How Do You Say These 13 Common Words?

woman listeningCommunication isn’t just about writing; it’s about eye contact, gestures — and of course speaking — and listening. As a ruthless editor, I pay attention to what people say as well as what they write.

Test yourself on these 13 common words. Are you saying them right? (In some cases, there is more than one accepted pronunciation.)

  1. asterisk | AS-ter-isk, not AS-ter-ik
    (a symbol that often marks omitted content)
    This is an asterisk.*
  2. espresso | es-PRESS-o, not ex-PRESS-o
    (concentrated form of coffee)
    May I buy you an espresso?
  3. forte | FORT, not for-TAY
    (strength or strong point) 
    Baking is not my forte.
    (but: forte / for-TAY is a musical term)
  4. hyperbole hy-PER-buh-lee, not hy-PER-bow-lee
    (exaggerated statements)
    Will election season hyperbole end soon?
  5. Ku Klux Klan | KU, not KLU Klux Klan
    (hate group)
    My state has no active Ku Klux Klan.
  6. mischievous MIS-chuh-vuhs, not mis-CHEE-vee-us
    (causing trouble in a playful way)
    His mischievous behavior didn’t offend anyone.
  7. niche | NEESH or NITCH
    (suitable place or position)
    She found her niche in the advertising field.
  8. pronunciation pro-NUN-see-ay-shun, not pro-NOWN-see-ay-shun
    (how to pronounce something)
    He practices pronunciation every day.
  9. Realtor | REAL-tor, not REE-la-tor (a trademark, so capitalize)
    (real-estate agent affiliated with National Association of Realtors)
    She sells more houses than any other Realtor in town.
  10. sherbet | SHUR-bet, not SHUR-bert
    (a frozen concoction made of fruit juice)
    Lemon sherbet is a perfect summertime dessert.
  11. supposedly | su-POS-ed-lee, not su-POSE-a-blee
    (generally assumed or believed)
    They supposedly got engaged last week.
  12. tenet | TEN-it, not TEN-unt
    (a principle or belief)
    Free enterprise is a tenet of capitalism.
    (but: tenant  /  TEN-unt, a person who occupies rental property)
  13. utmost | UT-most, not UP-most
    (of the greatest or highest degree)
    He tried his utmost to convince her to marry him.
    (but: uppermost / upmost: situated at the top, highest)

Mispronouncing words could portray you as someone who doesn’t pay attention to detail — or who doesn’t know any better. Getting the details of language right indicates that you’re likely to pay attention to other details in the workplace and in life.

For tips on words, punctuation, fads, and what is considered standard English usage of the day, sign up (top right corner of this page) to receive my Free Tips from a Ruthless Editor. They’ll hit your inbox monthly, along with links to my latest blog topics.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “How Do You Say These 13 Common Words?

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Geri, none of us is — and I join you in that category. I’ve messed up on at least a few of these — especially saying for-TAY when I should not have pronounced the AY. It takes practice to change ingrained habits.

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