English Pronunciation: Pronounce the 100 Most Common Words in English Like a Native

  • 6

Learning a language is definitely a process, and, at times a frustrating and overwhelming one. For many, it feels like a lifelong struggle. Over the years, I’ve taught countless students who confide in me the same problem…

“I’ve been studying English since I was a child and I want to improve my speaking and pronunciation.”

So, how can you improve your English pronunciation and speaking? Well, there are lots of different ways but today we’re going to focus on one simple strategy and we’re going to break it down into 3 easy steps which I’ll explain in detail below. This should give you a good base to continue working on your pronunciation later.

  1. Dedicate some time to familiarizing yourself with the phonemic chart.
  2. Learn the top 100 most commonly used English words listed below and sound them out yourself using the phonemic transcription.
  3. Listen to a recording of each word, repeat and memorize.

Familiarize Yourself with the Phonemic Chart

If you’ve yet to come across the phonemic chart in your studies, it’s basically a table made up of 44 symbols which represent the different sounds in English. So, it’s super handy for when it comes to decoding English pronunciation. Why do we need a chart for that, you may ask? Well, if you’re observant, you might have noticed that there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet. So, that means there are actually 2 sounds for some letters. And, if you’ve ever had to read out loud in class, you’ve probably noticed that spelling doesn’t necessarily help us determine the correct pronunciation.

Consider this!

How do you pronounce…

through, though and thought?

Tricky without the phonemic transcription to help, right?

Improve your English pronunciation with the help of your trusty dictionary.
When in doubt get the dictionary out! Dictionaries are a handy tool for checking you’re using the correct English pronunciation. Photo by Romain Vignes. Image Source.

This handy interactive chart on Teaching English is a fantastic place to get started. (Just bear in mind that voiceless consonants are actually voiced in this chart.)

Not sure what the difference between voiced and voiceless consonants are? In a nutshell, voiced consonants make your vocal cords vibrate when you say them whereas voiceless consonants don’t.

Let’s compare the sounds /z/ and /s/. Place your fingers on your throat and make a long /z/ sound. You should feel your vocal cords buzzing. Repeat. This time, making a long /s/ sound. You’ll notice how this time, you don’t feel anything. Keen to learn more about the science behind voiced and voiceless sounds? Read more here.

Learn the Top 100 Most Commonly Used English Words

There are 171, 476 words in current use according to the Oxford English Dictionary which may seem daunting at first but not to worry, you won’t need to memorize anywhere near that figure to have a good working vocabulary. The Oxford English Corpus (a study based on written texts) shows that as few as 10 different lemmas (base words) make up 25% of all words in this written collection and the 100 most common lemmas make up 50%! So, learning the correct pronunciation of the 100 most commonly used English words is a great starting place for improving your speaking.

If those numbers piqued your curiosity, you’ll probably also want to take a look at this awesome answer to the question, “How many words are in an average English speaker’s working vocabulary?” on Quora by Robert Charles Lee which gives more insight into the matter.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Sometimes my students laugh at me when I repeat these words in class but there’s really no better way to hone a skill than to practice. So, this is where the work comes in. Once you’re feeling fairly confident with the phonemic chart I suggest you test your skills and try and pronounce these words without listening to the pronunciation first. This will help you focus on the sounds and memorize them as well. When you’re done, give them a listen and repeat. This Youtube video by Go Natural English goes through them all here or you can check problem words on an online dictionary like The Oxford English Dictionary.

The 100 Most Common English Words

Without further ado, here are the 100 most commonly used English words and their phonemic transcription according to the Oxford English Dictionary’s Corpus. You’ll notice some words have more than one way to pronounce them. That’s because of the diverse nature of pronunciation. And remember, this is just received pronunciation, in other words “standard British English” pronunciation. There are lots more variations too!

  1. the /ðə/, /ðɪ/or /ðiː/
  2. be /biː/
  3. to /tʊ/, /tuː/ or /tə/
  4. of /ɒv/ or /(ə)v/
  5. and /ənd/, /and/ or /(ə)n/
  6. a /ə/ or /eɪ/
  7. in /ɪn/
  8. that /ðat/
  9. have /hav/
  10. I /ʌɪ/
  11. it /ɪt/
  12. for /fɔː/ or /fə/
  13. not /nɒt/
  14. on /ɒn/
  15. with /wɪð/
  16. he /hiː/
  17. as /az/
  18. you /juː/
  19. do /duː/
  20. at /ət/ or /at/
  21. this /ðɪs/
  22. but /bʌt/ or /bət/
  23. his /hɪz/
  24. by /bʌɪ/
  25. from /frɒm/ or /frəm/
  26. they /ðeɪ/
  27. we /wiː/
  28. say /seɪ/
  29. her /həː/
  30. she /ʃiː/
  31. or /ɔː/
  32. An /ən/ or /an/
  33. will /wɪl/
  34. my /mʌɪ/
  35. one /wʌn/
  36. all /ɔːl/
  37. would /wʊd/ or /wəd/
  38. there /ðɛː/
  39. their /ðɛː/
  40. what /wɒt/
  41. so /səʊ/
  42. up /ʌp/
  43. out /aʊt/
  44. if /ɪf/
  45. about /əˈbaʊt/
  46. who /hʊ/ or /huː/
  47. get /ɡɛt/
  48. which /wɪtʃ/
  49. go /ɡəʊ/
  50. me /miː/
  51. when /wɛn/
  52. make /meɪk/
  53. can /kən/
  54. ike /lʌɪk/
  55. time /tʌɪm/
  56. no /nəʊ/
  57. just /dʒʌst/
  58. him /hɪm/
  59. know /nəʊ/
  60. take /teɪk/
  61. people /ˈpiːp(ə)l/
  62. into /ˈɪntə/ or /ˈɪntʊ/
  63. year /jɪə/or /jəː/
  64. your /jʊə/ or /jɔː/
  65. good /ɡʊd/
  66. some /sʌm/
  67. could /kəd/ or /kʊd/
  68. them /ðɛm/ or /ðəm/
  69. see /siː/
  70. other /ˈʌðə/
  71. than /ðan/ or /ð(ə)n/
  72. then /ðɛn/
  73. now /naʊ/
  74. look /lʊk/
  75. only /ˈəʊnli/
  76. come /kʌm/
  77. its /ɪts/
  78. over /ˈəʊvə/
  79. think /θɪŋk/
  80. also /ˈɔːlsəʊ/
  81. back /bak/
  82. after /ˈɑːftə/
  83. use /juːz/
  84. two /tuː/
  85. how /haʊ/
  86. our /aʊə/
  87. work /wəːk/
  88. first /fəːst/
  89. well /wɛl/
  90. way /weɪ/
  91. even /eɪˈvɛn/
  92. new /njuː/
  93. want /wɒnt/
  94. because /bɪˈkɒz/
  95. any /ˈɛni/
  96. these /ðiːz/
  97. give /ɡɪv/
  98. day /deɪ/
  99. most /məʊst/
  100.    us /ʌs/

Did you find this post helpful? What sounds do you find most difficult to pronounce in English? Let us know in the comments.






  • 6