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English swear words - How not to swear by accident

Warning: this vlog contains swear words and it may offend some people.

Dear English student who is scared to say words such as “beach” in fear of coming out as “bitch”. Fear not, I’m here to help you. I was once in your shoes since English is not my first language and I know very well how tricky its pronunciation can be.

Swear words, also known as curse words or bad words, are rude or offensive words that we use to express a range of emotions, especially anger and frustration. But they are also used to emphasize something good or bad. The act of saying those words is “to swear” or “to curse”.

The reason for your trouble is due to the fact English spelling is one of the most difficult ones to learn in the world (according to an article from the Guardian that I will link here). It is very hard to predict the pronunciation from the spelling and vice versa. A letter or a combination of them can represent multiple pronunciations, so we can never be too careful when learning new words.

My idea with this post is to teach you how to pronounce English swear words properly so you can avoid saying them by accident. Case in point, watch the video below first and come back here and I will explain what went wrong.

Poor Italian guy, all he wanted was to have a nice holiday in Malta. To understand why our character was so misunderstood we need to learn the subtle differences in vowel pronunciation and minimal pair.


When we think vowels, five letters come to mind: a, e, i, o, u. This system works really well in my native language Portuguese and as far as I know in most European languages as well. In English things can get a bit complicated, I’m afraid. There are twelve vowel sounds in British English and eleven in North American English. What the f…! And as I mentioned before, the spelling doesn’t help much figuring out the pronunciation. How many of us have learnt about this? Anyway, I’m not going to talk too much about it because this subject alone could be another blog post.

Minimal Pairs

A minimal pair is two words that differ from only one sound. In the video, there are four minimal pairs that I’m going to examine. Note that only the vowel sound changes in those pairs, but you will only be able to see it in the phonetic transcription.

This is what the Italian guy tried to say:

  • Peace /pi:s/

  • Beach /biːtʃ/

  • Sheet /ʃiːt/

  • Fork /fɔːk/

And this is what people heard him saying:

  • Piss /pɪs/

  • Bitch /bɪtʃ/

  • Shit /ʃɪt/

  • Fuck /fʌk/

Peace vs. piss, beach vs. bitch, sheet vs. shit - /i:/ vs. /ɪ/

In “peace”, “beach”, and “sheet” the vowel sound is pronounced as in “be”, “me”, “see”. This sound is represented by this phonetic symbol /i:/. In phonetics, the two little dots indicate it’s a longer sound. To learn more about it click on the video below:

In “piss”, “bitch” and “shit” the vowel sound is pronounced as in “pin”, “fish”, “six”. Represented by /ɪ/, it is similar to /i:/ in regards to the position of the tongue and the shape of the mouth but, it’s relaxed because it’s a short sound. This is the second most frequent vowel sound in English but, it exists in less than 20% of world languages. For this reason, I strongly recommend you learn it properly. Check out the video below:

Fork vs. Fuck - /ɔː/ vs. /ʌ/

In this case, our character tries to say “fork” with a British accent, where the “r” is silent. That’s why it sounds similar to “fuck”. But again, the main problem here is the vowel sound. “Fork” has the same vowel sound as in the words “or” and “your”. Remember the two dots in the phonetic symbol mean it’s a longer sound. To learn more, watch the video below:

On the other hand, in the word “fuck” the vowel sound is short as in “cup”, “up” and “some”. To learn more, watch the video below:

To learn more about swear words and alternatives for those words, check out these videos below:

If you want to learn more about phonetics, check out this English phonetic chart, the English Language Club Channel and the Sounds American Channel.

So I hope you’ve learnt to curse like a sailor so you can avoid doing it by mistake. But if you allow me to give a piece of advice, I would refrain from doing it so. You never know who you are talking to and I’m sure you don’t want to offend anyone.

Did you find learning about swear words useful? Let us know in the comments. Also if you enjoyed this post, please help to spread it by emailing it to a friend or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. And since you’re still here, don’t forget to subscribe to my website to receive updates and great tips such as this one here.