say that with me. Cath-lic.
Int-er-est. Again, we say this as two syllables: in-trest. This is just like shortening ‘interesting’. In-trest. Say that with me. IN-trest.
Listening is often ‘lis-ning’. Lis-ning. Say that with me. Lis-ning. Notice the T is silent there. That’s not part of the syncope, that’s just the pronunciation, even in the full pronunciation of the word, that’s silent.
Mem-o-ry is often ‘mem-ry’. Mem-ry. Say that with me. Mem-ry.
Trav-el-ing is often ‘trav-ling’. Trav-ling. Two syllables. Say that with me. Trav-ling.
Natural is often ‘NAT-rul’. Just Two syllables. Try that with me. NAT-rul.
Actually is often pronounced AK-shul-ly, three syllables instead of four. AK-shul-ly.
Rest-au-rant is often ‘rest-rant.’ Two syllables. And sometimes, you’ll hear a CH because of that TR cluster: res-chront, res-chront. Try that with me. Restaurant.
SEP-uh-rit is often SEP-rit. Two syllables. Say that with me. Separate.
SEV-er-al is often SEV-ral. Say that with me. Several.
TEMP-er-uh-ture is often TEM-pruh-chur. Temperature. Say that with me. Temperature.
Now here’s a word that isn’t a syncope, but it’s a word that’s often mispronounced by non-native speakers because they put an extra syllable in it: business. It looks like it should have an extra syllable, BIZ-ih-ness. But that’s not the actual pronunciation. That is a two-syllable word. Business. Business . Both syllables have the IH vowel even though one is spelled with the letter U and the other is spelled with the letter E. BIZ-ness. Say that with me. Business.
This is true of ‘every’ as well. The actual pronunciation isn’t three syllables. That’s not what you’ll see in a dictionary. But I do hear my students do that sometimes. The pronunciation is two syllables: EV-ry. Every. Try that with me. Every.
Ok, now the guidelines that I gave you. Remember that some of the syncopes we studied didn’t follow these guidelines. Well, there are a lot words that have an unstressed vowel followed by one of these3 consonants where we don’t drop it. That’s why I didn’t really want to call that a ‘rule’. For example, someone asked me about the word ‘lottery’. There’s an unstressed vowel, the schwa, followed by the R. But we wouldn’t drop the syllable, turning it a two-syllable word: Lot-ry. This is still a 3-syllable word: lottery, lottery.
So this is something you have to learn as you go. As you learn new words, as you notice how Americans pronounce things. If you’re ever not sure, go to Youglish and hear 25 different people pronouncing the word. They might not all be exactly the same, but you can see which pronunciation is the most common.
Can you think of a syncope that was not mentioned in this video? Put it in the comments below.
Now I’m going to play video spin-the-wheel. The next video I think you should watch is THIS one, which youtube is suggesting, I don’t even know what it is, it will be different for everyone, and I think that’s fun. Don’t forget to click that subscribe button if you haven’t already and be completely sure to join me every Tuesday for a new video. That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.