Category: Learning English, Grammar & ESL

ESL, English grammar, learning English resources, tips and advice

English is Tough Stuff: A Funny Poem about Pronouncing English Words

Below is the funny poem “English Is Tough Stuff (A.K.A. “The Chaos”)” by G. Nolst. It was first published in 1929 in a book to help people improve their English pronunciation (“Drop Your Foreign Accent”).  Most native English speakers can’t get very far into the poem without mispronouncing a word.  How soon before you get tripped up?

English is Tough Stuff

A poem on the difficulty of pronouncing English

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.

Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.

Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.

Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.

Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.

Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.

Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!

Page Topic: Funny English Poem:  A difficult poem  to pronounce (even for native speakers) about the difficulty of using correct English pronunciation.

The Importance of Punctuation: A funny Dear John Letter that Shows How Important Punctuation Is.

Just in case you think punctuation doesn’t matter, check this out. Here are two versions of the same letter. The only difference is the punctuation.  Which type of letter would you rather receive?

Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours? Gloria
Dear John:
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be? Yours, Gloria

The Strange English Language: Funny Things about English

Funny and Strange things about the English language, English grammar, spelling, pronunciation and word usage.

(Much thanks to Nick from for informing us that this wonderful composition was written by Richard Lederer.  Apologies for the late attribution).

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

Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend?

When the stars are out, they are visible,
When the lights are out, they are invisible.

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught?

If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

C’mon, let’s polish the Polish furniture.

The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

How can ‘A Slim Chance’ and ‘A Fat Chance’ be the same?

How can ‘You’re so cool’ and ‘You’re not so hot’ be different?

Why are ‘A Wise man’ and ‘A Wise guy’ opposites?

A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

The bandage was wound around the wound.

I did not object to the object.

The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

Boxing rings are square.

A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

The farm was used to produce produce.

English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France.

If brother becomes Brethren, why doesn’t mother become Methren?

If tooth becomes teeth, why doesn’t booth become beeth?

If one goose becomes two geese, why doesn’t one moose becomae two meese?

If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

How come Writers write but Fingers don’t fing?
And Grocers don’t groce and Hammers don’t ham?

A hat in the plural doesn’t become hose.
And a cat in the plural doesn’t become cose.

A box in the plural becomes is boxes.
But an Ox in the plural never becomes oxes. (It becomes Oxen).

A lone mouse can transform into a whole set of mice,
But it’s impossible for a single house to become a whole block of hice. (It becomes houses).

Although the masculine pronouns are he, his and him, we must be grateful for small mercies of the language that the feminine pronouns after ‘She’ don’t become ‘Shis’ and ‘Shim’.

If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

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

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

He could lead if he could only get the lead out.

They were too close to the door to close it.

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

When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

It is only in the English language that people recite at a play and play at a recital.

No sooner had my eye fallen upon the tear in the painting, then this eye of mine began to shed many a tear.

I was given a number of injections to make the pain number.

It’s not ridiculous, but entirely sensible to ship by truck and send cargo by ship.

We are a strange lot to have noses that run and feet that smell.

The buck does funny things when the does are present.

I was proven right that I had the right of way.

How come you never hear of a combobulated, gruntled, ruly, or peccable person?

Why is it that whether you sit down or sit up, the results are the same?

Shouldn’t there be a shorter word for “monosyllable”?

If you take an Oriental person and spin him around several times, does he become disoriented?

If people from Poland are called “Poles,” why aren’t people from Holland called “Holes?

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn’t it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed, tree surgeons debarked, and dry cleaners depressed?

The human race has been running for a great many centuries now – but we’re not tired yet.

“I am” is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that “I do” is the longest sentence?

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

Page Topic: the Very Strange English Language: Funny Things about English Grammar, Spelling, pronunciation and Word Usage.  Much thanks to Richard Lederer for creating this brilliant piece.