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Pronunciation vs. Enunciation: What’s the Difference?

The words “pronunciation” and “enunciation” look and sound very similar except for a few letters. They often get confused with each other; however, their meanings are slightly different, so is it pronunciate or enunciate?

Pronunciation is saying a word correctly, and enunciation is saying a word clearly. So, pronunciation is the act of making the correct sounds. Enunciation is the act of saying a word concisely and clearly. These words are critical components in the English language as they deal with accuracy and clarity.

It is not possible to grasp and master English without proper enunciation and pronunciation. Using these two words correctly will help you to communicate better.

Read on to wrap your mind around the difference between enunciation and pronunciation, how they’re used in the English language, and the correct way of using them.

What Is Pronunciation in Speech? 

PronunciationEnunciation
Saying the word CORRECTLY. Saying the word CLEARLY.
The Difference Between Pronunciation and Enunciation

Pronunciation is how a word should sound when it is spoken aloud. It focuses on the syllables of the word and the correct way the speaker should put them together. Pronunciation focuses on the sounds of each syllable and the way we say them correctly.

Each word in a language has a specific way to speak it or sound it out, making pronunciation one of the most important aspects of learning and speaking a language.

If you are talking with a native speaker in a foreign language, the first thing they will notice is your pronunciation.

Common Pronunciation Problems

When learning to pronounce words correctly in a new language, pronunciation can pose a few challenges (source).

1. Multiple Pronunciations and Spellings

In some languages, like English, a word can have the same spelling but different pronunciations. If such a word is mispronounced, the meaning of the word can change.

SentencePronunciationWhen to Use
I am planning to read this book./reed/(long e sound)Present tenseFuture tense
She read a story to the child./red/(soft e sound)Past tense
The girl wore a red dress./red/(soft e sound)Color

For more information on the differences that alternative spellings and pronunciations can make in the meaning of a word, see the article on understanding the difference between half or halve.

2. Silent Letters

Some common English words have silent letters. A silent letter is a letter or combination of letters not pronounced in a word (source).

WordSilent LetterPronunciation
love, glove, dovelove, glove, dove(The e in these words is silent)/lʌv/, /dʌv/, /ɡlʌv/(luv), (duv), (gluv)
honest, honorhonest, honor(The h in these words is silent)/ˈɒnɪst/, /ˈɒnə(r)/(on-est), (on-or)
subtlesubtle(The b in these words is silent)/ˈsʌt(ə)l/(suttel)

3. American English vs. British English

Some words that have the same spelling are pronounced differently in American English and British English. 

WordAmerican English PronunciationBritish English Pronunciation
leisure/ˈliː.ʒɚ/(leesure)/ˈleʒ.ər/(same pronunciation as in pleasure)
vase/veɪs/(vace as in face)/vɑːz/(vars as in cars)
vitamin/ˈvʌɪtəmɪn/Vite-a-minLong sound/ˈvɪtəmɪn/(vit-a- min)Short sound
buoy/ˈbuːi/(boo-ee)/bɔɪ/(boy)

3. Incorrect Stressing of Words

One of the most common pronunciation problems for English learners is stressing individual words incorrectly or stressing the wrong words in a sentence. Stressing individual words incorrectly can change the meaning of the word. 

SentenceStressMeaning
“They will desert the desert by tomorrow.”/ˈdezərt/(de-zuurt)“to leave someone without help or support” or “to go away from a place and leave it empty.”
(Oxford Dictionary)
“They will desert the desert by tomorrow.”/ˈdezət/(deh-zit)“a large area of land that has little to no water and very few plants growing on it.”
(Oxford Dictionary)

How to Improve Your Pronunciation

Accurate pronunciation plays a major role in whether people understand what you say. It can also influence their initial impression of you, so pronouncing words correctly is essential in any language.

Good pronunciation is a physical skill that we must practice regularly. Here are some ways you can practice your pronunciation more effectively and improve your skills (source).

1. Listen to Yourself

When learning a new language, most of your concentration is on communicating rather than the sound you’re making, so it can be difficult to hear your own pronunciation errors.

To improve your pronunciation, record your speech and listen to how you say your words to check if your pronunciation is correct.

2. Speak Slowly

Speaking too quickly is a common mistake with many English learners because they tend to correlate fluency to speed. Talking too fast leads to mistakes in pronunciation and can form bad speech habits. 

It’s always a good idea to speak slowly and clearly. This gives you the time to think about the words you’re saying and whether you’re pronouncing them correctly.

3. Visualize the Sound

Closing your eyes and thinking about the word’s pronunciation before you say it can help with getting it right. Study a phonemic chart or look at diagrams of the mouth and tongue’s position when saying that sound and picture it when your eyes are closed.

4. Watch Yourself

Another good way to form the correct position with your mouth and tongue for correct pronunciation is to stand in front of a mirror and watch yourself speak. Take note of the shape of your mouth and the position of your tongue and lips when saying a word. 

Compare yourself with a video of a native speaker saying the same word and note the differences if any.

5. Copy Native Speakers

The best method to improve your pronunciation involves copying native speakers by watching television programs and movies in English and listening to English radio programs. Copy what they are saying and how they say it.

6. Talk to Yourself

It is said that the first sign of madness is speaking to yourself, but when you are learning a new language, it’s one of the best ways to practice.

Chat to yourself in English and create scenarios such as asking for directions or meeting a friend. The more you speak the language, the more proficient your pronunciation will become.

7. Talk to Native Speakers

One of the most significant hurdles for improving is the fear of making mistakes, but learning from your mistakes is invaluable.

Don’t be afraid to talk to native speakers and ask them to correct you if you mispronounce a word. Most people will only be too happy to help.

8. Sing a Song

Singing songs in English is a great way to learn the language and practice both your pronunciation and enunciation. It’s also relaxing, which is important when you are learning a new language.

What Is Enunciation in Speech? 

Enunciation is saying a word clearly and concisely. It focuses on the sounds of syllables and their projection, the movement of your mouth, and the speed at which you speak.

It is also known as articulation or making yourself understood and is a crucial element in communication.

If you don’t enunciate words properly, they sound muffled and indistinct, and it can confuse your audience. It is, therefore, essential to enunciate your words correctly. 

Proper EnunciationPoor Enunciation

“I’m going to visit my friend.” 

“I’m gonna visit my friend.” 
 “I’m going to visit my friend.”  “I’m goin’ to visit my friend.”(the last g isn’t fully formed)

Bad enunciation of a word in a sentence can also change the meaning of that sentence. For example:

Correct Enunciation and MeaningPoor Enunciation and Incorrect Meaning
“The man was considered armed and dangerous.”
(The man was both armed and dangerous)
“The man was considered armed in dangerous.”
(This does not make grammatical sense)

Common Enunciation Problems

Here are some common enunciation problems that occur in both native speakers who are lazy with their language and learners new to the language.  

1. Muttering

Speaking too softly, also referred to as “speaking under your breath,” is known as muttering. People cannot comprehend what you are saying, and this can be construed as being rude. Always try to speak loudly and clearly to avoid confusion.

2. Mumbling

Similar to muttering, mumbling occurs when you speak in a low voice and don’t open your mouth wide enough to enunciate the words correctly.

This causes the words to blend together, creating a mumbling sound instead of speech, which is difficult to hear and understand.

3. Dropping Certain Sounds

Dropping certain letters and sounds from words can confuse the listener.

Examples of this would be to drop the “g” sound at the end of the word “going” to say, “he’s goin’ to the store” instead of “he’s going to the store.” Another example would be to drop the “s” from the phrase “isn’t it?” to say “innit?”

Although this is understandable to native speakers, it can be difficult to understand for those new to the language. 

4. Blending Words Incorrectly

Another common enunciation problem is to combine words incorrectly, such as saying “gonna” instead of “going to,” which can confuse non-native speakers. This often occurs when one speaks too fast.

5. Speaking too Fast

Speaking too quickly can cause you to run your words together, as explained above, and make your sentences indecipherable. This can leave the listener confused as to what you are trying to say.

How to Improve Your Enunciation

As with anything, practice makes perfect, and improving your ability to enunciate requires practice. You need to become aware of how you speak and whether you speak clearly and concisely enough for people to understand what you are saying.

Here are some ways to practice your enunciation and improve your skills:

1. Listen to Yourself and Self-Evaluate

Record yourself speaking and listen to it. Can you clearly make out what you are saying? If not, focus on the words or phrases you are not saying clearly.

You can also record yourself having a conversation with another person and compare your enunciation to theirs.  

Image by Dan Farrell via Unsplash

2. Slow Your Speech Down

Do you speak so quickly that your words are running together? Play around with the pace at which you speak — slow down some words or phrases and take a breath in between each word. This will greatly improve your enunciation.

3. Don’t Mumble or Mutter  

If you are shy or tend to speak softly, listeners may have trouble understanding you. In this case, practice speaking slightly louder while still enunciating your words clearly.

4. Visualize Problem Words

If you are dropping certain letters or sounds, try to visualize the spelling of the word. This will help you remember to say each syllable correctly.

5. Practice Articulation

Make a list of the words or phrases you are struggling with and practice speaking them aloud clearly and distinctly. Exaggerate each sound to get into the habit of saying the word correctly.

 6. Do Breathing Exercises

Breathing correctly while speaking is essential for good enunciation. Your diaphragm needs to be supported by your stomach muscles while you are talking to ensure that you have sufficient air to form words clearly and speak at the correct speed. 

Do some deep breathing exercises to strengthen your diaphragm and improve your ability to breathe properly while speaking.

The Importance of Enunciation and Pronunciation

Both enunciation and pronunciation are equally important when it comes to communicating effectively. You must be able to pronounce words correctly, as well as say them clearly in order to be understood.

Correct Pronunciation with Poor Enunciation

You may be able to pronounce a word correctly (good pronunciation) but speak too quickly or mumble and run your words together (poor enunciation). 

For example, you could say, “I am honored to meet you” (good pronunciation) but say it too softly for the listener to properly understand you (poor enunciation).

Proper Enunciation with Incorrect Pronunciation

On the other hand, you could mispronounce a word but say it clearly and distinctly.

For example, you could say, “That was the most banal speech I have ever heard,” saying it very clearly (good enunciation) but pronouncing “banal” as “bay-nal” instead of “buh-naal” (incorrect pronunciation).  

Both scenarios illustrate why it is important for a speaker to have both good pronunciation and good enunciation to make themselves understood.

Final Thoughts

Pronunciation, which is the act of saying a word correctly, is important for conveying the right meaning of the word. Enunciation, which is the clarity with which the word is said, is important for conveying the word clearly and concisely. 

Pronunciation and enunciation are very important aspects of speech that can help you to be heard and understood.