9 most difficult words in English

9 most difficult words in English

English is often said to be one of the simpler languages to learn. But let’s face it, nothing’s ever completely straightforward, is it? So, there are still a few hard English words that can trip you up when you’re trying to learn and use them.

Before we plunge into our list of English’s trickiest words, let’s take a moment to think about what makes a word hard in English. Is it its length? Perhaps it’s those sneaky combinations of sounds? Or maybe it’s when a word’s meaning throws you a curveball?

Every English learner faces their own set of challenges when it comes to vocabulary. Some might be intimidated by words like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (which means “wonderful” and happens to be the longest English word). Others might find it hard to tell the difference between “through” and “thorough,” while some may spend a long time perfecting the pronunciation of “wave” because their native language doesn’t have the “v” and “w” sounds.

And, of course, once you’ve nailed the basics, there’s a whole world of sophisticated words and their synonyms to master if you want to sound like a native speaker.

In this article, we’re not going to talk about those big, fancy words you only use in exams to impress your interlocutors. Instead, we’ll focus on common hard English words that might hinder your communication skills.

Stop for a second. 

Try rolling your tongue into a clover. 

Tongue rolled in a clover

Tongue rolled in a clover; Source

Can you do it? 

If yes, congrats! You’re among the only 14.7% of the world population that has that rare skill. 

If not, no worries. Perhaps, your tongue muscle isn’t cut out for that sort of mouth gymnastics.

Your mouth posture, shaped by your native language, plays a big role in how easily you can pronounce English sounds. Some sounds might feel natural, while others can be a bit trickier to master when speaking English.

Take native Ukrainian speakers, for example. In Ukrainian, there’s no “w” sound; they only use the “v” sound. So, English words with “w,” or even a combo of “v” and “w,” like “wolves” or “vow,” can be real tongue twisters for them.

On the other hand, the hardest English words for Japanese native speakers will be those with the “l” and “r” sounds. In Japanese, a single sound is somewhat similar to both “l” and “r,” which falls somewhere in between the two. As a result, Japanese speakers may have difficulty distinguishing between and accurately producing the distinct “l” and “r” sounds in English words. 


Farmhouses in a rural area

Farmhouses in a rural area; Source

Rural (adj.) — describes places in the countryside.

For example: “They chose to live in a rural area to enjoy the peaceful countryside instead of the busy city.”

“Rural” can be a bit tricky to say for many English learners because of its unique combination of sounds. It’s the combination of “r” and “u” together that isn’t always easy to say smoothly.

A lot of people tend to pronounce this word as “roo-ral” with the “u” sound resembling the word “room.” 

But that’s not how to say the word “rural.” The correct pronunciation should have a distinct “r” sound followed by a short, central “uh” vowel sound and ending with the “l” sound: /ˈrʊərəl/ (ROO-ruhl)


Sixth (adj.) — means the number six in a series. 

For example: “She came in sixth place in the race, right after the fifth person.”

“Sixth” can trip up even native English speakers because of its tricky blend of sounds and that sneaky silent “x.”

Some people mistakenly say it like “siks-thuh,” with the “s” not quite flowing into the “th.” To get it right, it’s more like “SIKS-th,” smoothly connecting the “s” and “th” sounds: /sɪksθ/ (SIKS-th).


A squirrel in a tree

A squirrel in a tree; Source

Squirrel (n.) — a small furry mammal with a long bushy tail, often found in trees and known for storing nuts.

For example: “Every morning, I enjoy watching the squirrels play in the trees outside my window.”

“Squirrel” is up there among the hardest English words to pronounce because of the cluster of consonants and the “qu” sound. For example, incorrect pronunciation might sound like “skwi-ruhl,” with the “qu” pronounced as “kw.” 

If you’re wondering how to say “squirrel” correctly, go for something like “skwur-uhl,” with a clear “skw” sound and a soft “uh” at the end: /ˈskwɜːrəl/ (SKWUR-uhl).

3 hard words in English: Words with unexpected pronunciation

The previous hard English words were mostly a battle for English learners. But guess what? There are some words that even native speakers can struggle with!

Ever wonder why English words don’t always play by the rules? Well, it’s a wild ride through history! English has borrowed words from all over, leading to a mix of spelling and pronunciation quirks. 

Besides, English spelling hasn’t always kept up with changes in pronunciation over time. This means some words have retained their old spelling even though their pronunciations have evolved.


Choir (n.) — a group of singers who perform together, typically in a church or other religious setting.

For example: “The choir sang beautifully during the Sunday morning service.”

In ancient times, when people first coined the term “choir,” it had a different look. They used to call a gathering of singers in a big hall a “quire,” pronounced like “kwire.”

But as languages mixed and evolved, so did our way of speaking. English borrowed from Latin and French, adding new sounds. So, “quire” turned into “choir,” as we say it today: /ˈkwaɪər/ (KWAI-er), not “kwahy-er” or “cho-ir.”

Now, when you say “choir,” think of those old halls filled with sweet voices and remember how languages change over time.


Colonel (n.) — a military rank, typically above a lieutenant colonel and below a brigadier general.

For example: “The colonel led his troops into battle with bravery and determination.”

You might think the word “colonel” isn’t that common outside military circles. Unless you’re involved in military affairs, you probably won’t have much opportunity to use it, whether correctly or incorrectly.

But here’s the twist! Even if you’re far from the army, chances are, you come across a colonel now and then — Colonel Sanders, the iconic mascot of KFC. And chances are that sooner than later, you’d have to speak about him. 

KFC logo

Colonel Sanders on a KFC logo; Source

Now, “colonel” is among the hardest English words because it tricks you not once but twice. It’s not “col-o-nel”. It’s “ker-nel,” pronounced as /ˈkɜːrnəl/ (KUR-nəl).

And why’s that? In an attempt to acknowledge military influences from both Italy and Old French, English borrowed the words “colonello” from Italian and “coronel” from Old French. Over time, the spelling and pronunciation of the word evolved differently in English, resulting in the mismatch between its spelling and pronunciation.


Draught (adj.) — beer or cider served directly from a keg or cask, typically poured from a tap.

For example: “I ordered a pint of draught cider at the pub, enjoying its fresh taste straight from the keg.”

Whether you’re sharing a joke about folks strolling into a pub or stepping in yourself to order a pint, getting the pronunciation of “draught” right is key.

Mixing it up could lead to talking about unusually dry spells (“drawt”) or early versions of documents (“draft”). Neither variant quite fits the pub scene. So, remember to say it as /drɑːft/ (DRAWFT). Cheers!

3 hard English words: Easy to misuse words

When tackling the toughest English words, it’s not just pronunciation that matters. Another challenge English throws at you is words that sound alike but have different meanings, leading to confusion.


Big, large, huge, enormous… You might think a massive slice of pizza would be “an enormity,” but unless it’s a crime against your diet (or it’s topped with pineapple), that’s not quite it.

Despite sounding similar, “enormity” actually refers to something vile, evil, or wicked. So, using it correctly would be like saying, “The enormity of the crime shocked everyone.”

Your and you’re

If English isn’t your native language, you might find that these two words aren’t as difficult for you. In fact, you might even have a better mastery of them than many native speakers. That’s because the difference between “your” and “you’re” is one of the first basic topics covered in English language courses.

But for native speakers, the confusion is real. Often, English speakers use these two words interchangeably, making their messages much harder to understand.

For everyone out there, remember:

  • “Your” is a possessive pronoun, indicating ownership or possession by the person you’re speaking to. For example: “Is this your book?”
  • “You’re” is a contraction of “you are.” It’s used when you want to combine the words “you” and “are” into a single word. For example: “You’re going to love this movie.”


“Complement” can be tricky because it’s easy to mix up with “compliment,” which sounds similar but has a different meaning.

  • Incorrect use: “I received a nice complement on my outfit.”
  • Correct use: “The red shoes complemented my dress perfectly.”

So, unless you want to end up talking about how your shoes are praising your dress, make sure to use “complement” when something goes well together!

And remember, even in the heartland of English, Great Britain, there are tons of accents, each with its own unique spin on how to say things. For example, someone from Yorkshire will pronounce “but” as /bʊt/, while a Londoner will only ever use /bʌt/ — and both of them will be correct!  

So, as long as you know the word and can spell it right, go ahead and use it — don’t worry if your pronunciation isn’t spot on. The person you’re talking to will get what you mean.

At the end of the day, when someone mispronounces a word, it often means they’re a big reader! They probably picked up that word from a book, not from hearing it spoken aloud. So, mispronunciations are just proof that you’re diving deep into those pages! 

But if you ever do feel a need to double-check the meaning and pronunciation of an English word that looks particularly difficult, use EMERY’s video dictionary — you’ll find everything you need to know there!

Try EMERY now!