Commonly-Misspelled Words

Spelling is hard. We’re usually gradually eased into it. We pick up words first by hearing them, and then at home (hopefully) and at school we’re exposed to written words, usually pretty simple ones that look as you might imagine from hearing them. Dog, cat, hat etc. Then the more we read, the more we get used to words with less phonetic spellings. That’s how you spell laugh? And though? Ok, if that’s the way it is. Sometimes, we’ll come across words we’ve heard, but whose spelling we don’t recognise. Usually at some point we’ll figure out through context that this strange-looking word is actually a common one we’re familiar with, but that can take a long time in some cases.

But despite all that, there are some words, which either through their length and complexity, or sheer counter-intuitiveness, prove quite difficult to spell. Here are some of the most-commonly misspelled words:

accommodation: the curse of the multiple double letters. When you’ve got a multisyllabic word with double letters, it can be tricky to remember which ones are doubled and which aren’t. Necessary is a good example of such a word, with it being hard to remember if the c or the s is doubled, especially because they have the same sound. With accommodation, the thing to remember is that it’s double c and double m.

Definitely: often spelled definately, or occasionally defiantly. I think those two i‘s in the middle don’t seem right for a lot of people, who think that it should have a more solid vowel in there.

Privilege: this is one I have always have to think about. I know there’s two i’s and an e, but I can never remember if the e comes between or after the i‘s, and only by starting to spell it out can I see if I’m wrong or right.

accidentally: it often feels right to spell this accidently, because we don’t pronounce the second a strongly. In fact, this is so common that it’s becoming more and more accepted as an informal spelling of accidentally (spellcheck here doesn’t correct it). Still, it’s not usually accepted in formal situations, and most dictionaries still list accidentally as the correct spelling.

atheist: it’s very easy to transpose the e and i, as that spelling would still produce the same sound, and we’re quite used to -iest as the ending to superlative forms of adjectives ending in y. But we’re not saying that someone is “athier” than anyone else, we’re saying that they’re not a theist. I’m sure someone out there has come up with an inspirational quote to share on Facebook about the fact that the only difference between atheist and a theist is a little space.

weird: simple explanation for this one; the erroneous belief that “i before e except after c” is always true.

rogue: a word often misspelled as rouge, though not through lack of knowledge, more a case of a typo that’s not picked up because it’s a real word itself, which looks very similar to rogue.

cemetery: nope, not an a in sight, and Stephen King’s deliberately misspelled Pet Sematary hasn’t helped.

gauge: it’s quite hard to remember the order of the vowels, especially as au doesn’t usually sound like ay.

and finally, misspell: it looks weird with those two s‘s, but remember that it’s the prefix mis- + spell. As for whether misspelled or misspelt is correct: they both are, with misspelt being more commonly used in American English.


22 thoughts on “Commonly-Misspelled Words

  1. My nemesis growing up was “occasion”. I was never sure if there were 2 c’s or 2 s’s. All I knew was that there was just 1 double alphabet. Since neither of the two have a stressed pronunciation, I forced myself to say “occ” in my head to finally get it right. English is not a friendly language 😉

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