Here are another 150 words that are highly susceptible to misspelling. Master the orthography of the words on this page to control some of the most important points of written English.
- a while - How long is it exactly? A second? A minute? A day? It’s a tad vague, perhaps, but just think of “while” as a period of time like any other, and you’ll know that “a while” is two separate words. After all, you wouldn’t say “asecond” or “aday,” now, would you?
- absence - The letter [e] is the only one repeated in this word. You’ll notice the absence of any other recurring letters.
- accelerate - One [c] makes the /k/ sound while the other [c] makes the /s/ sound. Then, you want to say the word fast, so don’t waste time on any extra [l]s. And finally, there are two [e]s in the middle of the word, just like in the word “speed.”
- accomplish - Any college basketball fans out there? If so, you’ll be well aware of the accomplishments of ACC teams, UNC, Duke and UVA.
- accumulate - “Accumulate” wanted to accumulate a few more [c]s, but the Letter Rationing Authorities said two was plenty.
- acknowledge - Most verbs that start with “ac-” refer to something being gained. “Accelerate” means to gain speed, “accomplish” means to gain status or achieve a goal, and “acknowledge” means to gain knowledge (see “knowledge” below).
- acquaintance - It’s time to get acquainted with the word “acquaint.” It comes from the Latin word, accognoscere, which is a combination of ad (“to”) and cognoscere (“come to know”).
- acquire - Again with the “ac-,” this one just means to gain, well, anything.
- across - If you’re talking about an ancient Roman means of capital punishment, you mean “a cross,” but if you mean “on the other side of a defined space,” then it’s just one word, across.
- aficionado - This word comes from the Spanish verb, aficioner, which means “to become fond of.” It was originally applied to bullfighting fans.
- anoint - When you rub or smear something, especially oil in connection with a religious ceremony, that’s anointing. You can remember that it only has one [n] by thinking that you might rub an ointment onto your body.
- apology - “Appall” has two [p]s and two [l]s, but if you put two of each into “apology,” people will be appalled, and you’ll need to apologize.
- axle - An axle is a rod on which two wheels spin. An axel is a jump done by a figure skater. And Axl was the lead singer of Guns-N-Roses.
- accordion - The accordion is portable, so you can play it while riding in your Honda Accord.
- barbecue - You go out, eat some pulled pork and play some pool, but you have to get the gear from the bartender, so behind the bar, there’ll be a cue, a rack and some balls.
- beginning - Well if it only had one [n], then the [i] would have to say its own name, and then we’d be saying “be guy ning,” which is just silly. If it had two [g] he would be "beggin."
- broccoli - Better than E. coli any day, even if you hate vegetables.
- business - The bus driver conducts his business all day long. He is a bus driver, not a buis driver.
- camouflage - This is what we get for stealing words from French – extra letters and [g]s that make a soft /j/ sound.
- candidate - Candi has a date. She might even marry him one day. He’s handsome, intelligent, gentlemanly and funny, and he can bench press 300 pounds – a strong candidate indeed.
- cantaloupe - Originally from Armenia, the cantaloupe gets its English name from Cantaluppi, the Italian town where it was first grown in Europe in the late 18th century.
- carburetor - This word uses all the vowels once, except for [i]. You can save that one for when you say, “I don’t know what in the world a carburetor does.”
- Caribbean - What? You’ve never heard of the California Rib Bean? Why, it’s only the best bean on earth. Don’t let the name fool you, though. The CA Rib Bean can only be found on a remote island about half-way between Cuba and the northern coast of Honduras. (*Note: There is no such thing as a CA Rib Bean, but that imaginary island would be located in the Caribbean.)
- cartilage - Many believe that elderly people should only drive a car ‘til age 75 or so, but with plastic surgery and the ground-breaking technology employed by Oil of Olay, how are we truly to know a person’s age? Check out their cartilage. Like rings inside a tree trunk, it’ll give them away every time. (*Note: This is yet another fabrication.)
- chauvinism - Although chauvinism, as it is commonly used, has more or less become synonymous with misogyny, its true definition is much broader. It has to do with aggressive patriotism and is named after an extreme patriot from Napoleon’s army, Nicolas Chauvin. (*This one’s really true.)
- chili - A chili is a hot pepper, “chilly” means cold, and Chile is a long, skinny country in South America.
- chocolaty - Drop the [e] to make room for the “Mmmmmm.”
- coliseum - The giant one in Rome is the Colosseum, but anywhere else, it’s a coliseum. If you’re in one, and you’ve forgotten your binoculars, you might look down on a basketball court and say, “I see...um...” That will help you remember to spell it with an [i] instead of an [o] and only one [s] instead of two with a u-m at the end.
- colonel - Pronounced just like “kernel,” as in a kernel of corn, this spelling doesn’t make any sense at all. The problem is that the word has been through so many changes, and we’re still using a pronunciation that went with a spelling (coronel) that died 300 years ago. The origin of the word is Italian. A colonnello is a “column of soldiers.”
- commemorate - Com is Latin for “together,” as in company, community and common. Memor is Latin for “mindful,” so if we come together (com) to be mindful (memor) or think about something, we are commemorating it.
- congratulations - The problem most people have with this word is that they don’t know if there’s a [t] or a [d] in the middle. Well, just think of this: You never say to someone, “Congrads!” However, you have probably said, “Congrats!” Go with that.
- coolly - To make an adverb out of an adjective, you add -ly. Fondly, quickly, amazingly, reassuringly, coolly.
- criticize - Embedded here is the word “critic,” and this is exactly what he does. If it were “critisize,” it would have to be done by a critis, which does not exist.
- Dalmatian - You may be tempted to spell Dalmatian with -on at the end, but just remember that the only [o] you need is the zero in 101.
- deceive - Remember your rhyme rules, now, kids. [I] before [e] except after [c].
- defendant - Do ants need defending? You’d think an insect that can lift such relatively heavy loads could take care of himself, but the law is the law.
- defiant - When you change the verb “defy” to an adjective, you change the [y] to an [i] and add an ant. Maybe that’s why ants find themselves in court so often.
- desiccate - If you actually know this word, chances are you can spell it already, but if not, just keep in mind that in case of condensation, desiccation may be necessary.
- desperate - If you’re playing the worst game of golf of your life, and you’re desperate to catch up, it’s because you’ve shot way over par on every hole. There is no “par” in desperate.
- deterrence - [E] is the only vowel in “deterrence,” but don’t let that deter you from putting two [r]s in it.
- development - There’s no [e] on the end of “develop,” so just add the -ment for successful word development.
- diorama - This word is spelled pretty much exactly the way it sounds. Di-o-ra-ma.
- disappear - It’s tempting to add an extra [s], but doing so will only make your spelling reliability disappear.
- disappoint - The same goes for “disappoint.” Adding an extra [s] will only disappoint your sixth grade teacher.
- dissipate - Doug is sadly squandering innumerable provisions at the eatery. He’s wasting all of his restaurant’s food, and soon it will all have disappeared.
- difference - Once you get past the “diff,” there’s no difference in the vowels.
- dying - Don't use "die" or you'll be talking about changing your hair color.
- ecstasy - In recent years, “ecstasy” has sort of taken a dirty turn. People tend to think of it more and more in conjunction with sex and illegal amphetamines, but “ecstasy” has its roots in religious mysticism and self-transcendence. It comes from the Greek ekstasis, which literally means “standing outside oneself.” There is nothing X-rated or illegal about it, so leave the [x] out of ecstasy.
- especially - The main part of “especially” is the word “special.” This is especially important to remember when you’re trying to spell “especially.” E + special + ly.
- excellent - If Microsoft has done nothing else, it has taught the world how to spell “excel.” Once you have that down, you can imagine that the Pope is very good at fasting before Easter. He excels at Lent. Excellent.
- exercise - We say “Jazzercise,” not “Jazzcercise,” because it’s “exercise,” not “excercise.” And you can remember that there are no [z]s in “exercise” because the middle of your workout is not the time for catching Zs.
- explanation - Take the [i] out of “explain,” and add -ation.
- Fahrenheit - This temperature scale was named after a German physicist, Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit. You can remember that the [e] comes before the [i] at the end because it’s pronounced just like the English word “height,” in which the order is the same. Now you just have to remember to put in that crazy [h] at the beginning.
- finally - Final + ly. Any questions?
- flabbergast - When your high school sweetheart showed up at the reunion all flabby and talking about gastrointestinal issues, you were flabbergasted.
- flotation - The [a] from “float” floats to the other side of the [t] in “flotation.”
- fourth - This is 4th (as opposed to “forth”). It’s the number four + th.
- fulfill - Look, three [l]s is plenty for one word, wouldn’t you say?
- generally - General + ly.
- genius - If you try to put an [o] in “genius,” you’ve just proven that you aren’t one.
- government - Govern, governor, governess, government – all these words are about someone being in charge. Imagine his name is Vern, and he needs your encouragement. Go, Vern!
- grammar - Your Gramma would be very upset if you used incorrect grammar.
- gross - Spelling it any other way just makes me sick.
- guttural - Get your mind out of the gutter, and spell “guttural” with two [u]s and an [a].
- handkerchief - A kerchief is a piece of fabric used to cover the head, or perhaps tied around the neck (or face if you’re robbing a bank in the Old West). A handkerchief, is a piece of fabric held in the hand for wiping things off or blowing your nose (or dropping from a train if you’re a woman leaving her lover in the Old West).
- horrific - It’s got two [r]s just like “horrible,” but adding another [f] would just be awful. (You thought I was going to say “horrific,” didn’t you?)
- hypocrisy - A classic case of a [y] acting like a vowel when it’s really not. How hypocritical!
- imitate - If someone is imitating me, then when I look at them, it’s like I’m looking in a mirror. I look in a mirror and see myself (another I). I + M + I. There’s only one mirror, just like there’s only one [m] in “imitate.”
- inadvertent - Accidental and unintentional, both synonyms of inadvertent, share something else in common besides meaning. They all have -ent- in them.
- incidentally - Don’t cause an incident by misspelling “incidentally.”
- incredible - The vowels in “incredible” alternate. [i] - [e] - [i] - [e]
- ingenious - You may be asking, “Why does ‘genius’ not have an [o] while ‘ingenious’ does?” There are two possible answers. Either English is crazy (which is true), or they are completely different words (also true). I could give you a lengthy explanation, but it would all boil down to the simple fact that “ingenious” has an [o] and “genius” doesn’t, so let’s just leave it at that.
- irascible - Spelling Bee champions the world over may be irascible when people misspell words like “irascible.”
- irresistible - Although it may feel irresistible to put an [a] in this word, there aren’t any at all.
- knowledge - If you were a park ranger, you would know where the ledge is with your knowledge of the park.
- labeled - The general rule is that when a two-syllable word ends in a single consonant, you double the final consonant to add suffixes like -ing or -ed. However, if the first syllable is the one that is stressed when you pronounce the word, the rule goes out the window, and you just add the suffix without doubling the final consonant.
- led - This is the past tense of the verb “to lead.” “Lead,” pronounced the same way as “led,” is the metal. It has nothing to do with being a leader.
- liaison - As much as the [i]s would like to have a romantic liaison, they can’t because of that blasted [a], and furthermore, the second [i] has a son, which doesn’t allow for much time for secret get-aways.
- lieutenant - This is one of those rare words in English where you really do pronounce all the letters. The first three vowels happen so quickly that they come out sounding like one /u/ sound, but if you slow it down, they’re all in there.
- liquefy - I want that [e] to be an [i], but I just have to keep telling myself, it’s not about what I want. [I] already occupies one spot; it needs to give the [e] a turn too.
- lose - “Lose” is commonly confused with “loose,” meaning not tight, but just remember that “loose” has more room for an extra [o] (it’s not too tight), and “lose” has lost an [o], so it only has one.
- lying - All those three-letter words – tie, die, vie, lie – drop their [e]s and change their [i]s to [y]s before adding -ing.
- magically - Again, it’s just the adjective, magical plus -ly.
- marshmallow - It’s pronounced as though it’s spelled m-a-r-s-h-m-E-l-l-o-w, but if you’ve ever played Chubby Bunny, you know that once you pop six or seven marshmallows in your mouth, there’s no way you’re saying any vowels other than [a] and [o], and that’s all the word has.
- mischief - Let’s say the chief went around short-sheeting everyone’s beds and putting blue Kool-Aid in all the shower heads when he was supposed to be making tribal decisions and governing. Well that wouldn’t be very chief-like, now would it? The prefix, mis-, means badly, unsuitably or with negative force, so when you apply that to a prankster chief, you have him doing all kinds of mischief.
- misogyny - The first part (miso) is spelled exactly the way it sounds. The second part (gyny) comes from the Greek word for woman. It’s the same root you find in the word “gynecologist.” So, if you’re having trouble remembering whether it’s g-I-n-y or g-Y-n-y, just think of your OB/GYN.
- missile - It has the same final three letters as “projectile,” and when one is fired, we hope it will miss.
- nauseous - “Nauseous” uses all the vowels except [i], and comes from the same Greek root we see in the word “nautical.” If you’re seasick, you experience nausea.
- necessary - Only two [e]s and two [s]s are necessary for spelling “necessary.” Any more than that is unnecessary.
- no one - “Nobody” is one word, but “no one” is two because if you put them together, that word would want to be pronounced just like “noon,” and we all know it’s not.
- occasion - Almost every word that starts with o + c-sound + a has two [c]s.
- occur/occurred - Words that start with o + c-sound + u change depending on which syllable is stressed. If the [o] is stressed, it is usually only followed by one [c]. If the second syllable is stressed, there are usually two [c]s.
- octopus - “Octo” means eight, and “pus” comes from the Greek pous, which means foot.
- official - Office, officious, official – If you can remember that related words tend to have a lot of spelling similarities, you can remember to spell “official” with two [f]s and a [c].
- onomatopoeia - It’s like when they were trying to come up with a word for this phenomenon, someone made a suggestion while yawning, and in the name of onomatopoeia itself, they decided to go with it.
- parallel - You have to have at least two things in order for them to be parallel, and if you’re confused as to whether the double [l] comes in the middle or at the end of the word, just remember that inside the word “parallel” is the word “all,” and all lines or planes that have the same distance between them continuously are parallel.
- parliament - This word comes from the Old French word meaning ‘speaking.’ You can remember that it has an [i] in it because in the parliament, everyone says, “I have something to say.”
- particular - It starts out just like “particle,” and then after the [c], the [u] just says its name, and the -lar is spelled exactly as it sounds.
- peninsula - Spelled exactly as it sounds. No tricks, no extra letters.
- Pharaoh - This guy, on the other hand, has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve. Ph- for the /f/ sound, a superfluous [a] stuck in there, and a silent [h] on the end. Maybe Moses should have said, “Hey Pharaoh, let all those extra letters go.”
- physical - What did you think the [p] in P.E. was for? (Hint: It stands for Physical Education.) Not that dodgeball is all that educational.
- piece - Don’t confuse “piece” with “peace.” Although, a piece of cake could go a long way toward bringing about peace. Just a suggestion.
- pigeon - These foul beasts (Get it? Foul? Fowl?) have been making pigs of themselves in cities the world over for eons, eating any crumb or pizza slice or Thanksgiving turkey dropped in the street. Perhaps that’s why their name starts with pig- and ends with -eon.
- pistachio - You pronounce it like it has [sh], but you spell it with [ch]. It’s a mystery, but it’s a delicious one.
- pleasant - It starts out just like “please,” as in, “I am pleased with how pleasant the weather is today.”
- plenitude - Honestly, if you put an extra [t] in, it’s not that terrible. “Plentitude” is on its way to becoming an acceptable alternate spelling of “plenitude,” but just to be on the safe side, one [t] is plenty.
- preferable - Is it one [f] or two, one [r] or two? One of each is preferable.
- presumptuous - If you are presumptuous enough to take something before it is offered, then you owe us (u + o + us) a replacement.
- proceed - Don’t get this word confused with “precede.” In “precede,” the [d] precedes the second [e] while in “proceed,” you write the final [e] and then proceed on to the [d].
- propagate - If you want your plants to propagate properly, it’s best that they not be crushed by your broken gate, but if you prop a gate up, then your plants can propagate.
- puerile - Although this word is all about childishness, it’s not talking about the purity of children, and it should not be spelled the same way.
- pursue - The two [u]s will remind you that anyone who wants to get to you (2 u) is pursuing you.
- putrefy - A lot of bad calls by the referee can make a game rotten, so when you think of “putrefy,” just remember that it has a “ref” in it.
- raspberry - Don’t let sports drinks and bubble gum flavors confuse you with their “Rockin’ Razzberries.” That’s fine for chemically generated flavors, but the natural fruit is a raspberry.
- receipt - Never forget the rule, “[I] before [e] except after [c].” And in this case, toss a [p] in there too.
- refrigerator - It’s not cool to misspell “refrigerator.” When you shorten it to “fridge,” you have to add a [d] just to follow English spelling rules, but in the full-length version, there’s no [d].
- religious - If you made a daily practice of writing “religious” 100 times, aside from being certifiably insane, people might say that you wrote “religious” 100 times every day religiously.
- remembrance - Remember, even though it’s related to “remember,” there’s no [e] between the [b] and the [r] in “remembrance.”
- renowned - “Renowned” is renowned for not having a [k] in it like you think it should since it’s related to the word “know.”
- ridiculous - It’s related to the word “ridicule,” so it starts with ri-, not re-.
- sacrilegious - You may think it’s related to “religious” and that it ought to be spelled the same way, but “religious” comes from roots meaning ‘to bind’ while “sacrilegious” has two roots, one meaning ‘sacred’ and the other meaning ‘to steal.’ So “sacrilegious” literally has to do with stealing, violating or misusing the sacred.
- salary - Not “celery,” but “salary,” from the Latin salarium, referring to a Roman soldier’s salt allowance.
- sandal - Hopefully you’ve seen enough TV commercials for various Sandals resorts by now to remember how to spell “sandal.”
- sandwich - It has nothing to do with witches, so there’s no [t], and we’re not confused about which one, so there’s no extra [h]. This portable meal was named after the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who is reported to have eaten sandwiches so he didn’t have to leave his poker games to go to the dining room.
- savvy - Who knows why it has two [v]s, but it is most definitely not savvy to leave one of them out.
- scissors - If we’d just pronounce the [c], we wouldn’t have this problem. I say we start a petition.
- seize - Argh! A miscreant! Let’s seize “seize” for breaking the “[i] before [e] except after [c]” rule and make him walk the plank!
- sensible - Sensitive, sensitivity, desensitize and sensible all have “sensi-” in them, meaning ‘to sense’ or ‘to feel.’
- separate - Well you know there’s an [e] at the beginning and another at the very end. Now you just have to remember to separate them by putting two [a]s in the middle.
- septuagenarian - Referring to someone in their 70s, “age” is right there in the middle of the word.
- sheriff - You won’t get thrown into the county lock-up if you put too many [r]s or not enough [f]s in “sheriff,” but you do owe him the respect of spelling his title correctly.
- shish kebab - “Shish” means ‘skewer,” and “kebab” (or “kabob”) means ‘roast meat,’ so you could have kebab without the shish or vice versa.
- siege - This is what you may come under if you spell it wrong, so unless you’re ready for a hunger strike, I suggest you get it right.
- similar - From the Latin similis, meaning ‘like.”
- special - From the Latin species, which literally means ‘appearance, form or beauty.’
- subpoena - In Latin, this means ‘under penalty,’ as in, “Come to court, or else.”
- success - Ready! OK! S-U-C-C-E-S-S! (clap, clap, pause, clap, clap, clap, clap) That’s the way we spell “success!” (clap, clap, pause, clap, clap, clap, clap)
- simile - Also from the Latin similis, meaning ‘like,” a simile is a comparison using the words “like” or “as.”
- tableau - The tricky part is obviously the ending, but just think of your beau, and then imagine a group of figures representing the story of how you met him.
- tariff - Even though it rhymes with “sheriff” and has the same single [r] and double [f], it starts out with the same two letters as “tax,” which is exactly what it means.
- tomorrow - “Today” literally means ‘this day,’ “tonight” means ‘this night,’ and “tomorrow” means ‘this morrow.’ “Morrow” means ‘the following day.’
- tongue - This is a combination of the same word in three different languages – Dutch (tong), Latin (lingua) and German (Zunge).
- too/to/two - To is a preposition meaning 'in the direction of and reaching; as far as; to the extent of.' Too is an adverb meaning 'in addition; as well; besides; also; more than enough; superfluously; overly; to a regrettable extent; extremely.' Two is the number 2.
- tragedy - Apparently, “tragedy” comes from two Greek words, one meaning ‘song or ode,’ and the other (tragos) meaning ‘goat.’ Why, we don’t know, but we can all agree that writing odes to goats is pretty tragic.
- truly - Please, oh please, don’t put an [e] in “truly.”
- ukulele - Hawaiian words tend to be spelled pretty much exactly the way they sound, and their syllables sometimes repeat themselves.
- usage - Just move the silent [e] to the end, and put an [a] and a [g] in the middle.
- vicious - A vice, as enjoyable as it might be in the moment, can lead to vicious consequences.
- village - What starts out as just one villa can easily turn into an entire village.
- withhold - This is one time when two words are combined and nothing is lost. Keep both of those [h]s in the one word.
- you're /your - “You’re” is the contraction form of you + are (You’re great). “Your” is a possessive adjective (Your great-grandmother is also great).
Words With Multiple Valid Spellings