Is that how it's spelled?

I’m looking for fairly common words with pronunciations that just do not match their spellings. Two words that come to mind are victuals and segue. If you’ve only heard these words spoken I bet you would be surprised by how they’re spelled. Or if you run into these two words in writing for the first time I bet you would not pronounce them correctly. Are there other good examples of words like these?

Usually, just about any word adopted from another language would have this characteristic.

But, common words also are pronounced differently than they are spelled. Here are some words off the top of my head:
knight (I love this word, sounded out, it would be ke-ni-git)
anything with the -tion suffix
rhythm (ri-tuh-hem)

English is full of them; we just don’t notice them because they are so familiar. Thought, trough, through, bough, rough; how many different ways are there of pronouncing -ough without voicing either a ‘g’ or a ‘h’ sound?

I always want to spell ‘sure’ with an H …


This. I’m not a native speaker, so for me it’s rather obvious that spelling and pronounciation in English are hard to learn. I developped a sort of intuition for the pronouncation of words I read for the first time, but I’m often lost when it comes to proper names or loanwords.

A simple example for what the OP is after is laugh/love. Almost the same pronounciation, but they share only one letter.


Suede puzzled me when I first saw it. I knew the girls’ name Sue, so . . . Sue-de?

For numerous examples of the inconsistencies of English pronunciation/spelling, check out English is Tough Stuff.

Any word ending in -gh in English is spelled exactly the way it’s pronounced: enough, knight, tough, cough, dough, etc.

Or, rather, it’s spelled the way it was pronounced when the word was first written down. “gh” represents the same sound, a velar fricative like the German word “ach” or Hebrew “Chanukah.” The scribes translating the sound used “gh” to represent it.

But the sound dropped out of usage, and we were left with the spellings. It made no sense to change the spellings* as the pronunciation changed.

And, yes, the “k” in “knight” was pronounced. It’s like “knish,” where the k should be prounounced (but many people don’t).

*Why? You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to. Which spelling prevails? If you pick one or the other, then it’s incorrectly spelled for everyone who uses the other pronunciation. Similarly, if you say “nish” and I say “knish,” we both know what the word means when we see it.





Choux (pastry).


It’s a pretty endless list. British surnames and place names also provide many examples of total dislocation of sound and spelling. ‘Featherstonehaugh’ is pronounced as ‘Fanshaw’.

More gems like these can be found here.

When I was growing up, there was a word I heard that sounded like suttle and one I read that I assumed was pronounced sub-tle and I think I was an adult or nearly so when I realized they were the same word. Then there is debt, where I believe the “b” was added by some idiot later. It is borrowed from the French dette, pronounced pretty much the same as debt. The k in the kn words was originally pronounced, just like in the name Knuth.

All the various gh sounds (or non-sounds as in through) were pronounced in different dialects similar to how they are pronounced here today. When the people came from the provinces to London, they each brought their own pronunciation and sometimes one and sometimes another prevailed. If there was an original pronunciation–not all clear since the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes may have already differed, it was probably like the modern German achlaut or ichlaut, depending.

Gunwale and boatswain. Quahog.


While we’re at it, one

I’ll cut you some slack since you’re not a native speaker. Those two words have different vowel sounds and different ending consonant sounds (in England and the U.S.). The only sound they have in common is that first letter.


OK, you’re right, it was a bad example, but I was mentioning this as an example of two words which are pronounced similarly, but spelled totally differently. If I pronounce them in a German (which is my native language and in which spelling/pronounciation is much more consistent) pronounciation, they sound completely different.

I just learned how to pronounce victuals. :smack:

About fuchsia: it should be something like fyooks-ya. It’s named after a guy named Fuchs. This is dangerously close to fucks-ya, and the u is a vowel not encountered in English, so most people say fyoo-sha.

My contribution: viscount.

My favorite: anxiety

When I was a kid I knew what the word meant, but when i would read it, I had no idea that “anxiety” was the way angzyity was spelled.