I Say To-may-do, You Say To-mah-to: 80 English Words Pronounced Differently in America

tomato-one-of-many-English-words-pronounced-differently-in-AmericaEXPAT LIFE: The first hint that my Australian accent might not be ‘easy’ to understand for Americans, came on our second day here. We were in a CVS chain pharmacy, and I was searching for a cheap mobile phone. As there was nothing I could see instore, I asked a shop assistant where I could buy one. She looked at me strangely then pointed out the door to a retailer three shops away, politely explaining that “this store sells rubber and other foam products”. My request for a ‘mobile phone’ somehow sounded like ‘rubber foam’ to her ears, which gave me great amusement but was still very surprising.

Since then, with many reminders, and prompted by a few puzzled looks from Americans, I have learnt to speak slower and try to enunciate my words. I have even started to use American terms for things an Australian would describe differently, to assist people in understanding my speech. Despite this, that tricky issue of pronunciation still seems to throw a spanner in the works at times. American pronunciation is quite different to Australian, and we in turn, even differ from Mother England. Regardless of how we got that way, it certainly helps US locals understand you better if you pronounce the words in a recognizable fashion, e.g. asking for ‘bayzil’ instead of basil. While Australians might cringe at this generally, I see it the same as learning a foreign language, where correct pronunciation helps be better understood.

Aluminium-American-spelling

Aluminium is spelled differently but also pronounced differently in America

So to get a grip on what people are saying in the U.S., here is a list of English words pronounced differently in America that you may need to say carefully to make yourself understood by your countrymen and women.

English Words Pronounced Differently in America (at least in North-eastern area)

WORD AMERICAN PRONUNCIATION AUSTRALIAN PRONUNCIATION
Produce (food) PRO-deuce PROD-juice
Basil BAY-zil BAZZ-el
Herb ERB HERB
Oregano o-REG-ee-NO ORR-ee-GARN-o
Tomato Toe-MAY-do Two-MART-o
Risotto RIZ-oat-o Riz-OTT-o
Pecan Pee-CARNE PEE-can
Potato po-TAY-do po-TATE-o
Scone SCOANE S’CON
Tuna TOON-a TUNE-ar
Margarine MARJ-rin MARJ-a-REEN
Croissant kross-SONT KROSS-ant
Caramel KAR’M’L KA-RR-a-MEL
Coffee KAW-fee KOUGH-ee
Gourmet Gor-MAY GOR-may
Banana ba-NAN-a Bar-NARN-a
Yoghurt YOG-ut YO-gert
Taco TACK-o TARCK-o
Tortilla Tor-TEE-ya Tor-TILL-a
Apricot AP-ri-cot APE-ri-cot
Pasta PAST-a PARST-a
Fillet FILL-ay FILL-it
Leisure LEEZ-yer LEZ-yer
Iraq Eye-RAK i-RARK
Iran Eye-RAN i-RARN
Israel IZZ-ray-el IZZ-rail
Italy ITLY IT-a-LEE
Italian EYE-tal-yen IT-tal-yen
Australia Uzzz-STRAY-lee-er Oz-STRAY-LEE-a
New York City nu-YORK-SIT-ee NE-u YORK SIT-i
New Orleans N’or-LEANS NE-u OR-leans
Fragile FRADGE-il FRADGE-ile
Missile MISS-il MISS-isle
Nuclear NUKE-you-ler: NUKE-lee-ar
Route ROWT ROOT
Military MILL-i-TAIRY MILL-it-TREE
Kilometer KILL-o-meter kill-OM-et-er
Patriot PAAY-tree-it PAT-tree-it
Beret ber-RAY BEAR-ay
Bouquet bo-KAY BOO-kay
Docile DOSS-il or DOSS-ile DOE-cile
Fertile FERT-il or FERT-ile FERT-tile
Due D-OO DEW
Semi SEM-eye SEM-ee
Ballet Ba-LAY BAL-lay
Narrate NA-rate na-RATE
Attitude ATT-it-two-d ATT-i-CHEWED
Vase VAZE (rhymes with haze) VARZE
Laboratory LAB-ra-tory lab-OR-a-TREE
Cement SEEE-ment: see-MENT
Minutiae Min-OOSH-a min-OOSH-ee-AY
Duodenum D-OO-a-DEAN-um DEW-o-DEAN-um
Aluminum a-LUME-in-num AL-u-MIN-i-UM
Aunt ANT ARNT
After AIR-F-ta ARE-R-ter
Offer ARF-ur OFF-er
Gala GAL-la GARL-a
Duke DEWK DJEWK
Garage Ga-RAJ GARR-arge
Zebra ZEE-bra ZEB-bra
New NU (rhymes with MOO) KNEE-u (said quickly)
Buoy BOO-ee BOY
Mobile Mo-BEEL MO-bile
Nissan NEEE-sahn NISS-en
Chorus KORR-s KAW-rus
Capillary KAP-il-AIRY ka-PILL-a-ree
Futile FUT-il FU-tile
Car KAIR KAR
Leisure LEEZ-ure LEZZ-jer
Cordial KORD-jul KORD-ee-al
Harassment HARRIS-ment ha-RASS-ment
Tune TOON TJEWN
Bathroom BATH-room BARTH-room
Anti ANT-eye ANT-ee
Castle KASS-ell KAR-sill
Advertisement AD-ver-tize-ment ad-VERT-is-ment
Glass GLAIRS GLARSE
Premier PREEM-ee-ear PREM-i-air
Can’t KAIRN’T KARN’T
Reptile REP-til REP-tile
Schedule SKED-yule SHED-yule
Dog DAW-G DOG

Of course, this list takes no US regional differences into account, and American pronunciations do in fact vary quite a lot for a particular words in certain regions, including Northeast/Boston, Midwest, Southern states or West Coast. Not only this, sometimes they just use different words for the same thing. Although it’s hard to come up with one ’American’ pronunciation for each word, this is a guide for the North-east where I currently live.

yogurt-one-of-many-English-words-pronounced-differently-in-America

Yogurt-pronounced YOG-it in America, which rhymes with boggit, from Harry Potter fame.

Understanding how all three countries (UK, USA and Australia) came to use language so differently, despite our historic ties, is a point of discussion for many. Since there needs to be a finite end to the length of my blog article, that will have to be a topic for another day!

 

What English words pronounced differently in America have you come across as an expat?

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31 thoughts on “I Say To-may-do, You Say To-mah-to: 80 English Words Pronounced Differently in America

  1. I have had a number of my Aussie clients report some embarrassing difficulties with the word Coke in the USA. Such embarrassment that they have taken to ordering a cola or pepsi instead….

    • Hi Trisha. That’s pretty funny from an outsider’s perspective, perhaps a bit embarrassing for them though! I would never have guessed that would be a problem either but I usually ask for brand names like Diet Coke of Pepsi, so it’s probably clearer:)

  2. I’m a New Jersey resident of Italian descent and “Eye-talian” is definitely not the common pronunciation. On the other hand, my family pronounces “Italy” as “Itah-lee” not “It-ly” or “It-lee”. I think those pronunciations came from Brooklyn, New York.

    • Hi There,
      Thanks for your reply and thoughts on pronunciation. It helps all of us to know the right way to say words here, so we can be understood too. I still struggle with some words, as the puzzled looks on other faces tells me but luckily I know now to think about how I say it and to slow down when speaking!
      Cheers
      Anne-Marie

  3. i find this article funny.. most of the american pronunciations on this list are harder to say than the australian ones. and im american!!

  4. Who the hell in America pronounces offer as ARF-ur. I’m going to make you an ARF-ur you can’t refuse.

  5. Hi, I found your information is mush useful, as the posted information is not useful for Australian but also for different people in other countries too..

    I am just trying to move to US , so I wish to learn and understand the way of speaking with US people, I request you to mail me if you have any info more as exactly likewise as u posted, along with spellings. Here is my email id: sreekanth.d.25.09@gmail.com, I request you to send me some more collective info. Request to do the needful.

  6. I’m from America, and I pronounce these things differently from the way you said we do:
    Anti (interchangeable), reptile, harassment, cordial, car, futile (interchangeable), mobile, gala, offer, aunt, cement, bouquet, kilometer, route (probably because I mainly watch British youtubers), nuclear, missile (interchangeable), fragile (interchangeable), australia, Italian (I have never heard anyone ever pronounce this word with the “Eye” sound), Italy, pasta, taco, yoghurt, caramel, and oregano.

    • Thanks for your comment Ethan. I should have made it clearer that there is not just one way to say words here, and even within one state there are differences depending on whether Americans were raised in NJ or came from other parts of the US such as California, Massachusetts etc. I have heard these words pronounced this way where I live from a variety of people. My husband has had different word experiences in the south as well but I did not include these. Perhaps there is no ‘single’ way that applies to all but hopefully my experiences benefit other expats.

    • I always thought that pronouncing it as “EYE-TALIAN” is considered rude or offensive even. So I totally agree I’ve never heard anyone pronouncing it like that unless they were using it as some sort of insult.

  7. Ok this is infuriating because first of all lots of the American pronounciations had an “r” where there shouldn’t have been and some were just plain wrong. A few of the words are pronounced the same as the Australian pronounciations even though you had them as different. The most horrid part of it all though is that you are spreading the pronounciations of aunt as “ant” THATS WRONG! An ant is a bug NOT SOMEONES PARENT’S SISTER! It is pronounced “on-t” only people in the stupid parts of the country say “ant” and they are WRONG!!!!

  8. I am Canadian (close enough to American) and know very well how most Americans without huge regional accents that differ speak. Most of these are quite wrong. While us Canadians also have a few words that we say differently from America (route for example), I can tell you are misinformed about quite a lot of these. I know that there are different pronunciations around America, but the ‘most common’ or most understood and widely broadcast accent/pronunciations of a lot of those are wrong.

  9. Wtf is this list? Had me “larfing” so hard. I’m American and I couldn’t even read half of your “American pronunciations”. Seriously? What the heck part of America are you talking about? Have you even ever been here? lol

    • Hi Sarah,
      Actually if you read the article you would know that I live in NJ, and have lived there some time-nearly 7 years now. I do make a point in the article that these pronunciations do NOT cover everywhere in the US. I stand by what I have written after reading this list again several times, I would change nothing on here. I don’t mind comments, even those that disagree, as you will see from earlier entries. However, surely it is not too much to ask for you to be polite in your disagreement. I have written this from my own experience-something you are not really able to critique I think. Keep ‘larfing'(spelt laughing, in case you need some help) as you will need your sense of humour in the next few days!

  10. You are spot on with these words. I’m also Aussie and have spent time in the US. They use different pronunciations all over the country. Many words from Boston for example sounds very similar to Aussie pronunciation ‘Shark” being an example of this. These Americans complaining have probably never left their state which is also something I found quite typical in my time spent there.

    • Thanks Mick! It is certainly reassuring to have someone else’s view like yours. I know what you mean about not leaving their home state-have come across many people in NJ who are the same. Cheers again:)
      Anne-Marie

      • I think the issue here is how you interpret the phonetic spellings you wrote. For example, as a well-traveled American who has lived in NJ for 20+ years, I can say with confidence that no American without a foreign accent pronounces ‘Can’t’ like ‘KAIRN’T,’ or ‘Glass’ like ‘GLAIRS.’ In fact, 23 of your pronunciations are incorrect for any regional American dialect. Surely there is no way you mistyped 23 times and so I’d have to make the guess that you truly hear the words as you typed them. I promise, though, that there is no “r” sound at the end of our pronunciation of Australia!

        • Hi Mike,
          Thanks for the comment:) I think you are right in that how the phonetics are spelt out is what all the ‘controversy’ is about. The problem is though, that for me as an Aussie, that’s how I hear the words sounding. I am not sure that Americans will understand how I am trying to sound it out, as we say and hear the words differently. The article is directed at Aussies. I can’t phonetically spell Aussie pronunciations for Americans either but I wouldn’t even imagine trying. Thanks though for trying to politely explain the points of contention!

  11. Hi Mike,
    Have only been to America on holiday and it was great. Found Americans very nice but surprisingly innocent. They literally cannot pronounce “Canberra”, (Can bra) our capital. Their mouths can’t form the sound; looks like they’ve had a stroke. Also “Antarctica”, they say Anarctica like its a kind of appendage to the Arctic.

  12. Well Traveled Sam says:

    I have lived in five different states in four different regions of the US during my 60 plus years on the planet. Many of the pronunciations in the supposedly American column of the table are merely the New Jersey dialect. The best way for a newcomer to learn the national “average” pronunciation would be to watch television shows that are produced for a nationwide audience, such as network news shows or multi-episode prime time dramas.

    • Hi Sam,
      What you say makes much sense. It would be rather difficult though to list all the different pronunciations possibly in the US, so I did make mention that this was NJ experience. I have lived here over 7 years now, and revisit my list regularly-there’s still nothing I would change but I take your point that this list is perhaps limited to locals around here.
      Cheers
      Anne-Marie

  13. Greg Nicolson says:

    Yes Americans misspell and mispronounce a lot of the English language, and that does REALLY annoy me, but I’m Australian and I don’t think Australians say some of those the way it says Australians do.

    Two examples

    The word is actually correctly pronounced KILL-o-meter and not kill-OM-et-er. If Australians say kill-OM-et-er then they are mispronouncing it.

    Americans don’t pronounce car as kair(which from the spelling I assume is the same as care). Americans actually pronounce car as carrrrrrrrrrrrr(and I don’t know if I’ve added enough r’s)

    • Thanks for your input! I guess I wouldn’t like to characterize any body’s version of spelling, whether Australian, UK or American as misspelling or mispronouncing words. I think they are just different and this is the point I am trying to make, that this is one of the adjustments, just as other cultures have to adjust to Australian pronunciations if they relocate there- just a funny, quirky part of expat life!!

  14. You have the pronunciation of yogurt all wrong. It’s pronounced YOE-GURT in America or YAW-GURT in the UK. The “R” sound definitely does not get thrown out.

  15. Tyler Picard says:

    As some kind of credential, I’ve lived at the forks of Long Island, NY since I was three (currently 26), and a few of these pronunciations had me thinking I’d been living in “Brizben” or something. I mean I knew people in New Jersey spoke a little funny but this is making me think we need to send some dialect coaches down there ASAP!

    In your defense, a lot of these words would be on a “East/North vs. West/South US” list. I can’t even guess how this would have turned out if you went north of NY instead of ever so slightly south. I’ve heard comedians give the British shit for developing such wildly different accents over such short distances but us Americans (and, as I’ve heard, you Aussies) aren’t that different. I can tell you now that if it wasn’t for quick trips into NYC over the course of my life, as a sort of immunization, I’d likely stumble a bit trying to understand your basic Brooklyner!

    For my own sanity, I’d like to list out the things I seemingly (although probably not) say like an Australian;

    Pecan

    Caramel

    Yoghurt
    (You must’ve been in Little Britain when you heard that one)

    Israel

    Italy

    Italian
    (only hicks should be saying eye-tal-yen, you’ve been warned)

    Kilometer

    Bouquet

    Mobile
    (A mo-beel is what you put over a baby crib. I’d personally say mo-bill is close to how most Americans say it. Although we, or I, seem to randomly switch to mo-bile)

    Harassment

    Reptile

    PSS – Congrats to me for being the first 2018 commenter on this 2014 post! 😛

  16. Oh I laughed out loud reading this……talk about hit the nail on the head, very well done agreed on all of them! The one’s that bother me the most as a Kiwi that the Americans say is definitely herbs and apricots oh and two others I really notice that aren’t on the list….

    Mirror……mear er
    Girl……….gurrrl
    Pickle……peck il

    I notice a lot of the comments are saying this is just how New Jersey people speak but I know for a fact that most words on the list are spoken by every day Americans and actors presenters, political people et how many of them would have a New Jersey accent.

  17. This list sounds exactly right to my Australian ears.
    The reasons so many are disagreeing with you is because they’re reading the pronounciations with American ears!

  18. Many of those American pronunciations are not general American pronunciations but regional ones. The same could be said for some of the Aussie ones.

    -American/Aussie

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