Grammar Misspoken or Mispronounced Words and Phrases |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Misspoken or Mispronounced Words and Phrases

Writing serves us well in communication by providing us with a framework for arranging words into clear and thoughtful statements, including opportunities for eloquence.

Applying ourselves to concise writing can also reinforce articulate speech. We are often moved or impressed by those who express themselves with precision and power. Think of the historic public addresses by Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Conversely, misspeaking and mispronouncing words and phrases can quickly sabotage and discredit our intellectual or persuasive standing with another person. Plus, beyond sounding wrong, these verbal glitches can contaminate our writing. If our mind’s ear hears or spells a word a certain way, we might wind up writing it as such as well.

For this reason, we’ve compiled some words and phrases to watch out for. Maybe some of us have tripped over a few, and perhaps a few have caused us all to fall. Some of the entries might surprise even the most well spoken among us.

Word or Phrase (Glitch: S=misspoken, P=mispronounced) Correct Treatment
affidavit (to mean written statement sworn before an official) (P) af-i-DEY-vit not, af-i-DEY-vid
all the sudden (S) all of a sudden
Antarctic (P); Arctic (P) ant-AHRK-tik, AHRK-tik; not ant-AHR-tik, AHR-tik
Calvary (to mean military service that fights on horseback) (S) cavalry (KAV-uhl-ree)
chomp at the bit (S) champ at the bit
et cetera (to mean “and the rest”) (P) et SET-er-uh, not ex-ET-er-uh, ek-SET-er-uh
escape (P) ih-SKEYP, not ex-KEYP
espresso (P) e-SPRES-oh, not ex-PRES-oh
for all intensive purposes (S) for all intents and purposes
forte (to mean strength or talent) (P) fort, not for-TAY, FOR-tay, or for-tay
genome (to mean full set of chromosomes) (P) JEE-nohm, not geh-NOHM
jaguar (P) JAG-wahr, -yoo-ahr, not JAG-wire
larynx (P) LAR-ingks, not LAR-niks
mayonnaise (P) mey-uh-NEYZ; MEY-uh-neyz, not MAN-eyz
meme (to mean cultural item transmitted by repetition) (P) meem, not mehm
niche (to mean suitable position; distinct market segment) (P) nich, not neesh
nuclear (P) NOO-klee-er, not NOO-kyuh-ler or NOO-kyoo-ler
prescription (P) pri-SKRIP-shuhn, not per-SKRIP-shuhn
probably (P) PROB-uh-blee, not PROB-lee
Realtor (P) REE-ul-ter (‘rē əl tər), not REEL-uh-ter
take for granite (S) take for granted
veteran (P) VET-er-uhn, not VEH-truhn
veterinary (P) VET-er-uh-ner-ee, not VEH-truh-ner-ee
voilà (to mean “here it is”) (P) vwah-LAH, not wah-LAH

You can find more often mispronounced words in our entry “You Lost Me After ‘Feb’.”

When we open our mouths, our minds are on parade. By devoting attention to proper phrasing and pronunciation, we can make sure what marches out sounds and lines up as it should.

If you know of or come across other misspoken or mispronounced words and phrases that are becoming more prevalent, feel free to share them with us for possible inclusion in a future article!

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

31 responses to “Misspoken or Mispronounced Words and Phrases”

  1. Donna M. says:

    How about fiscal vs. physical – two VERY different meanings, but when discussing budget, it shows how much you DON’T know.

  2. Chuck R says:

    Unless I missed it, how about joo-ler-ee, which somehow evades the point that it’s about jewels?

  3. Vicky Ireland says:

    What about “library” so often pronounced as “libry”

  4. Roy Rowlett says:

    My favorites:
    I could care less.
    Prostrate disease.
    Old timers disease.

    • You’ve expanded our post from “Misspoken or Mispronounced …” to include Misused Words and Phrases. Those are good ones. Thank you for writing.

  5. Barbara Larson says:

    How about all the people–including sportscasters–who say “verse” for “versus,” as in “The Super Bowl will feature the Patriots verse the Eagles.”

  6. Janet-marie Persico says:

    I must disagree with Tom’s proscribed pronunciation of the word “niche,” It is NOT pronounced “nitch” – or as he types it, “nich.” It is a French word and is, in fact, pronounced “neesh.” Or, more accurately, “neesh – a” as in the following….

    • At, we are most interested in the American English pronunciation. Most of the dictionaries in our office as well as those we found online list only the pronunciation nich. A few also allow neesh, which may be the preferred British pronunciation.

  7. Donna says:

    often – the “t” should be silent
    Irregardless – the word is “regardless”
    salmon – the “l” should be silent

  8. Julia says:

    From Merriam-Webster dictionary:
    In forte we have a word derived from French that in its “strong point” sense has no entirely satisfactory pronunciation. Usage writers have denigrated \ˈfȯr-ˌtā\ and \ˈfȯr-tē\ because they reflect the influence of the Italian-derived forte. Their recommended pronunciation \ˈfȯrt\, however, does not exactly reflect French either: the French would write the word le fort and would pronounce it more similar to English for. So you can take your choice, knowing that someone somewhere will dislike whichever variant you choose. All are standard, however. In British English \ˈfȯ-ˌtā\ and \ˈfȯt\ predominate; \ˈfȯr-ˌtā\ and \fȯr-ˈtā\ are probably the most frequent pronunciations in American English.

  9. Amy says:

    Regarding “Forte”: You are correct, as the word comes from the French for “strong,” so the e is silent. “Forte” pronounced “forTAY” is Italian for “loud.” That said, hardly anyone realizes this. If you pronounce it correctly you’ll likely get a confused stare. The correct pronunciation is probably going by the wayside.

  10. Mary Madden says:

    Learned something new again today! I’ve been saying “for-tay” forever. Thank you.
    A mispronunciation that is so common I’ve caught myself mimicking it, is “era.” I hear it pronounced most often the way we say “error” in Boston, “eh-ra”. But I was taught that it should be pronounced “ear-a.”

  11. Kamal Taylor says:

    According to Merriam-Webster (the best arbiter of the American tongue), who covered the pronunciation of forte in their expanded definition, either pronunciation could be considered standard. I agree with the rest of your list, and was surprised to learn I have been saying chomp at the bit when I should say champ.

    Great article.

  12. Amy says:

    I’ve actually seen probably spelled “prolly” so many times! Not to mention refrigerator being pronounced as “frigerator.”

  13. Chris says:

    Friendly note from across the pond: any readers wishing to speak British English should be aware that we pronounce “niche” as “neesh”, not “nich”; “nich” is correct for American English, but will make you look foolish in Britain.

  14. Shiv A. says:

    Please add Iran and Iraq!

  15. Mike W. says:

    I love your newsletter! Here are two others for possible future inclusion:
    caramel is often mispronounced as “car-mel,” dropping the middle a
    “May I help who’s next?” is often said to people in lines, rather than “May I help whoever’s next?” Nails on the chalkboard to my ears!

  16. Nancy says:

    One of my biggest peeves is hearing “mastectomy” pronounced “massectomy.”

    • Lynn DeWolf says:

      OMG! I love that one–hahaha! After I had my bilateral mastectomy many people (including my family) commented how brave I was to have a masECtomy!

      Others I love: “My rotator cup is torn.”
      “The dr. wants to take some of my limp glands.”

      My God, haven’t these people ever seen or read these words in print?

  17. Tim Sammon says:

    It is “neesh.” Dictionary pronunciations are subjective, as you point out: “Depending on the dictionary you consult, you will be able to find that [any] pronunciation is acceptable.” No one (present company excepted) says “fort.” Even we who know better will say “fortay” in some circles so as to not sound like weirdos.

    Words adopted from other languages should honor the mother tongue: Oregano, Karaoke, Jalapeño. Place names should follow the local pronunciation: Edinburgh, São Paulo, New Orleans, Derby, Brisbane, Beijing, Cuba, Quebec. Names of persons should be pronounced as the person does: Ivan, Kamala, Andrea, Jacques, Clara, Genevieve; Hugh Grant, Amy Poehler, Carolina Herrera, Cesar Chavez, W.E.B. Du Bois. Latin words should be pronounced consistently: data, stadium, status. Of course, who dares to do so? Like the metric system, there are many words that we Americans insist on mispronouncing and really need to stop: aluminum, bruschetta, solder, February, chaise longue. And what is going on with Ts? Bottle, liberty, button….

    We could continue to list mispronounced words but we would never complete the list. Word origins reveal correct pronunciations and it falls upon our shoulders to protect them. That is my opinion.

    Aesthetic, news, milk, primer, lingerie, envelope, tournament, en route, geisha, Inuit, dachshund, gyro, smorgasbord, ye, Van Gough, Nguyen, Manuel ….

    • says:

      We agree that when it comes to some words, their pronunciations can be open to debate, especially as they are made more colloquial in our daily speech. We are sure that many people will continue to use pronunciations such as “neesh” and “fortay.” Our table of misspoken or mispronounced words and phrases serves mainly to inform of the original formal treatments that have not yet fully receded from view. Whether to apply each treatment is a matter of preference and desire to observe certain details.

  18. Dorothy says:

    Many people seem to have trouble pronouncing “anonymity”: I often hear “a-muh-ny-mi-dee” or some such.

  19. Baiba Finlayson says:

    Regarding misspoken phrases: I often read or hear people say “I should of done whatever” instead of ”I should have done whatever.” Have these folks never read a book?

  20. Mark Harwood says:

    The word “niche” is French and is derived from “nicher.”
    It is, therefore, pronounced “neesh” and not “nitch.”
    But all bets are off if you are American; you are forgiven.

    • says:

      We’re delighted to have readers in many countries, but we remind our readers that this website and The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation represent American English rules and guidelines.

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