Things Americans Say Wrong

This is a list of my personal pet peeves regarding people’s pronunciation of certain phrases here in the States. Note that this is not making fun of regional accents or speech impediments. Instead, these are true misunderstandings of what each phrase is supposed to be.

a whole other… Not “a whole ‘nother…”
abercrombie Not “ambercrombie”
across Not “acrost” or “acrossed”
addictive Not “addicting,” when used as an adjective.
all I did was… Not “all’s I did was…”
all of a sudden… Not “all of the sudden…”
alumni This is often mistaken as the singular form of itself. The correct form is alumnus for singular masculine, alumna for singular feminine, alumnae for plural feminine, and alumni for masculine or generic plural.
Alzheimer’s disease (ALTS-heim-ers) Not “old-timer’s disease”
Antarctica Not “Antartica”
anticlimactic Not “anticlimatic”
anyway Not “anyways”
as best as you can Not “as best you can” (pronoun may vary). Even more appropriate would be “as well as you can.”
as long as Not “so long as”
as opposed to Not “as oppose to.” This one is fairly subtle, since even in the correct pronunciation, the “d” is almost inaudible. However, many people do indeed consciously and audibly omit the “d.”
ask Not “axe.”
asterisk (AS-te-risk) Not “asterix” (AS-te-riks). This error is made frequently by low-ranking office employees or people who are beginning to learn computer terminology.
based on Not “based off of”
beck and call Not “beckon call”
better than the last Sometimes, to express pleasure toward something, someone might incorrectly say, “every day is better than the next,” or “every bite is tastier than the next,” and so on. If you think about this carefully, you’ll realize that these are actually negative statements. When a person says, “every day is better than the next,” it is equivalent to saying, “every day is worse than the previous.” The person is essentially implying that every day since the beginning has been getting progressively worse. The correct phrase, therefore, should be, “every day is better than the last.”
biceps Not “bicep.” The singular of biceps is still biceps.
boisterous Not “voice-terous”
bystander Not “by-standard”
calculate Not “caculate.”
cavalry Not “calvary.” Of course, if you’re referring to the place outside of Jerusalem, then you’re fine.
card sharp Not “card shark.” A reader contributes: “When someone is good at shooting pool or playing cards, they are sharp. Therefore, they are a ‘pool sharp’ or a ‘card sharp.’ They are not sharks as in ‘pool sharks’ or ‘card sharks.’”
chipotle (chi-POT-lay) Everyone seems to have their own pronunciation of this word. Most commonly, however, people mispronounce it by saying “chipolte” (chi-POL-tay), or “chipote” (chi-PO-tay), omitting the “l” altogether, or even “chipottle” (rhymes with “bottle”). The word itself has its origins in the Aztec language Nahuatl, where the “tl” sound was very common. It is derived from the words chil (chile), and pochilli (to smoke).
comeuppance Not “comeuppins”
couldn’t care less Not “could care less.” When you think about it, to say “I could care less” really means that you actually do care about something, and it’s possible for you to care less about it. It is more appropriate to say “I couldn’t care less” to indicate that you have reached the rock bottom of carelessness about something.
Darth Vader Not “Dark Vader”! Yes, I’ve seriously heard people say that!
data The word data is plural. Therefore it is inappropriate to use a phrase like “this data.” It is more appropriate to say “these data.” The singular form of the word is datum.
daylight saving time Not “daylight savings time”
drivel Not “dribble.” Dribble is what one does with a basketball. Drivel is childish or nonsensical language.
drowned Not “drownded”
enormity The word enormity refers to excessive evil or wickedness. It does not, however, refer to general excessive size. For that, the preferred term would be enormousness.
espresso Not “expresso.” I mean, come on.
et cetera Not “exetera.” Commonly abbreviated “etc.,” this is literally the Latin words et, meaning “and,” and cetera, meaning “the rest.” When spelled out, this is two words, not one.
exact revenge Not “extract revenge.”
fateful day Not “faithful day”
founder Not “flounder.” Founder is what a ship does when it collides with something and sinks in the water. Flounder is a kind of fish.
for all intents and purposes Not “for all intensive purposes”
hair’s breadth Some believe that this metaphor is actually “hare’s breath.”
heart-rending Not “heart-rendering”
height Not “heighth”
hertz This applies to the singular form of the unit, which is still hertz. Some people mistakenly say, “1 hert.”
horseradish Not “horsh-radish”
I’d just as soon… Not “I’d just assume…” An example phrase might be, “I’d just as soon not go to the park today.”
I’m not sure Not “I’m not for sure”
I’ve seen Not “I seen”
in other words Not “another words”
infinitesimal Not “infintesimal”
instant messaging Not “instant messenging”
integral Not “intregal”
inverse square law Not “invert square law”
jewelry Not “jewlery”
jury rig Not “jerry rig”
kielbasa (kil-BA-sa) For some reason, this is commonly mispronounced “kielbasi” (kil-BA-see)
lackadaisical Not “laxadaisical”
laundromat Not “laundrymat”
let it be Not “leave it be”
library Not “libery”
lie / lay These two are a constant source of confusion. Here are some correct uses of the words, so pay close attention: Lie down, Sally. Are you lying down? I lay there when Frank entered the room. I had lain there all morning. Lay those papers on my desk. You laid down the precious jewels with care. Our hens had laid many eggs that week. One of them is laying an egg right now.
literature Not “litature”
mano a mano In Spanish, this literally means “hand to hand.” However, many Americans incorrectly pronounce it as “mano y mano,” which would mean “hand and hand.”
mayonnaise Not “man-aise”
memento Not “momento”
menstruation Not “menstration”
mischievous (MIS-chee-vus) Not “mischievious” (mis-CHEE-vee-us).
moot point Not “mute point”
myrrh / mirth Myrrh is an aromatic gift brought by the Three Kings for Jesus from the Christian folk myth. Mirth means amusement, as expressed in laughter.
nauseated Not “nauseous.” A reader contributes: “Too often I hear people who are sick to their stomach say “I am nauseous” rather than “I am nauseated.” Saying “I am nauseous” means that I cause OTHERS to feel sick to THEIR stomachs.”
nuclear (NEW-clee-ar) Often disgustingly mispronounced as “nucular” (NOO-kyoo-lar). I still cringe when remembering George W. Bush say “nucular” in his speeches.
nunchucks Not “numchucks.” A reader contributes: “Nunchaku is technically correct. However in English usage it is acceptable to use nunchucks, but not in Martial Arts usage or Japanese.”
off Not “off of,” as in “get off me” or “peel the sticker off the box.”
olfactory Not “old factory”
on one hand… Not “on the one hand…”
one and the same Not “one in the same”
orangutan Not “orangutang”
parenthesis One of these “(” is a parenthesis (as opposed to parentheses, which is plural)
phenomenon The word phenomena is plural. Therefore it is inappropriate to use phenomena when speaking of a single phenomenon.
picture Not “pi’ture”
pieces and parts Not “pieces parts.” For some reason, this is catching on at an alarming rate.
powers that be Not “powers to be”
prescription Not “perscription”
pronunciation Not “pronounciation”
realty/realtor Not “real-a-ty” / “real-a-tor”
regardless Not “irregardless”
relevant Not “revelant”
repercussions Not “reprocussions”
rhombus Not “rhumbus”
sacrilegious Not “sacreligious.” It has nothing to do with “religion.”
sherbet Not “sherbert”
sidetracked Not “sidetracted”
statute of limitations Not “statue of limitations.” To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “Fine, it’s a sculpture of limitations!”
strength Not “strenth”
supposedly Not “supposably”
take for granted Not “take for granite”
that’s not fair Not “that’s no fair”
touch base with… Not “touch bases with…”
triathlon Not “triathalon.” Also applies to biathlon, tetrathlon, pentathlon, etc. Even the word athlete is sometimes mispronounced “ath-a-lete.”
utmost Not “upmost”
verbiage Not “verbage”
vertebra The word vertebrae is plural and should not be used as the singular.
vice versa Not “vice-a-versa.”
voluptuous Not “volumptuous”
warranty Not “warrantee.” It should not sound like “guarantee.”
wheelbarrow Not “wheel barrel”
where are you? Not “where are you at?” and certainly not “where you at?”
width Not “wi’th”
would have Not “would of”
wreak havoc Not “wreck havoc”
yin/yang Not “ying/yang”
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489 thoughts on “Things Americans Say Wrong

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Mispronounced Words and Phrases

    1. Hugh

      It really irritates me when people say ‘where you at?’ on the TV. And it’s not ‘aluminum’, it’s ‘aluminium’. Not forgetting something like ‘I had gone out and had gotten lost on the way to the nucular power station’.

      Reply
    2. Crispy Wonton

      One that is worth a mention is Parmesan. Americans all of a sudden gain a speech impediment when saying it. They often believe it is authentic to say “Parmi-chan” or “Parmi-jahnn. The English word it is pronounced how it is written and not like an Italian word. The Italian word is Parmigiano, so if they think their foreign language skills are so impeccable, they should really use the Italian word emphasising a ‘g’ and not a ‘j’ or a ‘c’. Drives me crazy, I turn off cooking shows the second I hear a lispy ‘Parmi-chan’.

      Reply
  2. Millicent

    Americans? pffft. You are quite wrong. As in any case, those who are educated speak properly. So, bugger off you twit.

    Reply
    1. Leagregory

      It’s not just Americans; in Britain it has become so common to hear ‘should of’, ‘would of’ and ‘could of’. These are my pet peeves and make me want to scream!

      Reply
  3. Lea

    I appreciate that pronunciation can vary between languages and regions, but incorrect grammar and sentence construction drives me round the bend. Here in England it is becoming more common to hear ‘would of’, ‘should of’ and ‘could of’ than it is to hear, for example, ‘might have’.

    Reply
  4. Meistersinger Moto

    I loathe the way Americans refuse to pronounce diminutives correctly. Examples are “wouldn’t”, “couldn’t”, “didn’t” et. Come out as “wooten”, cooten”, “ditten” etc.

    They also completely screw up words which end with “nd” or “nt”. An example is their pronunciation of “second” which comes out as “seccut”.

    They are simply lazy and largely under educated.

    Moto

    Reply
    1. Melissa Ryan

      Hi Dmitri – Have enjoyed this site for years. I would like to say there’s no need to be quite so angry and condescending as Mr. Moto’s comment of 9/6/14 is. Of course the lack of education is the greater part of the pronunciation issues this site addresses. Perhaps it should be important enough to have an educated population that the government and taxpayers actually want to pay for it. But regardless, why don’t we help enlighten people with the education we were lucky enough to afford by gently correcting pronunciation and vocabulary errors just as this site does without acrimony.

      Reply
  5. Melissa Ryan

    Two items that I hope to see included on your list:
    I’ve seen “be weary of” (to be tired of something) used when what is really intended is “be wary of” (to be careful and perhaps suspicious about something, as in the word “beware”).
    Also – I recently saw on a moving company’s online ad a notice about “inclimate weather”, the correct word of course being “inclement” (meaning not kind). There is no such word as “in climate” – would that mean no climate?

    Reply
  6. Melissa Ryan

    Hello Dmitry …
    Here’s one I think should have a place on your list – it’s a fairly common error: “wrought iron” pronounced and spelled incorrectly as “rod iron”

    Reply
  7. Melissa Ryan

    OK one more that I’d like to see appear on the list: “spitting image” (or “spittin’ image”) NOT “spit and image”

    Reply
  8. Lisa Goldsmith

    So the correct term, or grammatical use of the word nuclear in a sentence would never be pronounced nu-cular… is this correct?

    Reply
  9. American

    I just want to point out, not all Americans are “uneducated”. I am from South Carolina, which is ranked 42 in education, and just because we are ranked at that position, it does not mean that all of us are “uneducated”. Yes, Americans pronounce words differently, but is does not mean all of us are “uneducated”. By stating that, it just shows your inanity. There are people in your country who pronounce words differently than you as well. Before you start criticizing someones country, make sure yours is perfect first. Thank you!

    Reply
      1. josh garrett

        Hi, the Americanisms which annoy me are, “Could care less” & “Don’t got\ What do we got” All English speaking countries are guilty of overuse & unnecessary use of “Like, So, & whatever” I’m Irish, we & the Brits almost all mispronounce “Aluminium” as “Aliminyum” American English speakers correctly pronounce it “Aluminium” “TOMAYTOE, TOMAHTOE” Let’s all keep reading. Happy new year.

        Reply
  10. Pamela DeJong

    “Make me”, as in “Make me a sandwich”. Does one really want to be turned into a particular object? I hear this nearly every day and it just drives me crazy! Another is “Put me in some…” You get the idea.

    Reply
    1. Nuh

      Your misunderstanding comes from the simplification of dative and accusative cases as a result of linguistic Verwandlung! In this case, the “me” stands in the dative, i.e., is the indirect object and not the direct object. It’s not being acted upon.

      Reply
  11. Juniper

    Many words in American English are illogical and sloppy. Far from simplifying things, in the long run, they contribute to a less cohesive, less descriptive form of communication. It seems that the bulk of examples given above, result from a lack of education or purposeful dumbing down of grammar to appear less intellectually threatening but words like acclimate, burglarise and incentivise simply shouldn’t exist. Don’t label me Anti-American as I would also argue that English is too strict when it comes to the coining of neologisms. To keep language healthy we should introduce new words that both stretch and nourish our existing framework of reference.

    Reply
  12. Hardy Eustace

    Hi Dmitry. Great list. Just one item I take issue with – “as best you can” is, in fact, the correct construction, not “as best AS you can”.

    It is an archaic construction, putting the adverb before the verb, just as an archaic construction would be to say, “fast he runs” to describe Usain Bolt. Nowadays we would say, “he runs fast”.

    “Do that job as best you can” (meaning “do that job as best you can do it”) would be constructed in modern idiom as “do that job as you can do it (the) best.” Adding a second “as” renders it meaningless. Where would the second “as” go in the alternative construction?

    “Well” is the adverb, “better” or “as well as” are the comparative forms and “best” is the superlative form. Qualifying a superlative with the comparative “as” doesn’t work. You wouldn’t say “I am the ‘as tallest’ in the class”. I am as tall as someone in the class, I am taller than someone in the class or I am the tallest in the class.

    I hugely enjoyed reading your list.

    Reply
  13. John Byng

    known / thrown / shown : not know-wen / throw-wen / show-wen

    let alone : not “little own” (I once saw a manager use this phrase in a formal letter!)

    Australia : not “Austraya”

    my mistake : not “my bad”

    women : pr. “wimen” not “wimin”

    Reply
  14. English Teacher

    You do realize that ‘would have’, ‘could have’, and ‘should have’ can be contracted, don’t you? What you’re hearing as ‘would of’ is the contracted form (would’ve) in spoken language.

    http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/american-english/would-ve

    While I do appreciate the effort of trying to educate people on improper use of our language, please make sure you have the facts before criticizing an entire nation.

    Reply
  15. Elena

    Am half Italian so one that really annoys me which is the name of an Italian city, Bologna, I could not believe it when I read that it should rhyme with pony. So all the times I have heard the word Balony/bolony in film/tv they were miss pronouncing Bologna?

    Reply

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