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Say What?!

When some of our staff traveled to Cambodia recently, I realized that while I had seen the words “Phnom Penh” many times before, I had never actually spoken the city’s name.  So, I visited Merriam-Webster online and listened as the clear, measured voice told me that the capital of Cambodia was “pa-nom pen.” (See below for a more authentic phonetic spelling.)

My travels have taught me how to pronounce “Mpumalanga” and “Český Krumlov” and “Esch-sur-Alzette” but there are plenty of places whose pronunciations still elude me.  I imagine that I am not the only one.

Of course, there is always some controversy surrounding pronunciation.  The locals will say it slightly differently, or perhaps the variety of languages allows for several correct pronunciations.  But, thanks to Merriam-Webster, at least we can learn how to make important geographical references without resorting to a mumble or cough.

Challenge yourself to read the phonetic spelling and then click to get one accepted pronunciation.


Djibouti - jə-bü-tē

Qatar -kä-tər

Kyrgyzstan - kir-gi-stan

Myanmar - myän-mär

Eritrea - er-ə-trē-ə

Guinea-Bissau - gi-nē-bi-sau̇

Lesotho - lə-sō-tō



Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) - a-dəs-a-bə-bə

Budapest (Hungary) - bü-də-pest or  bü-də-pesht  -- Here’s an example of where I disagree with Merriam-Webster; they provide a pronunciation for the former, but in my experience, the preferred pronunciation is with the “sh” sound.

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) - (pə-)näm-pen

Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) - kwä-lə-lu̇m-pu̇r

Harare (Zimbabwe) - hə-rä-rā

Ljubljana (Slovenia) - lē-ü-blē-ä-nə

Mbabane (Swaziland) - əm-bä-bä-nā

N’Djamena (Chad) - ən-jä-mā-nä

Nuuk (Greenland) - nük -- This combo gets Laura’s award for easiest country, hardest capital duo.

Skopje (Macedonia) - skȯ-pye

Tegucigalpa (Honduras) - tə-gü-sə-gal-pə

Posted by Laura Portalupi  ·  December 7, 2010

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