Do You Feel Confident About Your English Pronunciation? Try this.

When I was just a freshman in university, my public speaking teacher brought this to the class. It was quite hard at that time, actually as a second thought, it still is 🙂 It is a very funny poem by Gerard Nolst Trenité about English pronunciation and irregularities.  This is a very long one, so just go as far as you can. After fifteen stanzas or so, you just cannot pronounce even the easiest words… Do you want to try and share your comments with me? Looking forward to them 🙂

Gerard Nolst Trenité – The Chaos (1922)

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
   I will teach you in my verse
   Sounds like corpsecorpshorse and worse.

I will keep you, Susybusy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
   Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
   Queer, fair seerhear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
   Just compare hearthear and heard,
   Dies and dietlord and word.

Sword and swardretain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
   Made has not the sound of bade,
   Saysaidpaypaidlaid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
   But be careful how you speak,
   Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
   Wovenovenhow and low,
   Scriptreceiptshoepoemtoe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughterlaughter and Terpsichore,
   Branch, ranch, measlestopsailsaisles,
   Missilessimilesreviles.

Whollyhollysignalsigning,
Sameexamining, but mining,
   Scholarvicar, and cigar,
   Solarmicawar and far.

From “desire”: desirableadmirable from “admire”,
Lumberplumberbier, but brier,
   Topshambroughamrenown, but known,
   Knowledgedonelonegonenonetone,

OneanemoneBalmoral,
Kitchenlichenlaundrylaurel.
   GertrudeGermanwind and wind,
   Beau, kind, kindred, queuemankind,

Tortoiseturquoisechamois-leather,
Reading, Readingheathenheather.
   This phonetic labyrinth
   Gives mossgrossbrookbroochninthplinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
   Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
   Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquetwalletmalletchalet.
   Blood and flood are not like food,
   Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
   Discountviscountload and broad,
   Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crochetingcroquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
   Roundedwoundedgrieve and sieve,
   Friend and fiendalive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
   Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
   Buoyantminute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
   Would it tally with my rhyme
   If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
   Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
   Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
   You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
   In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
   To abjure, to perjureSheik
   Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Libertylibraryheave and heaven,
Rachellochmoustacheeleven.
   We say hallowed, but allowed,
   Peopleleopardtowed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between moverploverDover.
   Leechesbreecheswiseprecise,
   Chalice, but police and lice,

Camelconstableunstable,
Principledisciplelabel.
   Petalpenal, and canal,
   Waitsurmiseplaitpromisepal,

SuitsuiteruinCircuitconduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
   But it is not hard to tell
   Why it’s pallmall, but Pall Mall.

Musclemusculargaoliron,
Timberclimberbullionlion,
   Worm and stormchaisechaoschair,
   Senatorspectatormayor,

Ivyprivyfamousclamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
   Pussyhussy and possess,
   Desert, but desertaddress.

Golfwolfcountenancelieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
   Courier, courtier, tombbombcomb,
   Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“,
   Making, it is sad but true,
   In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
   Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
   Fontfrontwontwantgrand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
   Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
   Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
   MindMeandering but mean,
   Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
   Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
   Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
   Prison, bison, treasure trove,
   Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severanceRibald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
   Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
   Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffetbuffet;
   Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
   Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
   Evil, devil, mezzotint,
   Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
   Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
   Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
   Funny rhymes to unicorn,
   Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
   No. Yet Froude compared with proud
   Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
   Troll and trolleyrealm and ream,
   Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
   But you’re not supposed to say
   Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
   How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
   When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
   Episodes, antipodes,
   Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
   Rather say in accents pure:
   Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
   Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
   Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than rch or w.
   Say then these phonetic gems:
   Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em
   Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
   Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
   With and forthwith, one has voice,
   One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
   Realzealmauve, gauze and gauge,
   Marriagefoliagemirageage,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
   Dostlostpost, and dothclothloth,
   JobJobblossombosomoath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowingbowing, banjo-tuners
   Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
   Puisnetruismuse, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
   SeatsweatchastecasteLeigheightheight,
   Putnutgranite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyrheifer.
   DullbullGeoffreyGeorgeatelate,
   Hintpintsenate, but sedate.

GaelicArabicpacific,
Scienceconsciencescientific;
   Tour, but our, dour, succourfour,
   Gasalas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
   Bona fide, alibi
   Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Seaideaguineaarea,
PsalmMaria, but malaria.
   Youthsouthsoutherncleanse and clean,
   Doctrineturpentinemarine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
   Rally with allyyeaye,
   EyeIayayewheykeyquay!

Say aver, but everfever,
Neitherleisureskeinreceiver.
   Never guess-it is not safe,
   We say calvesvalveshalf, but Ralf.

Starry, granarycanary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
   Face, but preface, then grimace,
   Phlegmphlegmaticassglassbass.

Basslargetargetgingiveverging,
Oughtoust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
   Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
   Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
   With the sound of saw and sauce;
   Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, puttingPutting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
   Respite, spite, consent, resent.
   Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
HyphenroughennephewStephen,
   Monkeydonkeyclerk and jerk,
   Aspgraspwaspdemesnecorkwork.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
   G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
   I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
   Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
   Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
   Won’t it make you lose your wits
   Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlockgunwale,
   Islington, and Isle of Wight,
   Housewifeverdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying latherbatherfather?
   Finally, which rhymes with enough,
   Thoughthroughboughcoughhoughsough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

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20 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ilana on March 9, 2012 at 09:18

    SIGH… you have an error in your post today. You wrote “in that times”, but correct English would be: “at that time”.
    You might want to correct your English error.

    Ilana

    Reply

  2. I like the *SIGH*, did it ruin your day?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Lan Anh on March 12, 2012 at 11:35

    It’s an interesting poem indeed and some words are hard to pronounce, too 🙂

    Reply

  4. Posted by Marsha on March 12, 2012 at 12:05

    I’m weaving a portion of this (maybe all of it, haven’t decided yet) into a presentation for the annual Nebraska Association for Translators & Interpreters conference. It is not easy to breeze through these examples without pausing, stumbling, correcting! Thanks for sharing this delightful “oeuvre”

    Reply

  5. I enjoyed this very much, and sent it on to others. Thanks!

    Reply

  6. Posted by Ruth on March 12, 2012 at 15:44

    did you ever try to learn it by heart?

    Reply

  7. Posted by Elena Korokova on March 12, 2012 at 15:46

    Pretty good practicing in English pronunciation should admit!

    Reply

  8. Must have Karri…

    Reply

  9. Posted by Marie Roberts on March 12, 2012 at 18:27

    I got far …But I learn some new words

    Reply

  10. Posted by Alecs Motta-Freman on March 12, 2012 at 20:07

    Cool! hard to comment. Should be an online spoken test. Thanks for sharing it. Alecs x

    Reply

  11. Tricky there, especially for none anglophones. I will use this poem with my English students as a quiz for the commonwealth day celebrations in Yaoundé.

    Reply

  12. Posted by natalino on March 15, 2012 at 09:55

    Looking for a spoken text…………can you help me?

    Reply

  13. Thanks for this post, I will try and rehearse each and every day. You never stop to learn …

    Reply

  14. Thank you. It’s very funny and difficult at the same time.

    Reply

  15. Posted by Adriana on March 16, 2012 at 15:49

    it makes me think why it is difficult for people to learn English….. there are too many exceptions to pronunciation “rules”…..

    Reply

  16. Posted by Danielle on March 18, 2012 at 23:13

    So, I think every language has their peculiarities. It’s very good listening exercise.

    Reply

  17. Posted by Rufus on March 19, 2012 at 16:54

    This is a brilliant peace of work. I will share it with as many linguists as I can.

    Reply

  18. Very soon this web page will be famous amid all blog people, due to it’s fastidious posts

    Reply

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