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English Spelling Nightmares Posted by on Aug 22, 2019 in English Grammar, English Language

Image courtesy of Pixabay, CCO

Is there a word that you always misspell, no matter how many times you write it?

Chances are, there is. You go to write a word which Spellcheck always corrects and you think, “Ha! I’m not going to spell calendar wrong this time!” And, in no time at all, you have written calander. There are lots of reasons why this happens. Good spelling requires three things

  1. Long term memory. Once you learn how to spell a word correctly, you need to hold the memory of how to spell it in your head for the remainder of your lifetime. We do it, and most of us manage pretty well. But, hey, it gets pretty crowded up there!
  2. Working memory. You need to visualize that word. Sometimes we are writing so quickly that we can’t hold the image of that word in our minds before the next word materializes.
  3. Mnemonic devices. There are tricks to spelling, especially in English, and you need to know, and remember those special rules. That alone can be difficult, but in English, as we know, rules break all the time.

Poor spellers, properly known as cacographers, are in good company. Some of the most famous writers of all time were notoriously bad spellers. Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austin, F. Scott Fitzgerald all had huge mental blocks when it came to spelling. The best-selling author of all time, Agatha Christie, was slightly dyslexic and so had trouble with her spelling. Some geniuses, such as Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein also are said to have been bad spellers. Even a fictional writer is cursed with poor spelling skills. There is a recurring joke in the Superman comic books that Lois Lane, ace reporter for the Daily Planet and Superman’s girlfriend, is a terrible speller.

Part of the problem for someone learning English is that so many of our words sound alike, but are spelled differently. Those words, as you probably know, are homophones, and English is loaded with them. Certain letters are also not typically placed beside each other because the sound they make is odd. But sometimes, like the letters N and M in the word government, they will appear together. The same is true of words with a silent E. Why does people have one, but not potato? But, people is also a plural word, yet the plural of potato is potatoes? What’s up with that?

I feel your pain, and I’ve been spelling English words for decades!

Here are 10 of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language, and some ways to help you remember how to spell them.

  • Separately – This word is my nemesis. The Es surround the As. Also, it contains the word rat, which aptly describes the person who decided that it should be spelled this way.
  • Definitely – There is no A in definitely, but there definitely should be.
  • Receive – “I before E, except after C.” There are exceptions to the rule, but this common word is exactly why that rule was created.
  • Occasion – Two Cs, but one S.
  • Success – Two Cs, two Ss, go figure. I usually think of the phrase, “On occasion, I can be a success.” It helps me think of the difference between the two, and therefore which is the double/double.
  • Height – I after E, but before G.
  • Width – The D in the middle makes it fatter.
  • Existence – You won’t find an A following a T anywhere in existence.
  • Privilege – Two eyes see two Es, in that order. (But they don’t see any Ds.)
  • Schedule – This is a two-syllable word, in spite of appearances. Also, if you went to school, you’d know your schedule.

These have always been my least favorite words to spell. What are some of yours?

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About the Author: Gary Locke

Gary is a semi-professional hyphenate.


  1. Brittany Cloe:

    Thanks for the tips! ☺️
    I always had the hardest time spelling restaurant until I took Spanish and broke down the word sounded it out in Spanish
    REST-A-U-R-ANT-E , then proceeded to just drop the e off the end ! Now I have never forgotten how to spell it right to this very day and it’s been a long time since my 7th grade Spanish class , 26yrs to be exact! Hopefully this may be a help to someone else! Love your blog ❤️ ❣️ I just found it this morning chatting with my husband about how y is sometimes a vowel! LOL😂

    • gary:

      @Brittany Cloe I could also devote a blog to spelling adverbs. Those always confound people.