At LanguageHumanities, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What are Some American Tongue Twisters?


In the late 19th century, a series of tongue twisters were created to help students perfect their pronunciation in a fun and amusing way. Today, these sayings are still fun and recited often by adults and children alike, even if they have lost their pedagogical purpose. Here are some of the oldest that have been handed down through the generations.

She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
She sells sea shells at the sea shore;
At the sea shore she sells sea shells.
She sells sea shells on the sea shell shore.
The sea shells she sells are sea shore shells,
Of that I’m sure.
If neither he sells sea shells, nor she sells sea shells,
Who shall sell sea shells? Shall sea shells be sold?
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
A pack of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
A skunk sat on a stump,
The stump thunk the skunk stunk,
The skunk thunk the stump stunk.

The last of these was originally part of a collection that included every letter of the alphabet. Peter Piper is the only popular surviving tongue twister of the series that is still commonly recited today.

Some newer tongue twisters are designed to make people stumble in speech and say words that they do not intend to, or that are not present in the actual saying:

One smart fellow he felt smart.
Two smart fellows they both felt smart.
Three smart fellows they all felt smart.
I am not a pheasant plucker,
but a pheasant plucker's son.
And I’m only plucking pheasants
’Til the present pheasant plucker's come.
Unique New York
Mrs. Obbly Doobly had a square cut punt.
Not a cut punt square but a square cut punt.
It was round in the middle and square in the front
Mrs. Obbly Doobly had a square cut punt.
I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.

Some have developed into jokes by taking advantage of the slur of one word into another, characteristic of most tongue twisters. For example:

If a shepherd had thirty sick sheep, and one died, how many would be left?

The answer is 29, which is obvious when you are reading the joke. When someone speaks the question quickly however, it sounds as if he is saying “thirty six,” and so the amusing, incorrect response would be 35.

Another combination tongue twister-joke is a knock knock joke.

Knock knock. Who’s there?
I’m a pile up.
I’m a pile up who?
Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Again, the written version of this joke isn’t very humorous, but the phonetic result when “I’m a pile up who?” is spoken quickly is the punch line!

Discussion Comments


"Irish wristwatch"


OK so at the top you wrote that the Peter Piper tongue twister was most common? I'd have to say I hear of She Sold Sea Shells more than Peter Piper!


@StarJo – I don't get the humor in tongue twisters. Like you, I find the fact that I mess up my words annoying.

What I really hate are those long tongue twister poems. They provide people with ample opportunity to screw up.

Kids seem to love this, though. They fall all over themselves giggling as they mess up and see each other mess up the same way. I suppose the shared conundrum brings them closer together.


I think most of the well known tongue twisters are for kids. I remember learning them in school, and my kids are learning the same ones.

The most famous one I can recall is “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck would chuck wood?” For me, that one isn't hard to say, but if you are a child and you are still developing your pronunciation skills, it is more of a challenge.


These are all hard tongue twisters to me. I have a friend who can say them accurately, but my words fall all over each other when I try.

It's weird how I can read the tongue twisters without any issues, but when I start to say them aloud, I sound like a bumbling idiot. I find it frustrating, and I don't like to participate in tongue twister games.


There are also many interesting tricks of the hands and face which are fun to try out and get other people to do, such as making difficult faces which most people are incapable of mimicking or clapping the hands and grabbing the nose and ear, alternating with each clap. These are a lot of fun and can provide mutual embarrassment, breaking down barriers in a social setting.


These can make a lot of fun for dinner conversation or conversation in general. I learned to do the "one fart smeller" tongue twister at a young age and enjoy hearing other people try it out.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • The alliteration of "sea shells" forms the basis for a famous tongue twister.
      By: EdwardSamuel
      The alliteration of "sea shells" forms the basis for a famous tongue twister.
    • A tongue twister is a series of words intentionally constructed to be very difficult to pronounce properly.
      By: Adrian Costea
      A tongue twister is a series of words intentionally constructed to be very difficult to pronounce properly.
    • Tongue twisters are often used to create humor.
      By: blantiag
      Tongue twisters are often used to create humor.