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

  • @Katt

    Teaching requires many different traits, and yes, knowledge is one of them. Patience, understanding, empathy, and sense of humour are others. The ability to pronounce obscure words found in a poem on the internet is not.

    However, the ability to learn new things is very important. If you think that everyone who has ever taught a subject was familiar with every tiny bit of minutia that accompanies it, you’re mistaken to the point of absurdity.

    So someone who teaches just learned 19 new things. 19! That’s 19 things they can now pass on to students. How is that wrong? Why would that make someone feel ashamed? Because someone else hid behind the anonymity of the internet and told him it should? That’s pathetic.

    Also, as far as I know, there is no such debate on whether or not you should capitalize after an exclamation mark. Shame on you.

    January 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm
  • Tony Mechelynck

    Katt wrote:
    I’m very serious, if you can’t pronounce ALL of the words you should not be allowed to teach anything to anyone!

    This is obviously an exaggeration. Being or not being able to pronounce all the difficult words in the poem has no bearing on whether or not you should be allowed to teach math to anyone, or French to anyone, or even reading and writing English to first-grade children.

    This said, it is regrettable that the comments on this article, which was meant as an amusing example of how little English orthography and pronunciation are related to each other, has degenerated into a flame war.

    January 28, 2012 at 8:46 am
  • truelulu

    The discussion’s even more breathtaking than the exercise itself. I would agree with Katt, being a kinda perfectionist myself and tending to criticise language teachers for the slightest mistake. However, it’s not about teaching actually. You might be a perfect speaker, *pronouncer* without the ability to deliver your flawless knowledge to your students, so what’s the point in being such then? Being a language teacher unquestionably requires exceptional language proficiency, but it’s just one component of the whole set of skills which are even more important, I guess.

    January 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm
  • Jeff

    The real name of this poem is Chaos: A Poem. You should fix that.

    January 29, 2012 at 3:52 am
  • Marlie

    English is not the easiest language to master (There is rule for everything and then an exception to the rule) But then again German (phonetic) has so much grammar it is a nightmare, unless you learn it as a child and even then the ‘Sie’ and Du’ again is a nightmare. The main thing is that people TRY to learn different words in different languages and make the effort to communicate. Guss Got.

    January 30, 2012 at 9:37 am
  • Angela

    Question: how does “four” rhyme with “Arkansas”?

    January 30, 2012 at 10:42 pm
  • Trudie Taber

    I love the poem “English Pronunciation”, I wonder how many teenagers would be able to pronounce half of the poem.

    January 31, 2012 at 6:59 am
  • Tony Mechelynck

    Angela: That question has already been answered, but there are so many comments already, it’s understandable that you might not have read them all:

    In a non-rhotic accent (as in “BBC English” but not in most US accents) the consonant r is not pronounced word-finally at the pause (or before a consonant inside a word), and that means that “foh” rhymes with “ah-k’n-soh”.

    January 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm
  • Carol Souza

    Jesus Christ! For someone who doesn’t know all these words it will be really hard! Some words can hava almost the same structure but not the same pronunciation. I’m Brazilian and I got some dificults with reading it aloud. But I promise: I’ll try again and I’ll do it correctly.

    January 31, 2012 at 6:11 pm
  • johannsone

    I managed through the list, but I had to sing it to do it!

    January 31, 2012 at 6:45 pm
  • Cole

    Hey, I’m an English teacher (Canadian, with very clear voice/accent). I came across this post a few weeks ago, and just couldn’t resist recording myself (anonymously,that is!) reading the poem aloud and uploading to YouTube (I saw a few requests, above). Yes, others have already done this, but the difference is that I have included the full scrolling transcript so you can read along, to check your pronunciation. Hope it helps someone out there!! Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5myI9TDFDw

    January 31, 2012 at 7:23 pm
  • Rach

    @Sarah…because it’s pronounced ArkanSAW….

    February 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm
  • Rach

    Surely all the “ooh does it rhyme, does it not” back-and-forthing serves to highlight is the extra dimension to the complexities of the language, in all its dialects and derivations?

    February 2, 2012 at 3:44 pm
  • Kara

    Oh noes! Someone said people from Arkansas are “Arkansawyers”? And they claimed there were from Arkansas? Aye-yi-yi.
    signed,
    a native Arkansan [Ark-kan-san] from Arkansas [Ark-an-saw] who grew up 10 miles from the Arkansas [Ark-an-saw] River in Little Rock… but who will be ok with being called an “Arkan-sassy-an”

    February 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm
  • Amanda

    I’m not going to weigh in on all the absurdities of which English speaking nation speaks “better” English–since English has ALWAYS been a melange (!) of other languages. That’s one of the pure joys of teaching it, to me–that our poets can contrast Latinate/French multisyllabic with the thwack of Anglo-Saxon/Norse consonants–something that reaches its apogee in Macbeth’s “this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red”
    (A pairing that that Melville matches many a time in Moby Dick.)

    The beauty of English to me is that it’s a language of many languages, and variations in pronunciation are part of that. The poem is clever and a lovely celebration of this, not a contest.

    I AM wondering if there can possibly be a “correct” pronunciation of a word like “Terpsichore,” given that it’s an anglicization of Ancient Greek? It’s utterly fatuous to claim that the way one pronounces “Oedipus” is a sign of how well one speaks ENGLISH!!!

    February 3, 2012 at 3:22 am
  • Richard

    If anyone wants to hear it delivered in an approximation of received pronunciation, new youtube video here: http://youtu.be/hJeRIcj5Fb8

    February 3, 2012 at 4:49 am
  • Giles

    English is not the easiest language to master, indeed! However, it is the easiest language to use. That’s why nearly everywhere local pidgin is understood, and enough for trade. What else?
    Let’s speak Global!!

    February 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm
  • kcardenas

    Wow! That was awesome! I actually did better than I thought it would.

    February 4, 2012 at 4:49 am
  • Jim Pierce

    Did I mis al-u-min-knee-um in this list?

    February 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm
  • richard

    Amanda: of course there may not be a “correct” way of saying Terpsichore in English, but there is an established one (as with all Greek deities and other characters). Knowing how to pronounce Socrates, Aristophanes, et al, is more a function of general knowledge than anything strictly linguistic. But then that’s true of ALL English pronunciation, which is kind of the point of the poem.

    Many years ago, I worked as a paralegal and it wasn’t until I’d been at it for about 3 months that I first heard someone else utter the word “antecedent” out loud. Of course it’s not a word in common usage but it’s VERY common in legal jargon, and I’d used it for one reason or another in writing probably every day until then. I had invented my own incorrect pronunciation and stress, and it took me a while to realise that this had been the topic of some laughter in the office.

    The way it is spelled bears very little indication of how to pronounce it correctly and although I was well educated and informed (both generally and technically), I could still get it wrong.

    On a different scale, I have a unique way of pronouncing “worry” which has been the subject of a great deal of leg-pulling throughout my adult life – sometimes I manage to correct myself but more often than not, I come out with this strange sound that does not fit in with the rest of my speech patterns and frankly, makes me sound a bit stupid. But that’s the result of many years of linguistic abuse, not lack of knowledge how to pronounce it properly.

    February 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm
  • Jose from Paris

    The “French man” mentioned above surely doesn’t speak much English.

    I’m French, and I had no pb reading the poem aloud, except for the few words I have never met before. That is the point with the English language: there is no way to guess how to pronounce a word when you have never heard it before, as pronounciation options are multiple and sometimes illogical according to the general rule.

    The fact that “bass” and “base” sound alike has no logical exponation, no linguistic reason and is impossible to guess unless you have heard it before, the general rule in this case being that a vowel between 2 single consonnants should diphtongue. The “exception to the rule” situation is a very familiar one in French, where, as a kid, you have to learn all the grammar rules + all the correspondent exceptions.

    This poem shows clearly why language teaching/learning should focus first on hearing and pronouncing, and get to writing and spelling much later, just like how children learn their mother language.

    Now does the poem take regional accents into account? That’s a question. “Law” or “drawer” are not pronounced the same way in GB than in the US (“You say ee-ther and I say eye-ther… let’s call the whole thing on”)

    Could someone tell me where the author is from according to the rhyming he’s used?
    JfP

    February 4, 2012 at 3:55 pm
  • Connie James

    To have to communicate teaches us so much!

    February 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm
  • Richard

    Jose,

    The poem’s author was Dutch but it’s clear that his expectations are that the text should be read in an educated middle/upper class south-eastern English accent of the first decades of the 20th century. Some of the rhymes and scansions simply don’t work otherwise.

    One rhyme in the longer version of the poem especially stands out, where he expects the reader to rhyme cross with sauce – I can’t imagine anyone outside Royal circles could do that nowadays with a straight face without wincing.

    There are some rhymes which exclude vast numbers of people and require attention, such as rhyming chair with mayor, or four with Arkansas – no dialect/accent from further than 100 miles from Oxford would naturally manage that.

    The text also explictly states that parquet should “exactly rhyme” khaki – that may have been true 100 years ago but all educated Brits now pronounce the former as par-kay (as in okay without the O) rather than par-key (as in what you use to open a lock), and the latter word is no longer car-key but car-ki (VERY short i) and in natural modern educated speech the two words absolutely do not rhyme.

    Oh and I agree, French is not a great deal easier to learn to pronounce or to transcribe (I am a fan of the French televised annual Great Dictation in which even professional writers and Academicians rarely achieve a 100% score). And so a Frenchman would be used to picking up clues from context and experience about how to read dificult words – and given that the difficulty of many tricky English words lies in their French origins, a Frenchman may even have an advantage… (I am completely bilingual)

    February 7, 2012 at 5:49 am
  • Tony Mechelynck

    @José from Paris: The author was a Dutch teacher of English who lived before WWII. I suppose that he used the “Queen’s English” (or maybe “King’s English”) of his time.

    February 7, 2012 at 7:47 am
  • Mjka

    Richard (Feb 7th) I am from more than 100 miles north of Oxford and automatically rhyme four with Arkansas as did the rest of my family

    February 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm
  • Emily

    I am fourteen years old and I can pronounce every word there. Not all teenagers have no brains. Cheers!

    February 9, 2012 at 9:58 am
  • Jeanne

    To Jose from Paris: “bass” rhymes with “base” only if it’s not a fish :-)

    February 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm
  • Betty

    To Jeanne and Jose from Paris: “Bass rhymes with base only if it’s not a fish,”but bass rhymes with ass otherwise. LOL

    February 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm
  • Enter your name...Shakti

    I am Indian graduate. i could read aloud most of the words, except for the few i had not know before.
    It is true that English is hard to reach as there i s no standard rule, the reason being it spoken in different ways and has local influence on it.

    I dont think anyone cam claim one to be a correct pronounciation.
    I guess Indian languages like Sanskrit and Hindi are much easier to learn and right, as there is no ambigiity in reading, writing or grammer.

    February 16, 2012 at 12:33 am
  • Bryan

    Ah, we celebrate our English diversity!
    Firstly, Arkansas, my present home state and the home state of President William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton, is pronounced “Ar-kin-saw.”
    There are so many wonderful words we use and I actually prefer the British English spellings of words the likes of humour, defence, organisation, and colour, to name but a few.
    I was formerly a newscaster, or presenter as you Brits might say, and once a voracious reader; therefore, these pronunciations were not that difficult for me.
    Bryan

    February 26, 2012 at 3:11 am
  • JAMMIN

    Wow… This makes me proud of the fact I’m able to speak English as well as I do (which isn’t that great in the first place). Oh and props to anybody trying to learn it later in life.

    March 1, 2012 at 5:09 am
  • Emily

    Maybe I’m not hearing my own pronunciation correctly, but to me cross rhymes with sauce, and I’m certainly not from within Royal circles. I’m from the Midwestern US. But this is a fun activity nonetheless.

    March 5, 2012 at 4:07 pm
  • lea

    This is really nice. though english is not my mother tongue,i still got 95% correct All credit goes to my teachers…If any of them reading,
    Thankyou.
    Have started reading this aloud to my 6 year old son.
    He did have a lot of difficulty but i guess he’ll do good
    without his lisp!!

    March 10, 2012 at 2:07 pm
  • cristina

    ooo… I love it, had so much fun reading it. Good thing my phonetics teacher in university did not have us recite it for an exam though… it’s fun; and indeed, I guess this is the most difficult part of English: pronunciation, the rest grammar, lexicology is much easier than most languages…

    March 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm
  • Ken

    To be honest I will say it’s a good practice of English pronunciation, though the only problem here is you wouldn’t be able to pronounce all words correctly to the common ear, as some of the words here if the people have never come across them, they will definitely not say them correctly even you had to go back to basic sounding. All I can say it is a bit of a fun tongue twister. It’s like the word Bass(Bass) fish or Bass (Base) Guitar.

    But all in all there shouldn’t be any argument whether people “should” be able to pronounce all the words present, as then I could also say some people “should” be able to hold their thoughts about what people “should” be to do. English phonetics is made up of so many different variations that you wont be able to expect every person that could speak it to be able to read this clearly the first time round.

    - V. Ken Le

    March 15, 2012 at 6:55 am
  • Elizabeth

    Arkansas rhymes with four only if you has a British accent that makes you pronounce it as are-CAN-sore. Otherwise Americans (which I am one) pronounce it as are-CAN-saw, with the rare person pronouncing it as are-CAN-sass.

    March 27, 2012 at 5:47 pm
  • EDMUND BIRITWUM

    LOVE TO LERND HOW TO SPERK OOD ENGLISH I NEED A LOVE TO HELP OUT

    April 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm
  • Josephine Namugenyi

    I wish this could be made part of the interview before any teacher is allowed to offer English lessons in any school.
    (Dear colleagues, i almost lost my job because when i got this poem it really amused me and decided to share it with my workmates and some teachers in the neaby schools.This excercise took me almost 45 minutes out of office trying to distribute it). People gave excuse like: i was taught by a Canadian; others – i studied American english; others – it was only slip of a tongue, etc,etc). Thanks for this poem it is really a big lesson.

    April 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm
  • LB

    Youse are all w***kers, English as she’s spoke is very flexible. No one’s wrong, everyone’s right. It’s a living breathing thing that’s conquered the world

    April 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm
  • Pat

    I love English, spoken by an American, and English peron, an Australian, An Irish, Welsh, Scots or Cornishman, a dilaect in Boston or In Ox

    April 17, 2012 at 12:13 am
  • Ann

    Some of these words are pronounced differently in British English and American/Canadian English. Not to mention Indian Engish.

    I do love the ones ending in -ough.

    April 19, 2012 at 7:31 am
  • Alejandro

    Esperanto is the solution for the world! An easy to learn, non national language made up for being international and keep language diversity.

    2 years would be enough to master it. The other years in school can be used to learn any other language (also “dialects”, why not?).

    I still waste a lot of time learning English, and I can’t master it. Esperanto the better 2nd language to learn, as you learn faster other languages if you have already learned this one. The time used to learn Esperanto, is quickly saved after 2 years of learning another language

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaedeutic_value_of_Esperanto

    April 24, 2012 at 5:40 pm
  • Lord Lucan

    Can someone please explain why is it now the fashion to pronouce the word “Sixth” as something sounding like the word “Sick”? If this is the trend we may as well just give up on the English language and just make our own words up and hope that someone will understand us. English is a beautiful language so why is it being bastardised to “appear” trendy?

    April 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm
  • Rob Higgin

    Ahhh that I should be hung, for the cold-blooded slaughter of the English tongue. Or should the fifth “h” be replaced with “s”, the first “the” and the second “s” dropped, and “of the” replaced with “at”.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:34 am
  • Rob Higgin

    The trouble and joy of the English tongue is to turn a phrase; inside out or front to back. From singular origins had it come, such pleasures we might not have had . Humour, therefore, please prevail for in spite of loyal, royal prudery, ours is but a glorious, uproarious mongrel.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:54 am
  • Lara

    I don’t think it’s really an exaggeration to say that native speakers would have trouble pronouncing this when reciting it, unless it’s done VERY slowly. It’s like a giant tongue-twister!

    May 10, 2012 at 5:50 am
  • Molly

    It’s a fun poem, but I do reckon pronunciation will shift slightly by region, even among “exemplary” English speakers.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:25 am
  • Chip

    I saw someone ask how many teenagers would correctly recite this poem. I in fact am 18 and I was shown this poem by my friend while waiting for our food while at a restaurant, found via stumbleupon, and I was able to pronounce all but approximately 5 words. I did that all while speaking as I read the word so while not blazing speed it was most certainly not slow. Some words may have varying pronunciation due to region, i.e. here in Mass. we pronounce Aunt as awnt instead of ant. Needless to say my friends were amazed.

    May 11, 2012 at 3:00 am