Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
Aubrey Carter
"3 Keys IELTS Certified Coach"

English pronunciation can be extremely confusing!

Are you confused by the pronunciation of the word ‘colonel?’

If so, you’re in good company!

In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to pronounce three confusing and unintuitive words.

Listen in to get insight into words that even native English speakers find confusing.

Confusing English words

Aubrey asks Lindsay if there were there any words that confused her as a kid.

Lindsay says the pronunciation of the word ‘island’ threw her off.

When she was a kid, her favorite book was “The Island of the Blue Dolphins.”

For the longest time, she pronounced the ‘s’ in the word ‘island’ and it took her a while to realize the ‘s’ was silent.

Lindsay continues to share that she also got confused by the word ‘colonel.’

She would pronounce it as it is spelled but it is pronounced like ‘kernel.’

There is no ‘r’ in the word ‘colonel’ but we pronounce in in English as though there is an ‘r.’

Aubrey agrees that these words can be very confusing.

Today’s episode was inspired by a student who wanted to clarify words that have tricky pronunciation.

Here is the question from Jeff Wu, a management consultant in Japan:

One other word I struggle with is “colonel”. There is no “r” in the spelling of “colonel,” but it is pronounced with an “r” sound. Why is that? I searched it on Merriam-Webster, in which I found the origin of the word is an alteration of coronel, from Middle French. But that does not explain why people still pronounce the “r” even after the English spelling is adapted without the “r”? Any ideas why? And from a native perspective, do you feel weird about it?

Aubrey and Lindsay both agree that it does feel strange to pronounce ‘colonel’ so differently from how it is written.

You can visit a similar episode about pronunciation which is AEE 1864: When Can You Choose Your Pronunciation in English?

In that episode, the All Ears English team talk about words with multiple correct pronunciations like ‘realtor’ and ‘pecan.’

Easily mispronounced words

There are many English words that can be confusing to pronounce even for native English speakers.

Lindsay and Aubrey are going to share some words that you can be on the lookout for.

Even native speakers get confused by these.

#1: Colonel

The definition of this is a military officer who ranks above a major.

The French took this word from the Italian word ‘colonnello’ which came from the word for ‘column.’

It refers to the leader of a column of soldiers.

The French altered the spelling and made it ‘coronel.’

Then the word came to the English language, brought by the French in the mid-1500s.

By the mid-1600s, the spelling was changed in French to ‘colonel.’

The French changed the pronunciation, but in English the original pronunciation was kept with the ‘r’ sound.

The word ‘coronel’ is pronounced in English the same as ‘kernel.’

#2: Kernel

‘Kernel’ is an entirely different word that means the inner seed of something.

A lot of plants have kernels but it is more popularly used to refer to unpopped popcorn.

You may also hear ‘kernel of truth.’

This is an idiom that means there is a little bit of truth in something.

An example is “I see there may be a kernel of truth to what you are saying.”

We often use this in the negative and say, “There’s not even a kernel of truth to that!”

#2: Cupboard

The word ‘cupboard’ is pronounced as ‘cub-burd.’

Just like ‘colonel’, the spelling and pronunciation doesn’t match at all.

‘Cupboard’ originall was a “cup board.”

It referred to a board or table on which cups can be stored.

Its origin is the Middle Ages, and the “p” and “b” of the spelling have long since merged in pronunciation.

It is now usually a shelf with closing doors where dishes are kept.

Here are some examples:

  • Put the dishes in the cupboard, please.
  • Can you get the plates from the cupboard?

#3: Draught

This is often pronounced as ‘draft’ in American English.

Draught or draft has its origins in the Old English ‘dragan,’ which means to drag, draw or pull.

Draught or draft is the past participle of ‘drawn’.

It can also mean air or wind that is coming from outside and entering a house or a closed area.

The ‘gh’ is a digraph that was originally pronounced in German ‘-ach’ or Scottish ‘-loch’, which transitioned to ‘f’ in Middle English.

American English usually spells these as ‘draft’ or the adjective ‘drafty.’

Here are some examples:

  • He prefers draught beer.
  • Can you close the window? There’s a draught.


Aubrey and Lindsay show you in a roleplay how these confusing words are used in conversation.

In this scenario, Aubrey and Lindsay are at a conference and are talking about a keynote speaker.

Aubrey: Did you hear that the keynote speaker is a colonel in the military?
Lindsay: Yes, and I heard he has a terrible reputation. There might not be a kernel of truth in anything he says.
Aubrey: Crazy! I wish they’d close the window. There’s a terrible draft!


Pronunciation can be tricky in English even for native speakers.

Today’s tips can help you avoid common pronunciation errors.

You can definitely brush up on several words in English and bring your pronunciation to a higher level.

Keep practicing to improve your English speaking skills.

What other English words do you find confusing to pronounce?

Share it in the comment below.

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