How to Correctly Spell 25 Frequently Misspelled Words
Spelling is one of the most difficult parts of English to learn well. The words below are some of the most common ones you’ll see in everyday life that are frequently misspelled. But if you practice the mnemonics and other tricks below, you can master them!
Absence. Even though they make the same sound, the s comes before the c. Why? Well, “absence” comes from the word “absent,” in which there is only an s. Then, a c is added just as part of the “ence” suffix. English uses “ence” (sometimes “ance”) to change a word into a noun referring to a quality or process of the original word. In this case, the adjective “absent” indicates that the someone is gone, but her absence is a certain quality of experience that other people feel because she is absent.
Accidentally. How do you remember the double c? When you split this word into syllables, the first is “ac” and the second is “ci.” So, the first c makes the hard k sound, whereas the second c makes an s sound. Next, the “al” is there to change the noun “accident” is into the adjective “accidental.” Finally, that is changed into an adverb by adding the simple “ly” to the end. So, the double l comes from keeping the final l in the adjective and adding the “ly,” similar to the transformation sequence of “occasion” to “occasional” to “occasionally” or “nation” to “national” to “nationally.”
Accommodate. Remember: this is such a big word that it can “accommodate” both a double c and a double m. It doesn’t need a double d at the end, because you just want to form the simple word “date,” which only needs one d. Or split the word into 4 syllables and say them. It starts with a soft “ac” sound, then goes to “com,” so you need those two c’s. Then, it uses the sound “mo” (which sounds like “muh”), so you need both that m and the one in the previous “com.” Finally, it ends with “date.” Ac-com-mo-date.
Achieve. The “ie” combination makes the “ee” sound in the middle of the word, conforming to the rhyme, “I before e, except after c.” Bonus points for the word “achievement,” in which people struggle to remember how the “ment” sound is spelled. Well, “ment” always turns a non-noun word into a noun, in this case turning a verb into a noun: “achieve” into “achievement.”
Address. Remember there is a double d first and then a double s but no double r. Think of the word being broken into two syllables, split between the two d’s. So you say, “ad” and then “dress,” which doesn’t need a second r.
Almost. The word “all” normally has two l’s in it, but “almost” only has one, which makes it “almost” as long as it would be with two.
Beginning. Is it one n or two? “Begin,” of course, has only one n at the end—all that’s needed to make the n sound. But why are there two n’s in “beginning”? Well, think of the double n as protecting the i in “begin” from the later i in “ing,” so that the first i doesn’t get turned into the long i sound, like it does in “biking.” In words like “bike,” the second vowel (e) is separated from the earlier vowel (i) by only one consonant, so it modifies the sound. This often happens in English. Now, notice in “biking,” the second i still modifies the earlier i, keeping it long, and you don’t want a double k to separate them. But in many other words ending in “ing,” the earlier vowel seems to be protected by a double consonant and so stays in its short form—think of “printing,” “wadding,” “walking,” “thinking,” “running.” So, to protect the first i in “begin,” add the second n to make “beginning.”
Colleague. You can remember the double l by splitting the word into two syllables. Say “col” first and then “league,” showing the l sound is used twice. What about the “ea” in the middle? Well, the word “league” is a distinct word that refers to a team of cooperating members, and “team” has the same “ea” spelling and sound in the middle. The “gue” is sometimes used to make a soft G sound at the end of English words, such as in “tongue,” “intrigue,” and “vague.”
Experience. Try saying “experi” first and then “ence.” Practice letting the i in “experi” make the long e sound (like “ee”). “Experi” comes from an ancient word that refers to the action “to try or test.” And the “ence” suffix turns that into the quality or state of having tried or tested something and learned from it—gained experience. (See the discussion of “absence.”)
Environment. Practice saying “environ” first, emphasizing the ending n sound, and then “ment” after. Then, put them together so that you’re saying both the n and the m sounds—just for your own practice. The word “environs” refers to your surrounding location, and “ment” turns this into a concept of everything that exists around you.
Foreign. The old rhyme says, “I before e, except after c.” Well, that rule is foreign to the word “foreign,” in which the e is instead before the i. Remember, this “foreign” word does the opposite of what you’d expect. Also, the weird addition of the letter g is the same as in the word “reign,” which refers to foreign kings and queens (or “sovereigns”) ruling over their domains.
Friend. The vowel sound in the middle is just an e sound, so does the i or e come first? In this case, “i before e” is true. This word is a “friend” to that rule. It also helps to emphasize the i sound in your own mind or in practice: frih-end. And remember that the word ends with the word “end,” so “fri” must come first. Bonus: to make an adjective out of it, just add “ly” to the end of the word, which is also how you make “neighborly” and “kindly.”
Government. This uses the n and m sounds right next to each other, like in “environment.” Practice saying “govern” and then “ment,” almost separately, pronouncing both the N and the M (just in private). The root of this word is that “to govern” is the act of conducting the affairs of state, so adding “ment” to the end changes the verb to a noun that refers to the thing that is the result of that action.
Immediately. The first thing to remember is the double M. Well, this word is five syllables, if you count out the “beats” of it out loud. So, you say “im” first and then “me,” and that shows you need the two Ms. Then, remember that the adjective “immediate” ends with “ate.” When you add “ly” to the end to make an adverb, you just quickly and immediately stick “ly” on there without changing anything else, so the E stays, making “immediately” end with “ely.”
Its, It’s. “It’s hard to remember how to spell this.” That’s the key right there: “it’s” in that sentence is a contraction of “it is” and so correctly has an apostrophe in it. The possessive form of “it” can’t be made with the expected apostrophe s, therefore, or it would duplicate that form. It’s hard to know why.
License. How do you remember that the first s sound is made with a c but the second made with an actual s? There’s a branch of law called “licensing,” which has the second s. It would look strange as “licencing.” Also, remember that a license contributes to law and order, and it’s orderly to have the c in alphabetical order before the s.
Lose. This is often misspelled with a double o, which spells “loose,” meaning something isn’t too tight. The double o there makes sense, because you want a noose to be loose (if you’re in one). In contrast, to write “lose,” you have to lose one of the o’s. Also, “lose” is related to “lost,” which of course has only one o.
Our. This is spelled almost the same as the unit of time the “hour,” minus the h, and can be pronounced similarly—kind of like “ow” and “oor” stuck together—to help remember that. Often, though, it’s pronounced the same as “are.” But “are” is a form of “to be,” whereas “our” is the possessive form of “we.”
Personnel. There is only one s in this, as there’s only one s in “person.” Personnel are people or persons who work at a company. Clear enough. But what’s with the two n’s? Well, if you say each syllable, you get per-son-nel. So, remember the ending “nel” has to be added to “person,” which already has an n, creating the double n.
Presence. In this one, s and the c make the same sound, so how do you remember their order? Notice that “presence” is related to “present,” which is spelled with only an s, which explains the s. Now for the c. The adjective “present” refers to a person being there. Adding “ence” to it forms a noun referring to his or her state of being present. And “ence” is always spelled with a c.
Really. This uses double l. That’s because you start with the word “real,” and then add “ly” to that, as you do to make words like “immediately” and “friendly.” Even though “real” already ends with an l, you have to follow the rule of adding “ly” to form the adverb (not just a y), which leads to the double l.
Relevant. It’s easy to forget the correct order of l and v. So, to remember that this word starts with “rel,” look how similar “relevant” is to “relieve”: the l comes before the v, and there are two e’s in the first few letters, surrounding the l. You could think, “I’m relieved when a fact is relevant,” to remember this. Finally, practice pronouncing the “ant” suffix just as you would the insect—but only in private.
Surprise. It’s surprising to see “sur” in this word. The p in the middle has an r on both sides of it, and it’s probably just as surprised as you to find that extra r, when you would expect just one from the pronunciation. It might also help to practice saying it out loud—at least to yourself—as “sur” and then “prise.”
They’re, Their, There. All three of these start with the. But then “their” is the possessive form of “they.” At the theater, you’d say, “They asked me to save their seats.” Next, “they’re” is a contraction of “they are,” so someone wanting those seats could say, “Well, they’re not here. Where are they?” Finally, “there” always refers to a location; so, you’d say, “I see them right over there.” And “there” has “here” in it, which is another location word. Also, the possessive word “their” has the word “heir” in it, which is a person who inherits or possesses an estate.
Unfortunately. The end of this word is often misspelled. Remember that “unfortunate” is spelled with “nate” at the end, which you can pronounce like the name “Nate” in your mind. Our lazy friend Nate always gets into unfortunate situations. Remember the spelling of “nate” sits there and doesn’t change for the “ly.” Nate doesn’t like effort; he just throws the “ly” on there, because it’s the least amount of letters to make that sound.
Until. This ends with only one l, but the informal “till” uses double l. Strangely, the word “till” actually came first in English history, and “until” is a newer variation. So, imagine that when you add the “un” to the beginning of “till,” you have to take away an l from the end to balance it.
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