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Difficult English Words And What They Mean

Difficult English words

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Mispronunciation of complicated words is one of the most common problems for English learners. But do you know that in addition to it, you can face even more difficulties not only with the pronunciation and spelling of those words but even with understanding them? In today’s article, we will tell you about hard words in English and the best ways to master them. So please, make yourself comfortable – this topic might make you flabbergasted!

Learning difficult English words – is it worth it?

Some people believe that learning difficult words in English without context is useless. Why spend hours flipping through the dictionary when you can just watch your favorite movies and learn even more words? Well, partly, it’s true. It is not enough to remember the word and its meaning – you have to understand how to pronounce it and how to use it in a conversation. But in some cases, you just need to learn the word. And here are some reasons that explain it.

If you know something about English dictionaries, you’ve probably heard about the Frequency List. It is an online dictionary containing a list of the most common English words – mainly used on TV, in movies, in articles and magazines, in books, etc. And you might be surprised that the first words you’ll see there would be the simplest ones – be, I, you, have, what, etc. But what does it mean? 

It means that when you have a little vocabulary but want to expand it by watching movies, for example, you simply wouldn’t be able to do it. You will constantly repeat the words you already know (the ones from the Frequency List), but you won’t learn at least one new hard word. In addition, words in movies are spoken very fast – you might not even have time to open the dictionary to find its meaning. 

The same thing is with learning difficult words by reading English literature. When you don’t understand half of the page, the reading process turns to torture, you become bored and frustrated, and you end up giving it up. So, the answer to the initial question is yes, learning English words is completely worth it. But how can you do it?

Tips for learning complicated words in English

The best thing about the Promova blog is that here we're trying to make your studying process as simple and satisfying as possible. So if your goal is to learn the most common English dictionary hard words, say no more. Here are some of the best tips you can use to achieve it. 

  • Find analogs. Plenty of Advanced words and phrases in English have elementary synonyms. For example, natives are more likely to say they are swamped instead of very busy. Another example is the word exhausted instead of very tired. So if you want to expand your vocabulary, start with simple and familiar words that sound more complicated. 
  • Make cards. Visualization is a great way to remember new words since it helps you to picture their meaning. It will help you memorize more words in a short period of time and learn how to use them in the context. Print or draw some cards that show lexis you are interested in – and start to learn them. 
  • Listen to the songs. When we listen to a song for a while, it can get stuck in our heads. And if this song has some unusual words we’ve never heard before, we want to understand what they mean immediately. So this is another perfect way to remember hard dictionary words.
  • Connect hard words with your daily life. Let’s take a look at the word supersede – what do you think it means? In layman’s terms, it describes a process of replacing something (or someone) that is not useful anymore. Now think about your old toothbrush or a pair of shoes. When you’ve bought a new one, it supersedes the one you already have. Connecting the hardest English words with daily situations is another perfect tool to remember them easily. 

These simple tips can be beneficial in your future studying process. Don’t forget about them when learning new vocabulary. And now that you know how to remember them, let’s take a look at our list of the most difficult English words and ways to use them in your conversations.

Hardest words to pronounce in English

There are two types of difficult English words – the ones that are challenging due to their complex pronunciation and those that have tricky meanings or ways of use. Let’s start with the first one. Here is our list of hard words to pronounce in English. 

  • Choir.

You might think it is easy – if we start the word chair with the [ch] sound, then this one will probably be the same. Ah, if only it were that simple. The word choir pronounces like [ˈkwaɪ.ɚ] and describes a group of people that sing together or a place in the church where the choir sits. Here are some examples of using this word in sentences:

When I was in middle school, I sang in a choir. 

I love listening to the Christmas carols sung by the choir. 

  • Colonel. 

There are many English words borrowed from different languages, and colonel is one of them. It came from the Spanish word coronel, which means a high-rank army officer. Meanwhile, in Spain, this word came from the Italian word colonello. And here we are – in English, we spell almost the Italian version of the word but pronounce it in a Spanish manner [ˈkɜr·nəl]. Here are some examples:

Colonel Harrison is one of the most respected people in town. 

When I grow up, I want to be a colonel like my grandfather.

  • Lieutenant. 

Another military term that you can see in most lists of difficult words. It means a middle-rank army officer. Not only is this one hard to pronounce in general, but it also has two different pronunciations in American and British English. So depending on the accent you are trying to achieve, you can say this word as /lefˈten.ənt/ (British) or /luːˈten.ənt/ (American). For example:

I think I am falling in love with lieutenant Black. 

My godfather was a lieutenant. 

  • Worcestershire. 

If you are not from this county or don’t like to drink Bloody Mary, you may be confused by this one. This is one of the hardest-to-pronounce examples in our list of hard words. Try to read this one before we provide you with the right pronunciation. We’re willing to bet that you’ve never thought that the first six letters would be pronounced as [wus]. Meanwhile, the proper pronunciation of the word is [ˈwʊs.tɚ.ʃɚ]. For example:

I’ve been living in Worcestershire for my entire life. 

I really like to add Worcestershire sauce to the steak. 

  • Coup. 

And here is another French word for you today. You probably want to read it as [ˈkʌp] (like in couple), and we won’t judge you. But since this one is borrowed, the proper pronunciation would be [kuː]. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means a surprisingly successful achievement. For example:

I’ve been missing History classes for a year, so passing the exam was some kind of a coup. 

It was a coup for me to take her out for a date. 

  • Espresso. 

It might not be as confusing as the previous one, but many people still mispronounce this word. A common way of spelling words that start with the letter e is with the prefix ex-, like in words example or expectation. Hence, you can pronounce this word as expresso when the proper pronunciation of it is [esˈpres.əʊ]. Here is how you can use this term that describes a strong black coffee:

Would you like to add sugar to your espresso?

I prefer the cappuccino, while my husband really likes espresso. 

  • Phenomenon. 

This word is a real phenomemon in English vocabulary. Oh wait, or is it phemonenon? Nah, probably phemonemon. The main problem with this word is the amount of similar letters m and n, which confuses not only English learners but even native speakers. Still, the only way to pronounce this word correctly is [fəˈnɑː.mə.nɑːn]. For example:

I know many English words, but the phenomenon has always been my headache. 

Do you believe in a supernatural phenomenon?

  • February. 

Yes, even the name of this month is now considered one of the most complicated words in English. Even though we study it in the first grade, the pronunciation of the word can be confusing, even for grown-ups. The main problem with this word is that some people prefer to skip the letter r to simplify the pronunciation (r and u are considered similar, so sometimes it is hard to pronounce them together). Anyway, the only way this word should sound is [ˈfeb.ruː.er.i], without missing any letters. For example:

I was born in February. 

February is the shortest month of the year. 

  • Salmon. 

Some people also have issues with the pronunciation of the name of this delicious fish. You might think it sounds like it spells, but it doesn’t. The letter l in this word is as silent as the fish itself. You can see similar pronunciation in the words talk or would, and the word salmon properly sounds like [ˈsæm.ən]. For example:

I ordered some delicious salmon steak. 

I prefer avocado-salmon toast for breakfast. 

  • Sixth. 

This example from our list of hard words also confuses almost every English speaker, regardless of their fluency level. It's no surprise, given how difficult it is to say the sounds s and th together without accidentally spitting on your interlocutor. The pronunciation [sɪksθ] is really difficult, which is why we consider this word complicated. Here is how you can use it:

My sister was born on the sixth of August. 

Sixth Sense is my favorite movie. 

  • Mischievous.

If you want to describe a behavior that can be considered inappropriate but still doesn’t cause any damage or harm, you can use this complicated word. But remember that it doesn’t sound like it spells (like the word obvious, for example) – its proper pronunciation is [ˈmɪs.tʃə.vəs]. Here is how you can use this word:

His sense of humor is really mischievous. 

Jane doesn’t like Katy because she spreads mischievous rumors about her. 

  • Rural.

This word is not as challenging as the ones we’ve mentioned before because it is almost as easy to pronounce as to spell. But it is on our list because of the r letters – it is still difficult to pronounce correctly (especially in expressions like rural juror) for non-English speakers. This word usually describes something in, of, or like the countryside, and here is how you can use it in your conversations:

My grandmother lives in a rural area. 

The authorities allowed the development of this rural area.

  • Schadenfreude.

This is also a borrowed word that came in English from German. It describes a feeling of pleasure from someone’s misfortune or bad luck. Since it is a foreign word, you probably don’t have any idea how to pronounce it (if you don’t know German, of course). But the correct pronunciation of the word is [ˈʃɑː.dənˌfrɔɪ.də]. And in sentences, you can use it like that:

He had a feeling of schadenfreude when the opposite team missed the second ball. 

I am not gonna lie. I feel schadenfreude because I know that my ex-best friend is now dating my foolish ex – they are both worth each other.

  • Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

We hope you haven’t decided to close this article after reading (or at least trying to read) this word. But there is no need to panic – it is a common example of one of the hardest words in English. If you’ve seen the Mary Poppins movie, you’ll know how to say it. And if not, don’t worry – the proper way to pronounce it is [ˌsuː.pɚ.kæl.ɪ.frædʒ.əˌlɪs.tɪk.eks.pi.æl.ɪˈdoʊ.ʃəs]. The word's meaning, by the way, is elementary – it is used to describe something extremely good. For example:

Our trip to New York for Christmas was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. 

Her life with her mother wasn’t always supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Hard words to understand and their meanings

Complicated words

Now you are familiar with over a dozen English words with difficult pronunciation. And it’s time to move to the second part of our article and learn some of the most difficult words with meaning. They will be a great way to expand your vocabulary and learn some advanced terms for your next conversation.

  • Literally.

Let’s start with the simplest word in this list. You’ve probably used it at least once in your speech. So what is so difficult about it? Well, it’s all about the meaning. Initially, the word literally used to describe something that was not imaginary but really happened the way one says it did. Nowadays, we use it to exaggerate the meaning of something to emphasize the meaning of it, and this statement doesn’t have to be true. For example:

There were literally hundreds of thousands of people at the concert.

He is so funny! I was literally dying from laughter on our date.

  • Disinterested.

Another not-so-difficult-but-still-confusing English word that, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, describes an attitude toward something without any personal involvement or without receiving any personal benefits, and as a result, free to act fairly. You can easily confuse this word with a similar one – uninterested (with a lack of interest). This is the main reason why we put it on our list. In sentences, you can use it like that:

We need a disinterested jury for this case. 

I would like to hear some disinterested advice about our divorce.

  • Whom.

This simple word is an object version of the word who. We use it to refer to a person when they are an object of the verb. Mostly, this term is used in formal conversations and writing, but it is still important to know how to use it. For example, if you want to ask who/whom you are working with on this project, think about the answer – would it be he or him? If the answer is him, the right word is whom. Here are some more examples:

They became parents in 1998 to a boy whom they named Jackson. 

Would you like to tell me for whom you voted?

  • Anodyne. 

Now that you know what are some hard words to understand in English due to various reasons, it is time to relax and take a look at some advanced words that are not as confusing as previous ones. And for starters, we have the term anodyne – it has two different meanings. As an adjective, it describes something intended to avoid causing offense or disagreement. As a noun, this term means a painkilling medicine. For example:

She is known for creating this relaxing anodyne music. 

He was in pain, so the doctor prescribed him some anodynes. 

  • Byzantine.

Do you know these words that we use to sound more fluent in English? Usually, they mean familiar things, but when we use more advanced terms, it sounds fancier. The word byzantine is one of them. In layman’s terms, it describes something hard to understand and complicated. Of course, it is a more formal word, but native speakers often use it in their informal conversations. For example:

I have to learn those byzantine company regulations. 

Our country has a byzantine tax structure.

  • Quisling.

This word describes a traitor who helps an enemy during the invasion to take control over their country. This is a Norwegian term named after a real historical figure – Major Vikdun Quisling, who ruled Norway on behalf of the Germans. Today the word has the same meaning and is mostly used during discussions of wars, history, and politics. For example:

At least we all can agree that Benedict Arnold was a quisling. 

Now our government consists of communists, quisling, and collaborators.

  • Maudlin.

This word will probably be relatable for most of our readers since we all face this feeling at least once in our lives. The adjective maudlin describes an overly emotional feeling of sadness for yourself. Mostly, you can feel it after drinking a lot of alcohol, as we all become emotional in such circumstances. In real conversations, you can use this word like that:

Her maudlin behavior after her break-up is annoying most of her friends. 

I don’t feel talkative now. I’m in a maudlin mood. 

  • Flabbergasted.

It’s time to return to the word we’ve mentioned twice in this article. It might look a bit shocking, but there is no surprise – according to Urban Dictionary, flabbergasted is an adjective that means greatly surprised or shocked. You can hear this word in Van Morrison’s Rough God Goes Riding song. In daily life, you can use it like that:

I was flabbergasted by the news. 

She was flabbergasted when she realized that her sister was pregnant. 

  • Fatuous.

Another term in our list of hard words with meaning that is simpler than it seems at first glance is fatuous. Even though it is slightly associated with Goethe's Faust, in real life, it is used to describe something incorrect, foolish, and stupid. You can use this term to talk about someone’s remark, idea, etc. For example:

Max was flabbergasted by her fatuous remark.

I can tell you now it was a fatuous idea.

  • Blinkered.

Blinkered is a rather offensive word. It usually describes a person with a very limited outlook or perspective. Usually, such people don’t understand (or don’t want to understand) other people’s beliefs or opinions. Blinkered behavior shows that a person is unwilling or unable to comprehend another outlook. For example:

He is known for his blinkered outlook. 

I’m tired of your blinkered behavior.

  • Equivocate. 

This verb in our list of hard English words with meanings is also fascinating. In layman’s terms, it means to speak ambiguously and prevaricate, usually to hide the truth. In most cases, the person who equivocates does it intentionally. Here is how you can use this word in daily conversations:

I know she is equivocating. 

Mark accused his girlfriend of equivocating.

  • Untoward.

While toward is the common preposition that means in the direction of, the similar word untoward is an adjective that describes something unexpected, inappropriate, or inconvenient. In daily situations, you can use this word like that:

I will be at your wedding in any case unless something untoward happens.

After their fight, they both tried to act like nothing untoward happened.

  • Diatribe. 

Another difficult English noun in our list. Even though it looks somehow related to geometry, it has nothing to do with that. In fact, it means an angry speech or text that severely criticizes someone or something. Another meaning of the word is a verbal attack against someone or something. For example:

She’s prepared a diatribe against meat eating. 

Major ended their statement with a memorable diatribe against republicans.

  • Invective.

The last term in our list is slightly similar to the previous one. It describes insulting, abusive, sometimes even racist, and highly critical language. We hope that you’ll never face it in your daily conversations. But just in case, here are some examples of using it in sentences:

I was shocked by her stream of invective. 

After the divorce, Karen let out a stream of invective on David and his family.

Learn really hard words in English with Promova

Now you know enough about different types of English words, the importance of using them, and even their meanings. But how to learn them all and understand how to use them in real life? Luckily, we know a perfect solution. Promova is an international language-learning platform for students from all over the world. Here you can easily remember most of the hard words to learn in English. How? Here are the main options:

  1. Personal lessons. If your goal is to master the language and become fluent, but you know that you need some help, you can seek it from our team of professional tutors. They will create a curriculum according to your fluency level and studying needs, and you will easily achieve your goals. All you have to do is to go to the official website, pass a simple test to determine your level, and pick a suitable date and time. 
  2. Group lessons. For those who prefer to study in a company, Promova offers amazing group lessons. Here you can not only explore dozens of topics (including hard words and their meanings) but also meet new friends from different countries, practice conversational skills, and much more. 
  3. Speaking club. Students aiming to master their speaking will be pleasantly surprised by Promova’s free conversational club. It is the perfect place to practice speaking skills, discuss topics you are interested in, and just have fun! 
  4. Mobile application. If none of the previous options is suitable for you because you prefer to study alone, don’t worry! Promova mobile application will be the best solution for you. Install it on your phone or tablet, pass the test, and enjoy dozens of lessons, various topics, hard words in English with meaning, and many more. 

As you can see, Promova has something to offer for different needs. Students of various English levels and interests can easily find an option that suits them best. So there is no need to hesitate – visit the Promova official website now, and find something for yourself!

Conclusion

At that moment, you already know plenty of difficult words and their meanings in English. But, of course, there are many more of them. Some words can be challenging due to their impossible pronunciation, while others have absolutely confusing meanings. But we want you to know that you can easily learn even more of them – just put a little effort into it! We hope that this article was helpful for starters. And if you know any interesting and complex English words, don’t be shy and share them in the comments.

FAQ

What are the main types of difficult English words?

There are two of them. The first type is the words that have difficult or confusing pronunciation. Some of the best examples are colonel, choir, rural, sixth, salmon, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The second type, on the other hand, are the words with difficult or perplexing meanings, like words literally, whom, or flabbergasted.

Why is it necessary to learn complicated vocabulary?

Many reasons explain the importance of learning difficult English words. For example, it will help you to easily understand foreign sounds, watch movies in the original language, read classic and modern literature, etc. Another benefit is that you will be able to explain your thoughts more clearly, and your overall speech will sound more fluent. 

How to learn complex English words easily?

Depending on your fluency level, you can choose one of many options. If you have basic or intermediate knowledge, you can make flashcards, find simple analogs to difficult words, listen to catchy songs, etc. If you are more fluent, you can watch movies or TV shows and learn new words from the context. And, of course, you can find an online platform, like Promova, with professional tutors that will be happy to help you. 

What are some of the hardest English words to pronounce?

Words with the hardest pronunciation in English are sixth, rural, juror, lieutenant, Worcestershire, coup, sesquipedalian (long), and phenomenon. As for advanced words with difficult meanings, we can distinguish words anodyne, byzantine, flabbergasted, equivocate, disinterested, flabbergasted, untoward, quisling, and diatribe.

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