9 Words That Aren’t Pronounced How They’re Spelled

2 min read

The hard, unavoidable truth: Some words are not pronounced the way they're spelled. Perhaps you've only read a word, but have never spoken it out loud — or, conversely, you picked a word up after hearing it on TV. Just when you think you’ve got your syllables down, an anomaly appears to trip you up. Here are nine notable words that aren’t pronounced how they appear on the written page.

Melee

This word describes a confused fight or skirmish — and don’t be surprised if someone’s confused trying to say it. It looks simple enough: "MEE-lee," but in actuality, it’s pronounced "MAY-lay."

Phlegm

Talk about a word that looks about as pleasant as the thing it’s describing! We pronounce the word "flem," but at first glance, you might think "fuh-LEG-um."

Colonel

Whether you’re talking about Sanders, Mustard, or Fury, the military title of Colonel is pronounced similar to the word "kernel" instead of "cole-oh-nell." Equally confusing is the similar title Lieutenant Colonel, which in some parts of the world is pronounced "lef-TEN-ant KER-nel."

Paradigm

It’s that pesky “dig” followed by a confusing “m” that most readers would stumble over here. Pronounced "PAIR-a-dime," for some reason the English language has thrown in a silent “g.”

Island

You can imagine the origin of this word: Seafaring explorers stumbling upon sand and declaring, “It is land!” While you may think that would translate into "IS-land" today, the “s” is silent, resulting in the somewhat nonsensical pronunciation of "EYE-land."

Macabre

Not only is this word puzzling to spell, it’s frequently mispronounced as a result. Meaning “dwelling on the gruesome” or “producing horror,” many people say "mack-AH-bruh," but the word is simply said "mah-KAHB."

Thorough

"Tho" is an accurate phonetic version of "though," while "ruff" is how you say "rough." But "tho-ruff" is definitely not how this word is said out loud. Instead, it’s "THUR-row."

Gnome

Drop the “g” and “e” and this fantastical-creature word’s pronunciation makes total sense as "nohm." But the silent letters can trip up less savvy speakers to say "KNOW-me" instead.

Mortgage

Anglicized French (see: colonel, macabre) causes all kinds of speaking strife. Mortgage is derived from two old French words: "mort," meaning dead, and "gage," meaning pledge. While to the English eye the "t" should be pronounced as "MORT-gaj," a hint of the original French pronunciation of "MORE-gedg" lives on.

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