Difficult Adjectives Pronunciation Lesson!

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

In this lesson, we’ll practise how to say 10 important English adjectives (adjectives that are quite tricky to pronounce!) You’ll learn how to use & pronounce these adjectives accurately, with lots of examples!

  • successful
  • anxious
  • valuable
  • exponential
  • complex
  • rural
  • specific
  • mischievous
  • detrimental
  • comfortable

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hello! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Now I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of adjectives. I mean, I probably overuse adjectives if I’m being completely honest with you, but they are such a beautiful part of any language. They allow you to go into detail, to add colour, flavour and personality to all of your thoughts and your ideas. One of the most noticeable differences between intermediate level English speakers and advanced ones is their use of adjectives.

Because yes, you can add meaning to your sentences by using simple adjectives like ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ or ‘nice’ or ‘bored’ but life can be so much more spectacular than that, can’t it? Your English can be much more colourful than that, right?

Using a wider range of adjectives will you to be more expressive, to show emotions and feelings and to sound more interesting when you use English. So if you need to refresh your memory about how to use adjectives in English sentences, then check out that lesson up there.

But right now, I’ve got ten adjectives for you and I’ve specifically chosen them because they’re adjectives that English learners often mispronounce. They’re all a little tricky. There’s a few silent letters, some strange vowel sounds, difficult pronunciation of the same letter in the same word. But don’t worry! By the end of this lesson, you’re going to have all of these adjectives completely down! You’re going to be saying them much more confidently and more often.

Let’s start with…

successful /səkˈsesf(ə)l/

Now if you haven’t heard this word pronounced before, it looks a little tricky. There’s two C’s and two S’s. Of course, you know that in English, a C can sometimes be pronounced in the same way as an S. Many of my students, they look at this word and take a guess and say “sussessful” which is a nice try, I can see why you could pronounce it that way but actually, each C in this word is pronounced differently and that’s made clear when you look at the phonemic script.

The first C is pronounced as a /k/ sound and the second C is pronounced as a /s/ sound at the start of the second syllable.

Now the second syllable is the stressed syllable in this word and that’s why you hear it pronounced more strongly while the first syllable is short and lower in pitch. The final syllable is also unstressed.

The pronunciation is the same throughout the word family: success, successful, successfully.

And as frustrating as it is, that the same letter is pronounced differently in the same word, just accept it, practise it, remember it. Successful.

So ‘successful’ is used when someone achieves the result that they want. They’re really happy and they’re satisfied with the result.

He’s a successful businessman.
We’ve had quite a successful year so far.

anxious /ˈæŋkʃəs/

Are you anxious looking at this one? It’s a little tricky! There are three consonant sounds here together which makes it quite challenging.

In the first syllable, the stressed syllable, the strong vowel sound A is followed by the /ŋ/ consonant. And  that consonant sound is usually made by the letters -NG like in ‘song‘. So my mouth is open slightly when I make this sound and the back of my tongue is right up at the soft palate in the back of my mouth.

For the second syllable, you’ll hear the /k/ and the /ʃ/ consonant sounds. So you’re pushing that air through your mouth to make the sound /kʃ/

Make sure you exaggerate this sound while you’re practising. Pretend you’re like a superhero fighting a monster!

And the following vowel sound will be unstressed, the weak schwa sound /ə/. Anxious.

So this adjective is usually used to describe a person and it’s to do with their emotions or their feelings. An anxious person is worried or nervous because they think that something bad might happen.

I’m feeling really anxious about my interview tomorrow.
My friend doesn’t like flying so he’s always quite anxious when we go travelling.

valuable /ˈvæljʊb(ə)l/

Over the years as an English teacher, I’ve heard this word pronounced in several different ways and all of the problems coming from those two vowel letters in the middle. The first common mistake is assuming that there are four syllables but there’s not, they’re only three. And the first syllable ‘val‘ is the stressed syllable – the strongest one.

But the second syllable is quite tricky. There’s an extra consonant sound added, one that you can’t see in the written word.

So this adjective is really handy to know because it can be used in a few different ways. Now you often hear this adjective used for things like jewellery or houses or cars to tell that something is expensive or worth a lot of money.

My grandmother gave me her sapphire brooch. I think it’s quite valuable, though I’d never sell it.

But this is also an excellent adjective to describe a person’s qualities and often used in a professional context. So ‘valuable’ can not necessarily be about money but about how important or useful someone is.

James is a really valuable member of our team.
That’s a valuable piece of advice. Thanks.

exponential /ˌekspəˈnenʃ(ə)l/

Now most of the pronunciation problems with this adjective relate to syllable stress. There are four syllables. The third is the strongest, though the first one is also stressed. The remaining two syllables are unstressed so they reduce down, they become the schwa sound which is always short and low in pitch.

Can you hear how the two weaker syllables fade into the background? Exponential.

This adjective is used when something is increasing or growing really quickly.

The company has experience exponential growth over the last two years.
The renewable energy market is growing at an exponential rate.

complex /ˈkɒmpleks/

Complex. Now in standard British English, there’s just one way to pronounce this word with the stress on the first syllable. COMplex.

in American English, there is a difference between the adjective ‘comPLEX’ and the noun ‘COMplex’.

But the real pronunciation challenge here is the cluster of consonants that are pronounced at the end. The letter X usually produces a sound that has two consonant sounds pushed together, /k/ and /s/ which is what makes this sound difficult. Two consonants together is tough. The sound is produced right at the back of the throat while the sound is made with the tongue and the teeth at the front of the mouth.

So really, creating this sound successfully is about switching between these two sounds smoothly.

So this adjective is used to describe something that consists of many different and connected parts that makes it quite difficult to understand or manage.

It’s a complex issue but we need to find a solution.
The relationship between the general manager and the marketing team is quite complex. They’ve never seen eye-to-eye.

rural /ˈrʊərəl/

The /r/ and the /l/ sounds in this word make it a real challenge but there’s actually a little variation between English accents for this word which is really common.

Officially, the correct pronunciation is ‘rural‘ with a /ʊə/ vowel sound as the stressed syllable.

But I want to share a little tip with you because in Australia, our pronunciation of this word is much more relaxed. So if you’re having trouble pronouncing this word, put on an Australian accent and say ‘rural’.

You can use this adjective to describe characteristics of the countryside rather than the city. So usually it’s farming land or a small village in the country. So the opposite of rural is ‘urban’ which is characteristic of cities and towns.

The government will help rural communities affected by the floods.
People are moving to rural areas to live healthier lifestyles.

It’s a bit of a tongue twister, isn’t it? Rural areas.

specific /spəˈsɪfɪk/

The stress is on the middle syllable here and there are two things to pay attention to with this word. One is the consonant cluster at the start of the word. The consonant sounds /s/ and /p/ together.

So if you’re having trouble with this, we’re going to go to the gym for a minute and do a little workout. Practising pronunciation is just like training at the gym. We just need to train your muscles in your mouth to be more comfortable doing something a little different.

/s/ and /p/ are both unvoiced consonant sounds and the sound is made by pushing air through your mouth. So I want you to slowly bring these sounds together. Now are you ready for your workout? Take a deep breath and move back and forth between these sounds really quickly, ready?

If these consonant sounds are too difficult for you to pronounce, you need to do this workout daily. Now the second challenge with this word is the final consonant sound – the consonant at the end. Make sure that you finish this word on the consonant sound. Don’t get lazy and forget it. It’s not ‘specifi‘, it’s ‘specific‘.

And you can use it to explain that something is really exact or detailed.

There are some general issues that I need to discuss with you but there’s one specific issue that’s quite urgent.
If you have any specific questions about the accommodation, then please ask Sarah.

mischievous /ˈmɪstʃɪvəs/

There are a lot of vowel letters in this word which makes it a little confusing to work out how to pronounce each syllable and which one is stressed. The first syllable is the strongest, the others relax.

For some reason this word is one that native English speakers sometimes get wrong as well. You might hear people say ‘mischievous’ with four syllables but that’s incorrect. There are only three syllables here and the stress is on the first syllable /ˈmɪs/ which means the second syllable reduces a little, the vowel sound is short and fast.

There’s also two difficult consonant sounds here ‘ch’ and /v/. So with both of these consonant sounds, your lip position is really important so I want you to exaggerate the position of your mouth while you’re practising with me just to make sure that you’re pronouncing and your producing the correct sound. So for ‘ch’, see how my lips are really flared, exaggerated, and this sound is controlled by my tongue in a similar way to the sound /t/ sound. The tip of my tongue.

But also my tongue is tense all the way along the sides here. And they’re pushed up against the inside of my top teeth so we move through /tʃɪ/ through the unstressed vowel sound to /v/ making sure that your top teeth are touching your lower lip. Mischievous.

Now if you have cheeky children in your life, this could be the perfect adjective to describe them. So usually it’s an adjective to describe children but it’s okay to describe adults with it sometimes or even pets. It describes someone who has fun by being silly and creating a disruption but not in a negative way, not in a way that’s really or annoying or that really harms anyone. It’s kind of a cute or funny attribute.

I was quite a mischievous child.
There are a few mischievous children in the classroom.

detrimental /ˌdetrɪˈment(ə)l/

Now, this is a wonderful, descriptive adjective that means harmful or damaging in some way. So looking at this word, it’s the third syllable that is the strongest and just like ‘exponential’ the first syllable also has a secondary stress so we can hear that one clearly as well which means that the other two reduce. Detrimental.

But the second syllable is the most difficult here because of the consonant cluster /trɪ/ with an unstressed vowel sound. So it’s like the noun ‘tree’, but with a shorter, weaker vowel sound.

So as I said, the adjective ‘detrimental‘ suggests that something is creating a negative effect. It’s harmful or it’s damaging in some way. It’s harmful or it’s damaging in some way.

It had a detrimental effect on the company’s growth.
The infection was detrimental to her recovery.

comfortable /ˈkʌmftəb(ə)l/

I’ve talked about this adjective before in another pronunciation lesson but it’s so common and it’s so often mispronounced that it had to be included in this lesson as well. The correct pronunciation of this word uses only three syllables which means that this vowel is completely silent.

So notice that the first syllable is the stressed one and the following syllables reduce down to the schwa sound.

Now you may hear native speakers using a tiny, tiny, tiny extra syllable and say ‘comfortable’ which is fine too, it’s just a difference in accent or dialect. And you may think that it’s easier to pronounce this word with four syllables, particularly if it’s difficult for you to pronounce the /f/ and /t/ consonant sounds together.

Of course people are going to understand you whatever you say but please, please, please make sure that that syllable is super, super tiny. So hear how short and quick those schwa sounds are?

Like I said, ‘comfortable‘ is the more common pronunciation so I recommend that you practise using that one.

I’m not comfortable doing that.
Are you comfortable with the decision?

Well that’s it, ten tricky English adjectives that English learners often mispronounce. So I hope that this was a useful lesson for you. Remember that if you haven’t subscribed yet to the mmmEnglish channel, please do it. You just need to hit that red button right down there. You can turn on the notifications so that I notify you when I’ve got a new lesson ready! But if you are ready right now to keep practising with another lesson, then check out these ones right here.

Thanks for watching today and I’ll see you for another English lesson next week. Bye for now!

Links mentioned in the video

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