English pronunciation poems

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As English has become a global language, and as students have had to deal with its complex spelling patterns that sometimes correspond inconsistently with actual pronunciation, over the decades a few writers have written poems and articles to highlight these quirks of the language. These have also become popular online in recent years. Perhaps the most famous poem is a short poem by T. S. Watt from 1945 (below), which has been sighted in numerous social media posts, forwarded emails, and web sites.

1 Brush up on your English (Watt)

I take it you already know

of tough and bough and cough and dough.

Others may stumble, but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, lough and through.

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird.

And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead.

For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat.

They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there,

Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.

And then there’s dose and rose and lose

Just look them up — and goose and choose.

And cork and work and card and ward.

And font and front and word and sword.

And do and go, then thwart and cart.

Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,

I’d mastered it when I was five!

Note. This has been quoted or cited by Quoted by Vivian Cook and Melvin Bragg 2004, by Richard Krogh, in D Bolinger & D A Sears, Aspects of Language, 1981. This is ultimately attributed to T S Watt (1954), Brush up on your English with Hints on Pronunciation for visiting Foreigners, from the Manchester Guardian.

2 Our Speling at See!

When the English tongue we speak,

Why is 'break' not rhymed with 'freak'?

Will you tell me why it's true

We say 'sew,' but likewise 'few';

And the maker of a verse

Cannot cap his 'horse' with 'worse'?

'Beard' sounds not the same as 'heard';

'Cord' is different from 'word'

'Cow' is 'cow,' but 'low' is 'low';

'Shoe' is never rhymed with 'foe.'

Think of ' hose' and 'dose' and 'lose';

And of 'goose' and think of 'choose.'

Think of 'comb' and 'tomb' and 'bomb'

'Doll' and 'roll' and ' home' and 'some.'

And since 'pay' is rhymed with 'say.'

Why not 'paid' with 'said,' I pray?

We have 'blood' and 'food' and 'good';

'Mould' is not pronounced as 'could.'

Wherefore 'done,' but 'gone' and 'lone'?

Is there any reason known?

And, in short, it seems to me

Sound and letters disagree.

Note: This full version, in SSS Pyoneer September 1917 was taken from 'Ashore and Afloat'. A short version in the 1930 SSS pamphlet essay, "English as a World Language by Harold Cox, Former Editor Edinburgh Review, repeated in Bulletin Winter 1966, Item 4, says this poem was written by Lord Cromer and published in the Spectator of August 9th, 1902.[1]

3 Phoney Phonetics

One reason why I cannot spell.

Although I learned the rules quite well.

Is that some words like coup and through

Sound just like threw and flue and Who;

When oo is never spelled the same,

The duice becomes a guessing game;

And then I ponder over though,

Is it spelled so, or, throw, or beau?

And bough is never bow, it's bow,

I mean the bow that sounds like plow,

And not the bow that sounds like row -

The row that is pronounced like roe.

I wonder, too why rough and tough,

That sound the same as gruff and muff,

Are spelled like bough and though, for they

Are both pronounced a different way.

And why can't I spell trough and cough

The same as I do scoff or golf?

Why isn't drought spelled just like route?

Or doubt or pout or sauerkraut?

When words all sound so much the same

To change the spelling seems a shame.

There is no sense – see, sounds like cents

In making such a difference

Between the sight and sound of words,

Each spelling rule that undergirds

The way a word should look will fail

And often prove to no avail

Because exceptions will negate

The truth of what the rule may state

So though I try, I still despair

And moan and mutter, "It's not fair

That I'm held up to ridicule

And made to look like such a fool,

When it's the spelling that's at fault.

Let's call this nonsense to a halt."

Note: By Vivian Bucan.[2]

4 Why English is so hard to learn


We must polish the Polish furniture.

He could lead if he would get the lead out.

The farm was used to produce produce.

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

The soldier decided to desert in the desert.

This was a good time to present the present.

A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

I did not object to the object.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

They were too close to the door to close it.

The buck does funny things when the does are present.

They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.

To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

After a number of injections my jaw got number.

Upon seeing the tear in my clothes I shed a tear.

I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

I read it once and will read it agen

I learned much from this learned treatise.

I was content to note the content of the message.

The Blessed Virgin blessed her. Blessed her richly.

It's a bit wicked to over-trim a short wicked candle.

If he will absent himself we mark him absent.

I incline toward bypassing the incline.

5 Anonymous pronunciation poem

Here is some pronunciation.

Ration never rhymes with nation,

Say prefer, but preferable,

Comfortable and vegetable,

B must not be heard in doubt,

Debt and dumb both leave it out.

In the words psychology,

Psychic and psychiatry,

You must never sound the p.

Psychiatrist you call the man

Who cures the complex, if he can.

In architect, chi is k.

In arch it is the other way.

Please remember to say iron

So that it’ll rhyme with lion.

Advertisers advertise,

Advertisements will put you wise.

Time when work is done is leisure,

Fill it up with useful pleasure.

Accidental, accident,

Sound the g in ignorant.

Relative, but relation,

Then say creature, but creation.

Say the a in gas quite short

Bought remember rhymes with thwart,

Drought must always rhyme with bout,

In daughter leave the “gh” out.

Wear a boot upon your foot.

Root can never rhyme with soot.

In muscle, sc is s,

In muscular, it’s sk, yes!

Choir must always rhyme with wire,

That again will rhyme with liar.

Then remember it’s address

With an accent like possess.

G in sign must silent be,

In signature, pronounce the g.

Please remember, say towards

Just as if it rhymed with boards.

Weight’s like wait, but not like height.

Which should always rhyme with might.

Sew is just the same as so,

Tie a ribbon in a bow.

When you meet the queen you bow,

Which again must rhyme with how.

In perfect English make a start.

Learn this little rhyme by heart.

6 Spell checker poems

Spell checker #1

I have a spelling checker,

It came with my PC.

It plane lee marks four my revue

Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,

Your sure reel glad two no.

Its vary polished in it's weigh.

My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,

It freeze yew lodes of thyme.

It helps me right awl stiles two reed,

And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen

Eye trussed too bee a joule.

The checker pours o'er every word

To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's

Hour spelling mite decline,

And if we're lacks oar have a laps,

We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling

Is checked with such grate flare,

Their are know fault's with in my cite,

Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,

It does knot bring a tier.

My pay purrs awl due glad den

With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet

Of witch won should bee proud,

And wee mussed dew the best wee can,

Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays

Such soft wear four pea seas,

And why eye brake in two averse

Buy righting want too pleas.

Note: Attributed to Jerrold H. Zar.

Spell checker #2

Eye halve a spelling checker

It came with my pea sea

It plainly marques for my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it to say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid

It nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite

It's rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it

Eye am shore your pleased two no

It's letter perfect awl the weigh

My checker tolled me sew

Note: Attributed to Margo Roark.

7 The Chaos

The Chaos is a classic poem about English pronunciation, as well as the longest and most challenging to read. It contains 800 of the most challenging irregularities in English spelling and pronunciation (though since then, a few words may have fallen out of use or changed). It was first published in 1922 by a Dutch writer, traveler, and educator named Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946).[3] Since then it has been revised and published elsewhere, such as in the bulletin of the English Spelling Society.[4] Numerous videos can be found on Youtube of oral readings of this poem.

Gerard Nolst Trenité: The Chaos

Dearest creature in creation

Studying English pronunciation,

     I will teach you in my verse

     Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,

Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

     Tear in eye, your dress you'll tear;

     Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,

Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!

     Just compare heart, hear and heard,

     Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain

(Mind the latter how it's written).

     Made has not the sound of bade,

     Say-said, pay-paid, laid 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;

     Woven, oven, how and low,

     Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:

Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

     Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,

     Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,

Same, examining, but mining,

     Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

     Solar, mica, war and far.

From "desire": desirable-admirable from "admire",

Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,

     Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,

     Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,

Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

     Gertrude, German, wind and wind,

     Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,

Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.

     This phonetic labyrinth

     Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

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;

Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.

     Blood and flood are not like food,

     Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,

Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

     Discount, viscount, load and broad,

     Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?

Right! Your pronunciation's OK.

     Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

     Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?

Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.

     Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

     Buoyant, minute, 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 perjure. Sheik

     Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,

Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

     We say hallowed, but allowed,

     People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,

Between mover, plover, Dover.

     Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

     Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,

Principle, disciple, label.

     Petal, penal, and canal,

     Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit

Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it",

     But it is not hard to tell

     Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,

Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

     Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

     Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour

Has the a of drachm and hammer.

     Pussy, hussy and possess,

     Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants

Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

     Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,

     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,

     Font, front, wont, want, grand 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.

     Mind! Meandering 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, severance. Ribald

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 buffet, buffet;

     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 trolley, realm 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  r ,  ch 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.

     Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

     Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,

Parry, tarry fury, bury,

     Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

     Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,

Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

     Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

     Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,

We say actual, but victual,

     Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

     Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,

Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.

     Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

     Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,

Science, conscience, scientific;

     Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

     Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,

Next omit, which differs from it

     Bona fide, alibi

     Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,

Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

     Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

     Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,

Dandelion with battalion,

     Rally with ally; yea, ye,

     Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,

Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.

     Never guess-it is not safe,

     We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,

Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

     Face, but preface, then grimace,

     Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,

Ought, oust, 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, putting. Putting?

Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

     Respite, spite, consent, resent.

     Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,

Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,

     Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

     Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

 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 rowlock, gunwale,

     Islington, and Isle of Wight,

     Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don't you think so, reader, rather,

Saying lather, bather, father?

     Finally, which rhymes with enough,

     Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup...

My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

8 See also

  1. Source: https://www.spellingsociety.org/uploaded_misc/poems-online-misc.pdf
  2. Source: https://www.spellingsociety.org/uploaded_bulletins/spb66-1-bulletin.pdf
  3. It apparently first appeared in an appendix to the author’s 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen.
  4. https://www.spellingsociety.org/uploaded_misc/poems-chaos-misc.pdf