How to pronounce Qatar, the World Cup host whose name everybody says wrong

In the 12 years since FIFA president Sepp Blatter dramatically opened a scandalous envelope and introduced the world to Qatar, millions of Westerners have learned a lot about the 2022 World Cup’s controversial host. They learned about scorching temperatures and exploitation of migrant workers. They learned how oil transformed a peninsula desert into a bustling international hub. They learned that Qatari law criminalizes homosexuality and prohibits alcohol. They learned how a small emirate the size of Connecticut plans to stage the planet’s biggest sporting event.

They learned pretty much all the basics, except the most basic of all: How to pronounce “Qatar.”

They pronounced it “kuh-TAR” and “KA-tar” and “cutter.” The British occasionally go for “kuh-TAAH.” Some Americans have done their homework and still somehow settled on “cutting tar”. For a while, some online dictionaries bafflingly spit out “cotter.”

Everyone is wrong, but the wrong statements have gotten so out of hand that the Qatari state has essentially given up on authenticity and accepted some of them.

“The pronunciation in English is different because the word uses two letters that only exist in Arabic,” Ali Al-Ansari, a Qatari government media attaché, told Yahoo Sports via email. The accepted pronunciation “would sound like saying: Kuh-TAR.”

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In other words, what you hear when you search “how to pronounce Qatar” is good.

Another way that also works is Kuh-Ter,” Al-Ansari added, “but sometimes it sounds like ‘gutter,’ so we prefer Kuh-Tar.”

Other Arabic speakers have explained that the English word closest to the native pronunciation may actually be “guitar”. In Gulf dialects, the first consonant in “Qatar” is more of a “g” than a hard “c.”

But the correct pronunciation – the one that will roll throughout the World Cup of local languages ​​– cannot be spelled out with a Latin alphabet. If you want to learn, your best bet is YouTube:

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Preview - Doha, Qatar - October 26, 2022 General view of signs in Doha ahead of the World Cup REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Workers are still busy preparing Qatar to host this month’s World Cup. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)

Why is it so difficult for English speakers to pronounce ‘Qatar’

The difficulty stems from “stressed sounds that English doesn’t have,” says Amal El Haimeur, a linguist and Arabic professor at the University of Kansas. Qatar’s Arabic name, دولة قطر, is three letters, two of which are totally foreign to most Westerners, and therefore devilish to pronounce without practice.

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“It’s like we have sleep muscles,” says Mohammed Aldawood, an Arabic professor at the American University in Washington DC “We have to wake them up to pronounce them correctly.”

The first letter calls for either a deep-throated “k” or a hard-like “g,” depending on the dialect, and then a less stressed vowel similar to “ā.

The second is a guttural “t.” In linguistics, they are referred to as “realized” or “uvular” consonants, meaning they require the speaker to press the back of their tongue against the roof of their mouth. “It is produced by obstructing the air flow [through the] mouth,” says El Maimeur.

And the final sound is an “ar” with a rolled “r.”

The accepted English pronunciation fails to include all three of those nuances. But this, experts say, is a natural feature of language acquisition.

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“In any language — like for me when I speak English — if I don’t have a sound in me [first language], I will replace it with the closest sound in my language,” says El Maimeur. When faced with an “emphatic” Arabic sound, non-native speakers, including her students, “will replace it with its non-emphatic counterpart.”

“Qatar,” in this sense, is not unique. Aldawood points out that other common proper names — including “Saudi” and his own first name, “Mohammed” — have been adapted by and for English speakers, and are technically mispronounced.

“Any language, any word,” says Aldawood. “Over time, people start changing it to make it easier to say.”

So even when Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor, inaugurates the Qatar World Cup, he and his FIFA colleagues, some of whom have been visiting the Gulf for more than a decade, will have a variety of takes on the host nation’s name.

Infantino, a Swiss polyglot, has made some strides toward authenticity. But his Scottish media relations director still goes by “KA-tar.” And Ireland’s World Cup chief operating officer Colin Smith would call it “kuh-TAR”.


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