50 Tricky Words to Pronounce and Spell (How to Teach Them)

Teaching English can be a complex task, especially when it comes to tricky words that challenge both pronunciation and spelling.

This guide explores the nuances of these words, breaking them down into five distinct categories. Each category is explored in depth to aid educators in effectively teaching these often-confusing words.


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Colorful 'TRICKY WORDS' text with a jester's hat on a letter.
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Homophones are words that sound the same when you say them, but they have different meanings and can be written in different ways.

They pose a unique challenge in language learning because they require a deep understanding of context to distinguish between them.

The English language is rife with such words, often leading to confusion in both spoken and written communication.

For instance, “their,” “there,” and “they’re” sound identical but have distinct usages and meanings.

Similarly, “break” and “brake” can be perplexing due to their identical pronunciation but different functions in a sentence.

The trick in teaching homophones lies in contextual learning.

Encourage students to create sentences using these words, which helps them understand their usage in different contexts.


  1. Their/There/They’re
  2. Break/Brake
  3. Flour/Flower
  4. Piece/Peace
  5. Right/Write
  6. See/Sea
  7. Stationary/Stationery
  8. Weather/Whether
  9. Your/You’re
  10. Principal/Principle

Words with Silent Letters

Words with silent letters are a notorious challenge in English.

These words contain letters that, while present in spelling, are not pronounced. This can lead to difficulties in both spelling and pronunciation, as learners often try to pronounce every letter they see.

Words like “knight,” “knife,” and “gnome” exemplify this category.

The silent ‘k’ and ‘g’ in these words are remnants of the language’s history, making them difficult for learners.

The best way to teach these words is through visual and auditory association. Highlight the silent letters and provide ample oral practice, so learners get used to the word’s sound without the influence of its silent letters.


  1. Knight
  2. Knife
  3. Gnome
  4. Write
  5. Know
  6. Comb
  7. Debt
  8. Doubt
  9. Thumb
  10. Wrist

Words with Multiple Pronunciations

Some English words have different pronunciations depending on their use in a sentence, often changing their meaning.

These variations can be particularly confusing for learners, as they must not only learn to spell the word but also its different pronunciations and meanings.

Words like “read” (which can be pronounced as ‘reed’ or ‘red’) and “tear” (which can be pronounced as ‘teer’ or ‘tare’) are classic examples.

The key to teaching these words is through contextual usage.

Provide examples in different sentences, highlighting how the meaning and pronunciation change with context.


  1. Read (reed/red)
  2. Tear (teer/tare)
  3. Lead (leed/led)
  4. Bow (bow/bough)
  5. Close (close/cloze)
  6. Content (content/con-tent)
  7. Object (object/ob-ject)
  8. Present (present/pre-sent)
  9. Refuse (refuse/re-fuse)
  10. Wound (wound/woond)

Irregular Plurals

English also contains a number of words that do not follow the regular pattern of forming plurals.

Instead of simply adding an ‘s’ or ‘es,’ these words change entirely or remain the same in their plural form. This irregularity can be a major stumbling block in both pronunciation and spelling.

Words like “mouse” (plural: mice) and “child” (plural: children) are typical examples of this category.

Teaching these words effectively requires a focus on memory-based learning.

Repeated exposure and practice in both spoken and written forms can help solidify these irregular patterns in students’ minds.


  1. Mouse/Mice
  2. Child/Children
  3. Man/Men
  4. Woman/Women
  5. Tooth/Teeth
  6. Foot/Feet
  7. Goose/Geese
  8. Cactus/Cacti
  9. Focus/Foci
  10. Thesis/Theses

Words with Unusual Spellings

Finally, there are words whose spellings don’t align with their phonetic pronunciations.

These words often derive from various languages or have retained archaic spellings, making them tricky to spell and pronounce.

Words like “phlegm,” “psalm,” and “island” are notable examples.

The ‘ph’ in ‘phlegm’ sounds like an ‘f’, the ‘p’ in ‘psalm’ is silent, and the ‘s’ in ‘island’ is not pronounced.

Teaching these words effectively requires a focus on visual recognition and phonetic breakdown.

Help students to recognize the unusual patterns and practice them in isolation before integrating them into broader language use.


  1. Phlegm
  2. Psalm
  3. Island
  4. Choir
  5. Colonel
  6. Knight
  7. Yacht
  8. Subtle
  9. Debt
  10. Aisle

Tricky Words vs High Frequency Words: What’s the Difference

Understanding the distinction between tricky words and high-frequency words is crucial in the realm of language education.

High-frequency words are those most commonly used in written and spoken language.

They often follow standard phonetic patterns, making them easier to decode and recognize. Examples include “the,” “and,” “it,” and “is.” These words are pivotal for fluency and comprehension in reading and speaking.

In contrast, tricky language deviates from standard phonetic rules, challenging both pronunciation and spelling.

They may have silent letters, irregular spellings, or multiple pronunciations.

These words often require specific teaching strategies, as they cannot be decoded using regular phonetic approaches.

Recognizing this difference allows educators to tailor their teaching methods effectively, focusing on memorization and contextual usage for tricky language, and on frequent exposure and practice for high-frequency words.

20 Tricky Word Sentence Examples

Here are some sentence examples:

  1. Their/There/They’re: Their dog is over there, and they’re coming to fetch it soon.
  2. Break/Brake: Be careful not to break the vase when you hit the brake in your car.
  3. Flour/Flower: She bought a bag of flour to make bread and a flower for her garden.
  4. Piece/Peace: He ate a piece of cake in the peace of the quiet room.
  5. Right/Write: You have the right answer, now write it down on your paper.
  6. See/Sea: I love to see the sun set over the sea.
  7. Stationary/Stationery: She bought beautiful stationery to write a letter while remaining stationary at her desk.
  8. Weather/Whether: The weather is uncertain, and I’m not sure whether we should go out.
  9. Your/You’re: Your book is on the table where you’re sitting.
  10. Principal/Principle: The school principal taught us the basic principles of respect and honesty.
  11. Read (reed/red): I read (reed) a book yesterday that I read (red) as a child.
  12. Tear (teer/tare): She shed a tear (teer) when she saw the tear (tare) in her favorite dress.
  13. Lead (leed/led): He will lead (leed) the team today as he led (led) them yesterday.
  14. Bow (bow/bough): She took a bow (bow) after the performance under the bough (bough) of the old oak tree.
  15. Close (close/cloze): Stand close (close) to the door but be careful of the close (cloze) test in your English book.
  16. Content (content/con-tent): He was content (content) with the content (con-tent) of the movie.
  17. Object (object/ob-ject): I object (object) to the way you object (ob-ject) to my suggestions.
  18. Present (present/pre-sent): She will present (present) the award that was present (pre-sent) at the ceremony.
  19. Refuse (refuse/re-fuse): They must refuse (refuse) the offer to refuse (re-fuse) entry.
  20. Wound (wound/woond): He wound (wound) the clock before treating the wound (woond) on his arm.

30 Ways to Practice Tricky Words

Here are 30 ways to practice tricky language:

  1. Flashcards: Create flashcards with tricky language for quick and effective practice.
  2. Word Hunts: Encourage students to find tricky language in reading materials.
  3. Spelling Bees: Organize spelling bees focused on these challenging words.
  4. Memory Games: Use memory games with pairs of tricky words.
  5. Word Matching: Match tricky words with their definitions or pictures.
  6. Bingo Games: Create bingo cards with tricky language.
  7. Word Puzzles: Use crosswords or word search puzzles.
  8. Story Creation: Have students write stories using a list of tricky words.
  9. Role-Playing: Use the words in role-play scenarios.
  10. Rhyming Activities: Find or create rhymes for tricky words.
  11. Word Sorts: Sort words into categories (e.g., silent letters, irregular plurals).
  12. Dictation: Read sentences aloud for students to write, using tricky language.
  13. Drawing Associations: Draw images that relate to the tricky language.
  14. Sing and Chant: Create songs or chants that include the words.
  15. Use in Sentences: Have students use the words in their own sentences.
  16. Online Quizzes: Utilize interactive online quizzes featuring these words.
  17. Word Timers: Challenge students to spell or define words before time runs out.
  18. Peer Teaching: Let students teach each other the tricky language.
  19. Contextual Clues: Teach using words in various contextual sentences.
  20. Word Journals: Maintain journals to record new tricky words and their meanings.
  21. Mnemonic Devices: Create mnemonics to remember the spellings.
  22. Scrabble Games: Play Scrabble using tricky language.
  23. Flashcard Apps: Use smartphone apps for interactive word practice.
  24. Wall of Words: Create a classroom display of tricky language.
  25. Puppet Shows: Incorporate words into puppet show scripts.
  26. Story Boards: Visual storyboards with sentences using tricky language.
  27. Dramatization: Act out scenes or dialogues using the words.
  28. Word Collages: Create visual collages with tricky language and images.
  29. Audio Recordings: Record and listen to the pronunciation of words.
  30. Word Races: Conduct quickfire rounds where students spell or explain words rapidly.

Here is a video to help teach or learn tricky language:

YouTube Video by Epic Phonics

Tricky Word FAQ

Tricky language can often lead to confusion and a myriad of questions.

This FAQ section aims to address some of the most common inquiries about tricky language, providing clear explanations to help learners and educators alike.

1. What Makes a Word Tricky?

A word becomes tricky primarily due to its deviation from standard phonetic rules, leading to challenges in pronunciation and spelling.

Factors like silent letters, irregular spellings, multiple pronunciations, or unusual letter combinations contribute to a word’s trickiness.

Additionally, words borrowed from other languages can retain pronunciations and spellings that are atypical in English, further complicating their usage.

2. Do Tricky Words Change Over Time?

Yes, the list of tricky words can change over time.

Language is dynamic and continuously evolving, influenced by cultural changes, technological advancements, and the natural evolution of speech patterns.

Some words may become less tricky as they fall out of common usage.

At the same time, new words or borrowed terms may introduce fresh challenges.

3. How Can I Best Learn Tricky Words?

The most effective way to learn tricky language is through repeated exposure and practice.

This can include reading, writing, and engaging in activities like spelling quizzes or word games. Associating words with images or contexts, using mnemonic devices for memorization, and practicing pronunciation can also be helpful.

Tailoring the learning method to suit individual learning styles can significantly enhance retention.

4. Are Tricky Words More Common in Certain Subjects?

Tricky language is often more prevalent in specific subjects, especially those with specialized vocabularies, such as science, medicine, or law.

These fields frequently use terms derived from Latin or Greek.

Or they may have words with specific pronunciations and meanings unique to the subject, making them challenging for those not familiar with the field.

5. Why Do Some Words Have Silent Letters?

Silent letters in English words often result from the language’s history and evolution.

Many English words are borrowed from other languages, retaining spellings that no longer align with modern pronunciation.

Over time, as pronunciation shifted, some letters became silent.

These letters can offer clues about a word’s origin and its historical pronunciation.

6. How Important Is It to Correctly Pronounce Tricky Words?

Correct pronunciation of certain words is important for clear communication and can also reflect on one’s linguistic competence.

Mispronouncing words can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or confusion.

However, it’s also important to recognize that language learning is a process, and perfection isn’t always achievable or necessary for effective communication.

7. Can Tricky Words Affect Reading Comprehension?

Tricky language can affect reading comprehension, especially for learners or non-native speakers.

Encountering unfamiliar or difficult-to-decipher words can interrupt the flow of reading and make it challenging to grasp the overall meaning of a text.

Regular practice and contextual learning can help mitigate these challenges.

8. Are There Any Tricks to Remembering the Spelling of Tricky Words?

Mnemonic devices can be incredibly helpful in remembering the spellings of certain words.

These can include creating a memorable phrase or sentence that helps recall the word’s spelling or breaking the word down into smaller, more manageable parts.

Visual memory aids, such as flashcards or word maps, can also be effective.

9. How Often Should Tricky Words Be Practiced?

Tricky language should be practiced regularly to reinforce learning and improve retention.

Daily practice, even if brief, can be more effective than infrequent, extended sessions.

Incorporating these words into everyday use, whether through writing or conversation, can also enhance familiarity and ease of use.

10. Are Tricky Words the Same in All Forms of English?

Tricky language can vary between different forms of English, such as American, British, or Australian English, especially in terms of spelling and occasionally pronunciation.

These variations reflect the diverse influences and histories of English in different regions.

It’s important to be aware of these differences, particularly in global communication contexts.

Final Thoughts: Tricky Words

Navigating the maze of tricky words enhances both our linguistic agility and understanding, making every mastered term a triumphant step in the journey of language learning.

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