While studying at the Harvest English Institute, you may have learned some rules to help you spell and pronounce words in English. For example, the letter “c” at the beginning of a word may sound like a “k” or an “s” depending on which vowel comes next.
Another common rule is that adding an “e” at the end of a three-letter word changes the vowel sound. Think of the difference between “not” and “note” or “pin” and “pine.” While these rules can help you sound out many English words, there are many examples where all pronunciation rules go out the window.
Why? Well, that’s because English writing is full of silent letters. That means that while the letter appears in the word, it isn’t pronounced when spoken aloud. Words may also sound different than they look because the pronunciation is borrowed from another language. English has words from Greek, German, Latin, and other languages that all have their own pronunciation rules. The best way to learn how to pronounce these words is just through practice and memorization.
Cupboard: This word looks easy to say. The words “cup” and “board” are simple and easy to pronounce. Strangely, when they are put together into one word, they sound very different. The “p” becomes silent and the “o” gets flattened into an “uh” sound. Rather than sounding like cup-board, the word is pronounced kub-burd.
Colonel: In the U.S. military, colonels are very high-ranking officers. In this word, not only are some letters silent, but there are also sounds from letters that don’t even appear! It must be pronounced ker-nuhl.
Hyperbole: A hyperbole is a statement that makes something sound more impressive than it actually is. For example, people may say they’re hungry enough to eat horse, but that is rarely true. To pronounce hyperbole like a native speaker, you have to ignore one of the most basic rules of English. That “e” at the end doesn’t stretch out the “o”. Instead, it adds its own sound: Hi-per-buh-lee.
Chaos: While most words in English with “ch” are pronounced the same way as “church” or “cheap,” there are some exceptions. “Ch” in words taken from French sound like “sh,” while words that come from ancient Greek sound like “k.” Since chaos, which is defined as a confusing situation, was originally a Greek word, how do you think it’s pronounced? That’s right, with the “k” sound; “kay-os.”