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


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968 Responses

  • Richard

    Sorry Alejandro Esperanto is dead in the water.

    Its main problem is that it’s an artificial language and thus has no “native” speakers. It is only ever a second language and so learning it has to be a deliberate effort for ALL speakers – apart from die-hard fanatics nobody uses it conversationally, and very few people use it fluently.

    For better or worse, English has become the internatioinal language of communciation, partly because of American dominance of popiular media, but also because it’s the language of computing and programming.

    We’re very nearly at a position where regardless of field of expertise, a lack of fairly advanced English comprehension will limit professional horizons. It’s the language of science, of engineering, of architecture, of most things. Arguably French and Italian are more dominant in cooking and design, German and French in philosdophy and metaphysics, but almost all international technical journals are published in English.

    More than probably any other language, English has an amazing ability to assimilate words and concepts from other langauges without sounding “foreign” (being an inherently mongrel language and with no body tryiung to maintain its “purity”). It also has the ability unlike most other languages of being adequately comprehensible without the benefit of anything approaching correct grammar – or even, dare I say it – spelling. And certainly, as prioved by different readings of this poem, with all kinds of different pronunications!

    Despite your statement that your English was limited, you put your point across well and correctly, thus proving my point ;)

    May 12, 2012 at 10:39 pm
  • Megan

    How can English always be a second language if some people speak nothing else?

    May 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm
  • Richard

    Errr… I was talking about Esperanto being exclusively a second langauge, Megan. (Clue in the first sentence) …

    May 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm
  • Kai Wolter

    This is stupid. Way too easy. If you screw this up, even though it is poorly written, yes you are a an idiot.

    May 19, 2012 at 3:45 am
  • haha

    Errr… Richard is quite the pretentious dick. (Clue being his attitude)…

    May 19, 2012 at 4:36 am
  • A_D

    “Yes you are a an idiot.” Thank you Kai Wolter…

    May 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm
  • err

    actually, some people have esperanto as their first language.
    see, some fanatics have children.
    and teach their children esperanto.
    so yeah.

    May 27, 2012 at 3:35 am
  • David

    This is England’s revenge for being conquered so often as the language was taking shape. If you can figure out from which conquering nation the word originated, then the pronunciation is easy.

    May 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm
  • Tony Mechelynck

    Contrary to Richard’s prejudices (and as has already been said), yes, there are (a few) people using Esperanto as a first language. In addition, whenever two people of different native languages meet, if they have Esperanto in common, that’s what they’ll use conversationally, not from some “diehard fanaticism” but just because that’s how they will best understand Each other. The only exception is if there is an important reason for using some other, more difficult, language, such as the need (or the desire) to be understood by some non-Esperanto-speaking third person.

    June 2, 2012 at 6:32 am
  • Max Normal

    Richard, are you sure that English is the global language because of Americas domination of the popular media? Not because (for better or for worse) Britain had the largest empire in the history of the World, including (until the War of Independence) much of North America? Nor to mention India, nor in the Southern Hemisphere with the establishment of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, or in the Far East until even quite recently governing Hong Kong? It’s all because of the global syndication of Seinfeld and Friends? You of course forgot to mention Britain promoting Black popular music (played by both Black and White musicians), while much of the USA still believed in apartheid, thus leading to Americas success in pop music (while Britain, per capita dominated rock more than any country in the World). Britain is a small and unimportant country nowadays, but maybe you just give yourself and your country a little too much credit?

    June 11, 2012 at 11:15 pm
  • Tony Mechelynck

    @Max Normal:
    Believe it or not, until WWII the “global” language was not English but French. It was the language of diplomacy and of the League of Nations, and it still is the language of the Universal Postal Union. However, without both Britain and the USA (and Churchill and Roosevelt) the war might have ended quite differently. During the Cold War that ensued, English was the language of the West, but the language of Eastern Europe was Russian. German played a modest role as bridge language in countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and even Hungary, for people who wanted to keep contact with the West without overtly being “politically incorrect” in their own countries. Then the Iron Curtain fell.
    The role of Silicon Valley and of the Internet is also far from negligible in the rise of the English language to hegemony. Then India (where English was still being used long after the departure of the colonial power) saw a rise in economic power, but that is relatively recent. AFAIK, the colonies of France and Belgium, though quite extensive, didn’t see a similar economic rise. Brasil might be comparable to India, but Portugal, Angola and Mozambique are negligible compared to the UK and the US.
    So the rise of the English language as a kind of lingua franca of the civilised world (in spite of its many difficulties, in spelling and pronunciation among others, making it it rather ill-fitting for the role) happened long after the demise of Queen Victoria’s world empire.

    June 13, 2012 at 4:56 am
  • jazbar

    English has always been Esperanto. English shares so many words and constructions with French, Spanish, Greek, even Latin (Italian).
    This is why Western culture has moved across the globe – immigrants to America, Caribbean, Australia and Canada all shared the language.
    Language is everything. Homo Sapiens are the most sociable of all species. English the most poetic of all languages. It’s about vocabulary.

    June 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm
  • Tony Mechelynck

    English has always borrowed words from everywhere; but it has never been Esperanto in the sense that its many irregularities (strong verbs, strong plurals, no obvious correspondence between the spoken and written forms, and its enormous number of idiomatic expressions, all the way to a so-called rhyming slang where the rhyming part is omitted) make it a headbreaker to learn.

    Vocabulary is only the most superficial layer of a language: all the Romance words which entered English in the wake of William the Conqueror’s armies didn’t make it one bit less a Germanic language.

    June 15, 2012 at 12:45 am
  • Doris Ganser

    This was used at the U. Mainz Institute of Applied Linguistics in a pronunciation exercise class, and we better did not get more than one wrong (the famous Medical Dictionary Bunjes taught the class.) Never knew the author, I remember it being distributed on hard-to-read stencil-copied half-faded mauve-colored print sheets, and I dreaded the class. Memories are made of this, too.

    June 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm
  • Antoine Trépanier

    Has anyone have a recording of this being read aloud? I think I did rather okay, English being my second language, but I’d love to verify.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:35 am
  • Willow

    AAAAAMEN! Whew! This one was a killer and almost tripped me up a few times, but I did it! One goal in life is to memorize and recite this poem one day.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:56 am
  • DaeDaLuS

    “English has become the internatioinal language of communciation, partly because of American dominance of popiular media, but also because it’s the language of computing and programming.”

    Nothing to do with the empire the British had then? No? Okay.

    June 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm
  • Alexander

    Well, Tony, contrary to your prejudices, English is by far the most suitable world language. Its grammar and pronunciation are relatively easy, at least compared to German or French. Good English is of course difficult, and perfect idiomatic one is nearly impossible, but the basics are quite easy and the pronunciation of most words allows for a wide variety of foreign accents without becoming unintelligible.

    As for Esperanto, this is simply idiotic. Why invent a new language – and yes, it’s a dead language by definition – when you a wonderful ready-made one like English? It’s obvious to me that it makes no sense. Furthermore, learning English opens the gates to a simply stupendous world of literature: from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams and from Jane Austen to Somerset Maugham. And beyond.

    July 3, 2012 at 3:38 am
  • Magnus

    I’m just wondering why no one ever wanted Norwegians as world language, I blame Standford bridge 1066 and the black death

    July 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm
  • Exitus

    And once again, the comment section is full of pretentiousness.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm
  • Bummder


    July 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm
  • Norvanne

    That was fun. Now… if you want a real test, have someone recite this, then ask people to SPELL it correctly.

    July 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm
  • Al

    Can’t believe I’m even getting involved with this, BUT ESPERANTO? REALLY?

    I’m a moderately well-travelled, relatively clever, university-educated man of the world BUT I’ve never, EVER met anybody – ANYBODY – who speaks f***ing Esper-f***ing-anto!

    I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve found myself in the company of a stranger, trying to find a common language. NEVER ONCE HAS ANYONE EVER SAID “Esperanto?”

    August 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm
  • james

    whale eye a mused my shelf four thee moe mint.

    August 11, 2012 at 7:02 am
  • Connie S

    He forgot a couple of my favorites, breathe and breath, bathe and bath! Who know why, or what that hath?

    August 12, 2012 at 3:12 am
  • Mary

    “Hiccup” is spelt “hiccough”?

    August 12, 2012 at 11:49 pm
  • Surminga

    Amazing, but that took some time, had to read it slowly

    August 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm
  • Chris

    I actually really enjoyed reading through this. Rhyming words and putting the specific emphasis on the pronunciation of each word.

    August 25, 2012 at 3:56 pm
  • Henric

    English spelling and pronunciation are fully separated phenomena, nowadays. There is hardly any rule viable. Very very difficult to learn for others ( p.e. 1,3 billion Chinese !)
    Hardly anyone speaks Esperanto. True. That does’t say that this constructed language is not a good idea. Of course Esperanto -like any language- would immediately become a living language when it was spoken broadly.
    The total grammar fits is one page A4. What a tremendous efficiency would be generated if the world would have accepted Esperanto as an second ‘working’ world language. Imagine : 1,3 Chinese learn a common -working- language on a well functioning level, in a comprehensible pronunciation in six moths. Besides that, the advantage of native english speaking people would then be neutralized. All have the same (dis)advantage and have to go through the same path of learning. Quite a level playing field in the world.
    But…. we know : we didin’t do it…. unfortunately.

    August 25, 2012 at 8:40 pm
  • sam da man

    as for why english is dominant, i wouldnt say its either American pop culture or the british Empire, it all goes back to money and economics. What’s the biggest market to SELL stuff? The american market. Combined with the British, Australian, South African, and Canadian markets, its simply the largest economic market in the world, so the business language becomes the international language. Italian is certainly the most beautiful, but the majority of people learn a language for its practicality, simple as that.

    August 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm
  • bryan merrick

    love this site 100%

    August 28, 2012 at 10:01 pm
  • bryan merrick

    I came from Glasgow which in reality is Scotlands capitol mainly we have more call-centres as the Scot’s accent is very clear and conciece,if i was to say certain slang words you would be completly lost hence why English folks a hundred miles away dont know what im saying even in 50 miles away we dont know how people in Edinburgh even speak normally like slang words they use.
    But it is all over the country as i have noticed on many ,many occations like a Leeds accent and a bradford accent are so different and many more places but this is a fine break-down of how things are pronounced and pronuntiation can be easily used as just common everyday words……cheers.

    August 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm
  • bryan merrick

    so me and ma mad mental palz awe went doon the boozers fur a swally and whit a riot cos we all just hid a right good auld time as they say…….it’s a braw bright moonlight night the night……there’s a moose loose aboot this hoose……

    August 28, 2012 at 10:12 pm
  • Harry

    David, I presume you are a red-neck American because, while our country was taking shape, we conquered your country- along with Spain and France (and with some Portuguese in places). Also, since 1066, we have not been conquered by any country. In 1066, your country did not exist to anyone in the world except for the Indians that ruled.
    Most of our (English nationals) words and phrase are taken from Latin, the main language used before English was established. Yes, a few of our words have been “taken” from other languages (French, German, Spanish etc.), but most words that are used by these languages were taken from us.
    Finally, I would like to remind you that, without us, you would either be speaking French, or, your native Indian.
    So, David, please, shut your big fat mouth and keep your worthless opinions to yourself.
    Otherwise, this poem is easy to recite. Norvanne, good point, I believe there would be many spelling errors if one was asked to spell the entire poem.

    August 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm
  • Giles Hudson

    yeah magnus, tell me all about “standford” bridge, 1066…

    August 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm
  • Pamela Ford Nee Herron

    I read this and got fed up of it 6 sentences in. I am English and to be honest what doe’s being English mean? , there are very few English people around we are a mixed nation I defy anyone to look up their heritage and find pure blood, hell even the Royal family are not pure. The English, Welsh, Italian, French and Spanish are based on the latin language yet hardly any of us speak this anymore. I find though people want to speak UK english and not American english. The kids come out with some expressions I have to ask them what they are talking about ;-) Take care everyone have a nice week-end.

    August 30, 2012 at 8:37 pm
  • the1

    hi richard.
    there are native speakers of esperanto officially now, albeit it a very small number.
    this is part of the reason why esperanto is slowly evolving away from its strict rules.
    no language, natural or constructed, when spoken by native speakers will be able to remain unchanged, and this is the bane of a constructed language creator.

    August 31, 2012 at 4:07 pm
  • James Smith

    This should be very easy for many Americans. The people from the UK would have a little more difficulty as it was clearly written with American spelling and word usage.

    September 6, 2012 at 11:57 pm
  • sgw

    This is not even a correct version of the poem! It’s missing parts!

    September 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm
  • Demetris

    The most popular theory for why English is such a grammatical mess is that for hundreds of years it was the language of the peasants, during a time when the official languages among the aristocracy in England were Latin and French. For this reason it was not policed, and evolved into the richest language we have.

    September 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm
  • budding linguist

    Bring back proper English grammar lessons to schools in the UK and our offspring might have a fighting chance of both appreciating and learning other languages. If we were taught the structure of our own language we could learn another more easily.

    September 22, 2012 at 2:49 am
  • John McCormick

    We must keep in mind that the official language in England was French until 1732 and the first attempt to change this was in 1362.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:19 am
  • bill

    I read the poem.
    It looked OK,and I had no problems.
    I did have a good English teacher at school., BUT that was 60 years ago.

    September 27, 2012 at 3:42 pm
  • Metaman

    Harry, you need not be so defensive about David’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek humour. If you would read Bill Bryson, he would take you through a fairly interesting tour of the English language. A variety of sources have indicated that a significant part of the roots of the English language arrive by conquest, the larger proportion arriving with the Vikings and the French (French also being a Romance language), overlaying Anglo-Saxon, Roman and Celtic influences. That’s why the language is so rich and rife with synonyms.

    October 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm
  • Wolniq

    Hey its pretty easy …. i didn’t found anything hard while reading the above sentences or the poem… its quite easy for me …… :-)

    October 4, 2012 at 7:39 pm
  • Phil

    Who on earth wrote that this was based on American spelling, bloody idiot! This is the English we know and love here in blighty, and suggest you Yanks learn it!

    October 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm
  • 7LeagueBoots

    Funny how folks here keep banging on about European languages as models for a international language.

    Why not Indonesian? No tense, no conjugation, no genders, straightforward grammar with no irregular parts of speech.

    Mandarin shares this simplicity, although the writing and high number of homonyms makes it difficult for many to learn and remember.

    Why not Swahili?

    English is only the common language right now due to an accident of history, not because it is any better than other languages, and certainly not because it is more simple or easier to pronounce than any other language (unless you are a native speaker with a skewed perspective because of that).

    Esperanto was doomed to fail from the beginning, it was based primarily off of the Romance language family and suffers from some of the unnecessary grammatical complications those languages have, and being so European in focus ignored most of the rest of the world’s population.

    Eventually the common language will shift once more, as it has numerous times in the past.

    When it does so, if I could have a vote, I’d choose something like Indonesian… which is itself a partially constructed language as it is an amalgamation of the numerous local dialects in the archipelago.

    October 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm
  • zora

    “Eventually the common language will shift once more, as it has numerous times in the past.

    When it does so, if I could have a vote, I’d choose something like Indonesian…”

    I don’t think the point of a common language is for it to be easy to learn as much as for it to be able to accommodate expressing the diversity of the different people using that language (both in terms of cultural differences and professional differences). And, yes, right now English is pretty good in that respect not because of some inherent linguistic quality, but because it keeps expanding, it keeps adding new words and expressions to try and keep up with the expansion of knowledge in the world. As such, I wouldn’t be quick to exchange it for any other – no matter how much simpler or grammatically better ordered – language.

    English allows me to talk about pizzas and burqas and haploids and zygotes and data converters and aspect mining and overheads and balance sheets – it has such a wide and ever expanding scope.

    The problem is that most schools the world over still try to teach children an ordinary everyday English as spoken in Kent or Leeds or somewhere – and no one really needs that. Talk about breakfast and hobbies in your own damned language and keep English for where it can actually be useful: software development, engineering, commerce, that sort of stuff.

    November 8, 2012 at 11:57 am
  • Frank

    English culture was beaten into primordial slop by William the Conqueror and his Norman cohorts, that would later become the English Civil War. When the UK decided it hadn’t had enough of licking French boots, they reinstated Parliament, kicked Oliver Cromwell out, and everyone who felt the way he did pissed off to America, to fight that war again in 1776. 1066 shattered English culture, and made it something decidedly less impressive, and wholly more British.

    November 16, 2012 at 8:02 am
  • Connor

    Well, as Frank has said about English culture. Technically tracing it back, there weren’t any native English. Before the Normans we were Germans and Vikings.

    But, I guess we built up a culture. Then the Scots and the Welsh. But Wales was but only a province then. But the English Language is forever changing. Modern English, as the millions of English speakers and I talk in is only around 200 years old.

    Then those bloody Yanks changed it, then of course. Accents and local words have changed it. I live in Northern Ireland. Yes, that blasted hell hole. For some, Window now sounds like Windy, Shed sounds like shade.

    But, as said before. The English Language is built off other languages. Largely German. Anyone learning basic German who is English or vice versa can see a relationship between two languages. Plus the British Empire spread our language, well, kind of. India was largely ruled by company’s and Indian Princes who were more like governors once the British came. I’m sure all over the world there are made up languages based off English. Micronations being a large part. Not that more then 2 people will ever use it. Then Slang has donated to our language.

    December 27, 2012 at 2:05 am