10 Strange British Place Names

Visiting Britain this year? You may come across some place names and wonder how on earth they are pronounced. Let’s see if we can help, here are ten popular destinations that often cause problems:

1. Reading

This place name doesn’t sound like the verb ‘reading’. Instead, it’s like the past tense of read /red/ with an ‘-ing’ attached:


2. The Thames

The River Thames causes a lot of confusion. It should be pronounced /temz/ not /θeɪmz/!

/ðə temz/

3. Bournemouth

Unlike the body part, the ending ‘mouth’ is weak and therefore uses the schwa sound /ə/! The ‘bourne’ bit sounds just like ‘born’:


4. Leicester

Bizarrely, the ‘cester’ part of this word usually sounds like /stə/:


5. Norwich

This East Anglia town does not follow normal ‘or’ rules and the ‘wich’ ending sounds like ‘itch’:


6. London

One of the most talked about place names in the world. Neither of the ‘o’s is pronounced with rounded lips. The first ‘o’ /ʌ/ is different to the second ‘o’, which is an unstressed schwa sound /ə/:


7. Warwick

Near to where Shakespeare was born, the second ‘w’ in this word is silent:


8. Birmingham

In the USA, this place name has the sound ‘ham’ in it, but in the UK, it doesn’t. It doesn’t have the /r/ or /g/ sounds either!


9. Edinburgh

Most Brits struggle with this place name too! The /n/ assimilates before /b/ to become /m/ and ‘burgh’ is said weakly as /brə/:


10. Cambridge

This lovely university town is often mispronounced. The ‘cam’ in this word is not /kæm/ but /keɪm/:


Did we miss any? Post them in comments below and we’ll reply with their pronunciation.[ssba]

This article uses IPA (phonetic) symbols – you can learn them in the free Pronunciation Studio Starter Pack containing pronunciation notes and diagrams for each sound with audio, and an English IPA chart. 

By | 2016-04-11T12:02:52+00:00 April 8th, 2016|Names, Pronunciation|3 Comments


  1. Abdus salam April 11, 2016 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    Hi Katie,
    Thanks a lot for giving the pronunciation of the places we sometimes mispronounce.
    We hope we will have more something like these.

    Kind regards

  2. Carmen May 8, 2016 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Thank you Katie, very useful material for my next visit to London.

  3. LarsF May 5, 2018 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Salisbury is mispronounced just every time here in Sweden. Most journalists say ‘Sawlce Berry’. One even said Sallice Berry (starting with the flat a).

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