Sherbet 4x3Flickr/Ruth Hartnup/Business Insider

The English language is hard. But sometimes people just flat out mispronounce words. 

Take a look, for example, at the 11 words below. We bolded the emphasized syllable and included links for audio (click the word to listen).

While some words have multiple acceptable pronunciations, the audio links include the standard pronunciation.

The true pronunciations might surprise you.

1. comptroller

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(noun): a person in charge of the financial accounts of a company or organization

The standard pronunciation is the same as “controller.”

This word began as a variant of “controller,” with influence from an unrelated French word, “compte,” meaning “an account.”

2. kibosh

(noun): something that serves as a check or stop; “put the kibosh on that”

The standard pronunciation is “ky-bosh,” not “kih-bosh.”

Charles Dickens’ “Sketches by Boz” gave us the first written example in 1836. He spelled the word, possibly phonetically, as “kye-bosk.”

3. sherbet

(noun): a frozen sweet dessert made from fruit or fruit juices

Many say “sher-bert,” though there’s no second “r” — not even a silent one. It’s not to be confused with “sorbet” (sor-bay), which contains no milk. Sherbet does.

4. mischievous

(adjective): showing a playful desire to cause trouble

The standard pronunciation is “mis-chiv-us,” not “mis-chee-vee-us.”

This mispronunciation also lends itself to spelling errors. When people add the extra syllable, they often add an “i” and incorrectly write “mischievious.”

5. prestigious


(adjective): having prestige, honored

The preferred pronunciation is “pre-sti-jus,” not “pre-stee-jus.”

6. banal

(adjective): boring or ordinary, not interesting

Standard pronunciation is “buh-nal,” not “bay-nul.”

7. peremptory

(adjective): used to describe a command you must obey without question or excuse

It’s pronounced “pe-remp-tory,” not “pre-emp-tory.”

When people pronounce “peremptory” as “preemptory,” they’re probably mistaking it for another adjective entirely: “preemptive,” which means “done to stop an unwanted act from another group from happening.” 

8. Realtor

(noun): used for a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors

It’s pronounced “real-ter,” not “real-a-tor.”

Latin links “real” and “estate” together, but Realtor was created, capitalized, and trademarked to describe brokers who are members of the national association, according to Robert Willson, an English professor turned real estate agent.

Willson speculates that the mispronunciation comes from metathesis, or transposing certain letters within words. Saying “aks” for “ask” is another common example.

9. cache

(noun): a hiding place; a part of a computer’s memory where information is kept

It’s pronounced exactly the same as “cash.” 

Some confuse “cache” with “cachet” (“cash-ay“), which means “carrying great prestige.”

10. supposedly

(adverb): claimed to be true or real

This mispronunciation involves two words: “supposedly” and “supposably.”

The first is usually the one most people want to use, while the second means “capable of being supposed.” It’s a slight distinction but an important one.

11. triathlon

(noun): an athletic contest that is a long-distance race consisting of three phases (such as swimming, bicycling, and running)

Most people add an extra syllable to this word. It is pronounced “tri-ath-lon” not “tri-ath-a-lon.”

12. niche

(noun): a job, activity, etc., that is suitable for someone

There are three acceptable pronunciations here: “nich,” “neesh,” and “nish.” 

English borrows the word from French, in which the correct pronunciation is “neesh.” Over time, we’ve Americanized the word to sound like “nich,” now considered the preferred pronunciation.

Some dictionaries, such as Merriam-Webster, even list the third pronunciation.

Christina Sterbenz contributed to a previous version of this story.

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