January 02, 2023

The ten most difficult words in the English language

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Choosing the ten most difficult words in the English language is a difficult task, as different people have different opinions about what the ten most difficult words are.  To help me compile my list I asked the B2 Upper Intermediate class at Eurocentres’ Bournemouth school and we have chosen some good examples.  The biggest problem with English words is their pronunciation.  There are many words that students find difficult to pronounce (and understand) correctly.  Here are the worst offenders:


Students from Asia find it hard to hear and pronounce the sounds /l/ and /r/.  This makes a simple word like really, which has a /r/ and a /l/ sound close to each other, very difficult for them.  Other student from different language backgrounds have problems with other sounds, for example Arabic speakers have trouble with /p/ and /b/ and Italians have problems with /i/ and /i:/.


A bag of crisps is one of the most popular snacks in Great Britain.  They come in many different flavours from ‘Ready Salted’ to ‘Prawn Cocktail’.  Although crisps taste good they cause problems for your mouth when you try to say the word.  The difficulty is the /s/ /p/ and /s/ sounds next to each other.  This is called a consonant cluster and English is famous for having some very difficult consonant clusters.


Unfortunately English words quite often do not sound like they are spelt.  Many students mispronounce the word vegetable.  They use four syllables and say /veʤetǣbɅl/ when they should use three and say / ‘veʤtəbl/.
A word’s spelling also causes other problems.  Many English words are difficult to spell as the following examples demonstrate:

Accommodation and Embarrassing  

Students need to remember that these words have double ‘c’, double ‘m’ and double ‘r’ double ‘s’ to spell them correctly.

Receipt and Receive  

There is a simple spelling rule to help with words like this: ‘I before E, except after C’.


There are a whole group of words whose grammar makes them difficult to use.  We can call them ‘ed’ and ‘ing’ adjectives.  For example Bored and Boring.  Sometimes a student will say ‘Richard, I am very boring’ which is an unusual thing to admit to.  In fact they mean ‘Richard, I am very bored’.  If you are not sure of the difference I suggest you Look it up in a grammar book.  Which brings us on to phrasal verbs!  Every students’ favourite subject.


Author: Richard Kelly
Centre Manager
Eurocentres Bournemouth