If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world.

After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud.

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité

Source

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968 Responses

  • matt

    I’ve been teaching EFL for six years, learning the subtle differences between Aemrican and British English and I would be surprised if 90% of the world’s native speakers were familiar with the correct pronunciation of EVERY word here. Our best guess is not always correct. I’m looking up 19 words/names from this list to be sure.

    January 19, 2012 at 12:31 am
  • Katt

    you had to look up 19 and you teach English?! The only one I looked up was Melpomene and I nailed it. If you can’t pronounce all of those words you should reconsider your field.

    January 19, 2012 at 11:20 am
  • Tash

    Katt… He isn’t teaching a masters course in English lit, he teaches English as a foreign language… That would be basic English if you didn’t know. How many Scandinavians do you think are raising their hand in his class and asking him to pronounce and define Terpsichore or Balmoral? Do you always try to sound smug and superior or just when you make comments on thepoke?

    January 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm
  • Eduardo

    I’m brazilian and I study English for a while. I got astonished with this poem: it’s an excelent exercise for foreign learners! I can pronounce correctly almost every word of it in british accent, and only seven words took me to look them up in the dictionary. All I need for now is to improve my automatic speaking, as native speakers do: that’s where I screwed up my toefl score. I would suggest all foreign learners memorise the poem for life! ;^DDD

    January 19, 2012 at 3:31 pm
  • Teash

    Thanks, Tash! I appreciated your comments for Katt!

    January 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm
  • Jessica

    I like it I like it :)
    Learing English for… mhm… 6 or 7 years now and I know how to pronounce all these words. I didn’t look up anything!
    Mhm… but I think I have to know all this ’cause I want to be an English teacher here in Germany…! And a German teacher to :)
    xxx

    January 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm
  • Paul

    I would have to say as well (to Katt) that I wouldn’t expect someone who teaches English Foreign Language (which I can only assume means in a different country, and therefore they may well not be speaking English as a first language themselves), to pronounce all of these words correctly.

    For the record, these were the 10 (being British), which I was not 100% certain of when I read them.

    sward – wasn’t sure whether it wasn’t a silent d or not.
    ague
    terpischore
    melpomene
    loth – I’m too used to alternative spelling loath, so I had to check this online to be certain.
    victual
    fe0ffer – I wasn’t sure what word this was supposed to be
    succour
    aver
    gunwale – I’m too used to alternative spelling gunnel, hence had to check.

    I should point out that thinking how they might sound and knowing for certain exactly how they sound straight away has been differentiated my answers. There were only three that I would have got wrong if it was just to have an idea of pronunciation.

    19, I don’t think that’s too bad at all for someone teaching English as a foreign language. I’m sure there are probably a lot more than 19 words in the list which would be completely unnecessary to teach people, whether foreign or not.

    Good for you for knowing all the others words Kat, but you don’t need to be unpleasantly arrogant about it. You, like me, are obviously not in the top 10%.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm
  • Tree

    Woah Katt, there is a word you might want to become friends with so that might keep some: Humility.

    My mother has an M.S. in English. She began as a high school English teacher and was an editor for 40 years (with awards). Writers enjoyed working for her since she ‘corrected’ in pencil (vs. red pen) to avoid being intimidating. She simply enjoys the English language and reads books about words.

    HOWEVER, she has long said that original thought is more important than grammatical skills (which is why she was employed). Mistakes can be swept up (editors are the janitors of words) but original thought cannot be manufactured. She said that she has met more than a few sadistic editors who take sick pleasure in trying to demean others with the almighty red pen.

    I like to write. Do I know the words on this list? No. Can I look them up and learn them? Yes. Writing is fun and is like painting with words for me. Thank you, Mother for not scaring or scarring me. May anyone else reading this enjoy the protection and security from under the wings of my mother–she would be there for you. Read. Write. Learn. Be happy.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm
  • Claire

    My native language is American English with a mid-west accent. Three or four of the lines only work with a British accent. That said, I still stumbled because the rhythm of the poem is difficult. I guess I need to work on reading out-loud. :)

    January 19, 2012 at 9:04 pm
  • Uwe

    Why do people have to turn everything into a battle of the egos? This is challenging for everyone, even native speakers, though obviously not in the same measure… Just chillax and admit you can’t pronounce ‘aver’ because no one ever says it, you don’t know what it means and you never even said it yourself. Just… please, get a life.

    January 19, 2012 at 11:48 pm
  • Skid

    i have grown up with American English so a number of these words are not in my vocabulary. I really have to doubt anyone that claims to have all or most of the words pronounced correctly since what is correct depends greatly on what dictionary one is using. I really wonder if any of them looked up every word in a dictionary to make sure their pronunciation is correct. I think that the point of the poem is to illustrate just how difficult the language is to learn as a second language. As a side point, it is most interesting to me that a person speaking the English language can usually be understood by another English speaker, no matter how bad the accent. As an example, spanish spoken in different countries is more difficult to be understood. I have a number of letters written by my gggrandfather in the 1850′s (he was a farmer in the mountains of Virginia) and the words were spelled phonetically but the letters are quite readable and a most interesting window into how he lived and thought. Some have ridiculed him for lack of education but I find his writing very instructive. He had a better understanding of the politics of the day than the majority of people living today.

    January 20, 2012 at 12:36 am
  • EssisDaddy

    Must be wonderful being you, Katt – how’s it feel, being perfect and all?

    Smug, self-satisfied arrogance suits no one, and in a forum such as this makes you extremely disliked.

    I suppose you’d “nail” the longer version of this, wouldn’t you – being flawless.

    January 20, 2012 at 5:57 am
  • Tash

    Two things I want to say: ONE, I like thepoke’s community. TWO: I love this poem. I think it’s funny and interesting, but those who use it to judge intelligence or education are totally off the mark. These rare words… you’ll almost never hear spoken aloud. I like to read and I feel my vocabulary is fair. I understand the meaning of these words but I just realized I’ve been pronouncing some of them incorrectly. Would you judge me as being unintelligent because I prefer to read books instead of listening to books-on-tape?

    January 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm
  • Indrani

    This is brilliant! Reminded me of the great Odgen Nash! Congratulations to the poet! :o)

    January 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm
  • Blubbedey

    ‘what is correct depends greatly on what dictionary one is using’
    The language is English. The correct way to spell and pronounce things is the English way.

    There is no such thing as a ‘British’ accent.

    January 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm
  • judith

    This is fun! Thank you

    January 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm
  • Soph

    Katt your so horrible!! I hope I never come across you in real life you seem like a right beach- that last word may have been pronounced (and spelt) wrong.

    January 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm
  • morgan

    im british and i really struggled with some of them, especially the words nobody actually uses!

    January 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm
  • peter

    great fun…i think that’s all its supposed to be????
    a fun tongue-twister!!

    January 20, 2012 at 8:24 pm
  • Antonia

    I love this! I repeat this a couple of times a day, and there are still some words that I kinda forget how to pronunciate, so I have to check it up, but even if I could say everything perfectly I would still repeat it, just for the fun of it!

    January 21, 2012 at 4:05 pm
  • Beth Sellick

    Katt. How wonderful that you knew every word! If we could only be half as intelligent as you. However, there is absolutely no need to criticize others. You are just a nasty individual. By the way,the first “you” in your opening sentence should have been capitalized.

    January 22, 2012 at 1:40 am
  • pete

    the Katt shat on the matt….lol

    January 22, 2012 at 3:13 am
  • Shari

    I think the poem is fun and funny. The real trick is that we are all fairly lazy in the way we pronounce words. So the point is to speak clearly and distinctly. Not that I always do, but I try. By the way I have an MEd in English Education and taught speech, drama and debate. Not that that makes any difference, but just in case you were curious.

    January 22, 2012 at 7:23 am
  • Twila

    i am twelve years old and have ADHD and am gifted and I know how to pronounce all these words and I know the meaning of almost all of them

    January 22, 2012 at 8:52 am
  • Jon

    Finally a interesting website,or is that; vebsight,must be the German in me. my bad,had owr sad/said.Word the very/aver/ever idea of using an art form, that being poems in this most under minding time,Education in the U.S.A. (makes it look like a corporation) when you insert those periods) I could have some fun & then my time might better spent helping & giving of ones time ,So other may learn just how we might save our Country here in Amerikka, I’m get red underlined again, my bad. I’ll give it a willing bit of my time to help find way that may get “We the People” Can find real solutions to our ever growing needs in the finer things in ones life, I speak for myself and therefore nobody prideful ego’s should be hurt. Which brings me to the point. the maxim “Stick & stones may break my bones ,but words can never hurt me” I found out later that most people have been traumatized & abused through using them to control & instill a mean spirit into the receiver of cruel words! I was told once that words can tear flesh & now watch for (observe) those whom use this kind of word fighting excuse for perpetuating the way most likely ,that had been taught to them by family members, or in School. Where I think has been so mistaking for learning. Must go for now! I’ve always been an sesquipedlain.Jon

    January 22, 2012 at 9:00 am
  • Lucilla

    Some of the words are French..like ´ballet ´for example. We tend to pronounce foreign words as they are pronounced in their country. In Spain they say the word phonetically so they will say ballet, and include the ‘t’.

    January 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm
  • Jw

    Great fun. This poem is catalyst for linguistic infarction. Go look up those words Katt although it’s likely you won’t as you’re likely quite perturbed by the reaction to your faux pas.
    :)

    January 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm
  • Yots

    Katt, did you know sentences start with a capital?

    January 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm
  • emmi

    Blub->There is no such thing as a ‘British’ accent.

    Why is it then that Londoners can’t understand anyone from the Midlands when they talk?

    January 22, 2012 at 8:04 pm
  • inreplytokatt

    GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE!
    And blub: I have been teaching English for years now! There is definitely British English!!

    January 22, 2012 at 8:55 pm
  • Michael

    Wow, I’m English and I had difficulty trying to recite this!! To tell truth, there were words in this I hadn’t heard before and, of course, didn’t know how to pronounce. Now I think of it, English must be a REALLY difficult language to learn if you don’t already speak it!!!

    January 22, 2012 at 10:56 pm
  • Kara

    I find this poem to be a great exercise with which to expand ones vocabulary. I am from Canada, and most definately know that I have an accent. I live in the country, and know that even within my own province not everyone would sound the same (correct?) when reading this. 

    Although this may be a good exercise to expand your vocabulary it may not be the best tool for ESL learners as it coul be quite intimindating. The truth is that when learning any language one learns to hear a word much before they ever write it, so this exercise should definately not be expected to be mastered until well into your English language learning. 

    I know as I study French, and other languages that English has a very large amount of difficult and confusing words.

    January 23, 2012 at 3:47 am
  • elly105

    Fun – the only word I’ve never seen or heard on this list is Fe0ffer. Was there a typo there? Saying the words out loud made it easier – he’s thorough!

    January 23, 2012 at 8:25 am
  • Perry

    Thats all piece of peas, try to learn Polish, I recon none of you guys wouldn`t even know how to start with first word… Polish pronunciation is much harder..I am Pole, living in heart of England for seven years.. And to be honest I didn`t find any difficulties with that “poem”…

    January 23, 2012 at 2:27 pm
  • Maura

    Fantastic! I’m passing this around.

    People have mentioned how a few American pronunciations wouldn’t fit, but neither would a few American spellings: “mold”, “vittles”, and “hiccup”. I’m happy to report, though, that the vast majority of this orthographic insanity applies on both sides of the pond. Nyeh heh heh heh!

    January 24, 2012 at 12:27 am
  • vetchick

    There were maybe one or two that I had an issue with on here. English is my native language, I am an avid reader, and I’m entering a medical profession. Those are the only reasons why I did so well. I know many people who would have struggled with this.
    Part of the difficulty is in the fact that a good number of these words are no longer in use (as far as everyday use) and others are proper names, which often break the rules, so to speak.
    If you can pronounce them all, that’s fantastic. If not, that’s great, too! But just because you can pronounce them all doesn’t mean that you have the right to brutalize others because they cannot, so kindly hop off of your pedestal and, like Tree said, learn some humility, it will take you much farther in life than the superciliousness you displayed (have fun with that one ;D)

    PS For those of you learning English as a second language (and for quite a few of you who have it as your first), learning to differentiate between these words will put you FAR ahead of MANY native speakers (and its a pet peeve of mine)
    Then and than
    Your and you’re
    To, two and too
    Their, there and they’re
    If you go through the comments, you’ll see quite a few misuses of these words so it would be to your benefit to know the differences between them :)

    January 24, 2012 at 2:08 am
  • Craig

    Apparently Katt also rhymes with runt!

    January 24, 2012 at 3:44 am
  • Mick

    That was fun to say.
    I wouldn’t say it was difficult to pronounce these words—the flow was great and really made is easy—but it is disappointing & depressing knowing that a great portion of people would seriously struggle with this.

    January 24, 2012 at 4:51 am
  • Brendan

    Good read, only had to look up the two Muses, Terspichore and Melpomene. Though I’m not too familiar with Greek mythology, so I can probably be forgiven.

    January 24, 2012 at 10:43 am
  • Maddie

    This was great fun. The rhymes gave clues to some of the pronunciation, and the smattering of really unusual words made it a challenge. However, on the subject of accents: there is ‘received’ English pronunciation used on the BBC and other news broadcasts which is a middle of the road accent adopted for clarity. It is southern and ‘well-spoken’ but not aristocratic, but there is NOT a ‘British’ accent. Britain has far too many regions (some very tiny indeed) with their own accents. Some of these are really incomprehensible (go to Darlaston West Midlands or Newcastle-upon Tyne) some are quite musical and most have some of their own words for things. This makes for a fun time travelling around the place. Each accent is named for it’s area of origin. So you know what to expect when you talk to a Yorkshireman or a Scouser (from Liverpool).

    January 24, 2012 at 10:59 am
  • Rhetorich

    This is brilliant.

    Katt, I know you excel in dicktion (yes, I *did* check the spelling). Instant coffee? Just add water. Instant personal attack? Just ad hominem.

    January 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm
  • sarah

    This is a really long poem! wow! In addition to exercising our “English” it could double as facial exercises while reciting it! I recited it I guess with my California Accent (that I can’t hear lol!!)

    January 25, 2012 at 4:18 am
  • Claire

    I think I’ll try this with my 1st- 5th grade students.

    January 25, 2012 at 5:29 am
  • lol@katt

    @Katt love the logic. With your near impeccable grasp of the pronunciation of English words, you’ve failed to realize the OBVIOUS “error” in this article’s claim. Speaking English is not merely the pronunciation of words, but using the language known as “English” to convey (PLEASE look up the definition of speaking) information. For example, being able to pronounce Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis would mean zilch if you nor the receiver understood what the word meant, it would be as good as having a phonetic Chinese instruction manual.

    Which brings up an interesting point. Your ability to pronounce all but one words in this poem would make you a pretty good automated “pronouncer” on Google.

    P.S. Article should read “If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be pronouncing English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world.”

    January 25, 2012 at 5:53 am
  • New D

    I love words!!! But using them with love, compassion and humility will always be better than using them to hurt and confuse. Knowing more words than I do does not make you able to express my feelings better nor make you better prepared for life. If I were to consider my number of friends and words to yours you may think you would be the winner, I on the other hand know which side of this scale I want and I just made it heavier by adding some new words from this very refreshing (learning) poem.

    January 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm
  • Deb Scott

    Dis poet’s ‘avin a laff! An so shud we! I luvd it, tho it woz verbose.
    Can anyone out there do all of us a favour (USA: favor)and transcribe the poem using the phonemic script? Especially that wiscious word: Fe0ffer

    January 26, 2012 at 1:32 am
  • borborygmi

    Owe, deer, I maid it threw this poem butt now my ayes wont uncross…

    January 26, 2012 at 5:34 am
  • Katt

    I’m very serious, if you can’t pronounce ALL of the words you should not be allowed to teach anything to anyone! matt embodies everything that is wrong with the educational system and should be thoroughly ashamed.

    To everyone else: it is an open debate as to whether or not to capitalise after a colon.

    January 27, 2012 at 1:05 am
  • corpuz

    I’ve done it perfectly…lol… with my watery mouth… so difficult

    January 27, 2012 at 11:58 am
  • Vera

    I have been learning English for ages and I still don’t know how to pronounce all of the words. It is a great poem and Deb Scott’s idea of transcribing the poem using a phonetic script is brialliant. I think it would be a brilliant exercise for advanced learners of English and with the phonetic transcription not quite as intimidating, which it otherwise might be as Kara suggested.
    Katt, don’t be so harsh. There are things you don’t know either and I bet you wouldn’t feel great if somebody treated you like an idiot for not knowing them. Knowing the pronunciation of ALL the words doesn’t make you a good teacher, just as not knowing ALL the words doesn’t make you a bad teacher. There’s much more to being a teacher than that.

    January 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm