HomeApplied Linguistics20 most commonly misspelt words in English

20 most commonly misspelt words in English




Example of poor spelling.Which words do you think are most commonly misspelt in English? Write down five words you expect to be on the list at the end of this post.

What makes some English words difficult to spell? One source of difficulty is inconsistent pronunciation; many sound out ‘definately’ when they mean definitely (2). And comparatively few outside the Royal Shakespeare Company clearly enunciate separate (1) – more typically the ‘A’ becomes an ‘E’. This problem is most glaring when (many) young people transcribe ‘could have’ as ‘could of’ or a lot (14) as ‘alot’.

In some cases it is an unexpected combination of letters containing few phonetic clues – bureaucracy (11) and manoeuvre (3) are examples here. In both these cases the spelling pattern is literally foreign; French, to be precise. Until comparatively recently a basic knowledge of French was assumed of every ‘educated’ English reader but most now would recognise the word entrepreneur (16) from business rather than the language from which it originates. The same applies to those other providers of hidden spelling rules: Latin and Greek.

An understandable uncertainty as to when ‘C’ rather than ‘S’ applies lies behind consensus (6) supersede (12) conscience (19) and unnecessary (7). There’s a similar confusion over what creates the ‘CK’ sound in liquefy (18), added to the confusion of an ‘E’ in place of the usual ‘I’.

By far the most difficult hurdle for any speller, however, is the dreaded ‘double letter’ dilemma. Two ‘N’s or one? Does two ‘C’s look right? Unnecessary causes double-trouble here to add to its ‘C’ or ‘S’ issues.

Spell-check/Spellcheck (?) will help, of course, which is why many young people delegate the job entirely to that marvellous (two ‘L’s in British English) programme (one ‘M’ and drop the ‘E’ in the US or amongst techies).

Sadly, technology has not yet produced a spell-checking pen for that handwritten application form.

1. Separate

2. Definitely

3. Manoeuvre

4. Embarrass

5. Occurrence

6. Consensus

7. Unnecessary

8. Acceptable

9. Broccoli

10. Referred

11. Bureaucracy

12. Supersede

13. Questionnaire

14. Connoisseur

15. A lot

16. Entrepreneur

17. Particularly

18. Liquefy

19. Conscience

20. Parallel

Source: poll from OnePoll quoted in Daily Telegraph 06 August 2010

Which words do you or your students have most trouble spelling?

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Based on recent research into the most commonly misspelt words in the English language, Kieran McGovern considers why some words are just difficult to spell correctly.


  1. I did some research with adult English languge learners who were weak spellers and these were the words they most often misspelled:


    Note that the majority of them were Arabic speakers, hence the third item. It was a small sample but those words certainly do look like some of the ones I most often see misspelled. They’re obviously very different from the ones that native speakers struggle with.

    By examining student errors I discovered:

    The majority of their errors involved vowels rather than consonants, especially weak vowels, short vowels and vowel digraphs.

    Silent letters were a big problem – sometimes they knew there was one but put it in the wrong place.

    They were usually able to spell prefixes and suffixes but failed to make the correct adjustments to the spelling of the base word when adding them.

    Lots more about this on my blog.

    The Spelling Blog

    • You must be teaching Arab students because this is usually their weakness, from my experience. They usually misspell these words in my classes. Even IELTS level students!

      • You’re right, I was, Jori. And teaching them got me really interested in spelling and how we can help weak spellers improve as there was really very little help around for them. So I should thank them!

  2. Well,from my own perspective we can add:
    Category 1 Accommodation or Adoption (o or a)
    Category 2 Soldier (d or g)
    Category 3 September (er or re)
    Category 4 butcher (tch or ch)
    Category 5 Digraphs (Dia 0r Di)

    English phonetic is somehow tricky

  3. Those words all seem good candidates – the only one that surprises me is Arabic. One of the mistakes I see regularly among native English speakers is could of – perhaps a sign that knowledge of grammar is often weak.

    You might be interested in these pages on spelling: https://tiny.cc/jscu6

    • Strangely, many Brits do not know that what we hear as ‘could of’ is actually ‘could’ve’. Another mistake, which I have seen very often among Brits is ‘discusting’ instead of ‘disgusting’. I do not want to mention here the inappropriate use of ‘there’, they’re, their, your, you’re, etc.’


      • It’s because grammar is not taught in English state schools after primary school. I often notice that younger kids often have much better spelling but because they rarely read they forget much of what they have learned. Every day I teach sixteen-year-olds who would fail spelling tests set for those in Year 4.

        • You are right. This is something I have noticed too. One way to get teenagers/young adults to practice their spelling is to make it fun and appealing. There is a free online game where not only do they get to practice their spelling but get rewarded as well since online typos are worth money in that game. I believe teenagers can really benefit from playing this game. It would make them practice grammar and they won’t even feel it. The link to the site is https://TypoBounty.com

      • Hi Catherine, thanks for flagging this with us! The links have now been fixed. ^Chesca

  4. I think the most commonly misspelt words in English and at least , on my point of view , are soldier , scissors , knot , knife , knee , knight , tomorrow and bachelor .

  5. I created you a game to practise (or practice) the most commonly mis-spelt words on zondle.com. Search for Very Tricky Words!

  6. I agree with the “could of / should of” (which I’ve even seen written as should ov!), also the “they’re, their, there” family, not to mention the its and it’s…
    one word which I have had to check more than once is “diarrhoea”!

    • That’s an interesting one – I can visualise it through reading ‘By the time I get to Phoenix’ on CD labels etc. But I guess that hasn’t graced any music chart for a few decades!

  7. As an English teacher, I’d like to add continuous and rhythm, which students often misspell.

  8. Maybe and May be
    maybe – perhaps or possibly (as in something might happen)
    may be – has the ability to happen (as in implies something can happen)

    Every and and everyday
    every day – means each day individually
    everyday – (acts as an adjective) — means: frequent or often

    Some time and sometime
    some time – an extended period of time
    Here the word “time” acts as a noun and the word “some” acts as an adjective describing time.
    sometime – at some unspecified point of time. Sometime is an adverb telling when.

    I use english dictionary for words meaning – https://www.dictionary.net/

  9. I wish those links weren’t there….I could copy and paste and learn all these words

  10. some examples of tricky spelling :):

    between or beetwen,
    stoped or stopped,
    knives or knifes,
    fish pl. or fishes,
    information pl. or informations,


    • I have never seen “beetwen” before and “informations” is a silly mistake for a native English speaker.

    • “Misspelt” is the past participle and past tense of “misspell”.
      “Misspelled” is also still a word.

  11. So interesting seeing what people are commenting here! As a French Immersion Teacher to mostly native English speakers, it’s interesting to see that a number of the words on the list are actually of French origin, which is probably why so many English speakers struggle with spelling them!


    3. Manoeuvre –> manoeuvrer

    4. Embarrass –> embarrasser

    8. Acceptable (Same in both languages)

    11. Bureaucracy –> bureau –> bureaucratie

    13. Questionnaire (Same in both languages)

    14. Connoisseur (Same in both languages)

    16. Entrepreneur (Same in both languages)

  12. What about “have” ? Frequently appears as “of” – as in “would of”, “could of” etc.

  13. As per my perspective ,the words added must be…
    These are some tough ones

  14. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism. And yes these are real words .

  15. I saw soldier , That reminded me of Lieutenant :Leftenant in British, and Colonel; Kernel , Cueue , Hiccoughs and hundreds of British towns and cities , But Frankly English language is Totally Nuts . even in the simplest of words. Eg; our is an A (not an AI ) in British English . At least the Usanians USE the R , Now Add a Silent H it will be hour Something like aue , But AWE is pronounced O. Another one , The Beatles song ; She s gotta ticket to ra a ide …..where is the F,,,,, is the A in that ride .I always used to (usto )think the word Penis was like Dennis the menace or like pencil , penalty and obviously Penetrate, which would be the root of (Phonetically ov ) this word . So after this revelation I was told the logic of the spelling ;US men PEE more than PENetrate , yep that is true , soo why not spell it pee n us ? because our language allows us to be sarcastic , So why is English such a Mess ? All important languages have an academy to control , erase or filter all new words , Of course , thousands of Intellectual English speakers have associated to protest and reform their own Idiom for hundreds of years.. Unfortunately they have never had an official recognition ,oops sorry ,igot too enthusiastic

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