We’ve each come across words in the English language which have proven difficult to pronounce or are mispronounced so frequently, we eventually just go with it. The most common reason for the former is, we may have read the word somewhere, but never heard it spoken. The best way to remedy this is by looking up a dictionary (which is becoming so rare these days, it’s almost a phenomenon when one does).
Some words and phrases are so commonly mispronounced, even the grammatical pedant gets tired of correcting every single person. Let’s look at some golden oldies:
1.) "I don’t think..."
Take the phrase, “I don’t think it will rain today.” Now, give it a second look and see if it sounds correct. Does it? If your answer is yes, well, ask yourself if it’s possible to not be able to think if it will rain today. The correct way to say this is, “I think it won’t rain today.”
2.) Double Negatives
We subconsciously use double negative phrases “There ain’t no more coffee!” or “He isn’t going nowhere.” There is a very thin line to tread here about using double negative sentences. Though some dialects of English allow their use in informal conversation, conventional grammar rules state, double negatives are wrong. A double negative word that’s becoming popular but again incorrect is, ‘irregardless’. Some might argue, it appears in dictionaries online, however, there is a little footnote which says ‘non-standard’. This simply means, it is grammatically incorrect, but the word had to be added to the dictionary because people are using it. Therefore, regardless of what you say, irregardless is not a word.
3.) "Ask" vs. "Aks"
Do you want to ask a question or do you want to be coined a murderer?
4.) Their, There, and They’re
These are not three, but four different words. Also, "their" is not pronounced "thear." All three are pronounced the same.
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5.) "Lose" vs. "Loose"
No, they don’t sound nor even mean the same thing. To elaborate, did you lose some loose change because it fell out of your pocket?
6.) "Your" vs. "You’re"
This is one of my favourites. My skin crawls and I cringe when someone replies, “Your welcome” to “Thank you”. My welcome what?
7.) Silent Letters
Finally, we come to English’s greatest dilemma: silent letters. These have tormented and tortured novices since English was first spoken. To this day, no one has been able to explain why silent letters are, they just are! It is theorised that because English is derived from many other languages, the etymological origin of some words requires silent letters in them. While others feel that silent letters match the sound made by the tongue on the roof or base of the mouth.
Given everything we say or do is either posted or recorded for posterity, now more than ever, we need to be careful of how we pronounce words. Correct pronunciation has more to do with being able to be understood for what you want to say or write. Most people argue that regional accents play a major part in commonly mispronounced words. However, there are several ways in which one can learn to be fluent.
Most dictionaries show the syllabic break-up and embedded audios are available online of if you look up a word on the internet. Language apps have audios which aid in developing spoken skills. However, if you really want to speak English like you were born into it, it’s best to learn from someone for whom it is a first language.
Ruairidh McGhee on April 25, 2019:
I definitely disagree with the idea that 'I don't think...' is incorrect. The use of to think in the transitive sense is 'to have a belief or idea'. Just as you can believe that it will rain, and not believe that it will rain (you do not have the belief that it will rain), you can think and not think that it will rain.