Although most writing software have spell check functions, having polished spelling skills helps especially when you have to physically write in person. Our Engram team compiled some of the most common spelling errors by English learners and organized them into categories.
Words with repeating letters
Tomorrow is often misspelled as tommorrow (with two Ms and Rs) or tommorow (with two Ms and one R).
Because it has three pairs of repeated letters, committee can be challenging to spell. People have misspelled it as commitee, comittee, etc.
Were you ever embarrassed you spelled embarrassed wrong as embarassed? Worry not. This is also a common spelling mistake even native English speakers make.
You may wonder if it’s necessary for English spelling to be this complicated. Although many (including native speakers) would like English to be more simple and intuitive, it’s just not the case. Misspelling words like necessary as neccessary or neccesary is quite commonplace. Unnecessary is also often misspelled as unecessary (with one N).
Ironically, even the word misspelling is misspelled often! The most common way to spell it wrong is mispelling (with one S).
A vs. E
Calendar is often misspelled as calender because its pronunciation. Although it sounds more like calender, calendar is the correct spelling.
Like calendar, grammar is also commonly misspelled as grammer because of how it is pronounced.
Likewise, independence sounds more like independance than the properly spelled independence.
This is yet another case of sounding more like the misspelled version of the word, seperate, more than the correctly spelled separate.
I before E except after C (or when sounding like A, as in neighbor or weigh)
There is a general rule in English that if the letters e and i are used together, the order of the two vowels should follow this formula: I before E except after C or when sounding like A, as in neighbor or weight. Since this is English we’re talking about, there are, of course, exceptions, but most words containing the letters i and e next to one another will abide by this rule. Take the following examples.
One of the most commonly used words containing e and i, receive contains a C before ei, so the correct order is indeed ei instead of ie. Although many may misspell the word as recieve initially, the correct spelling is receive.
Achieve may be perceived as a curveball for some. Although it contains a C like receive, achieve has a sneaky H in between the C and ie. Because the C does not come right before ie, the correct spelling of the word is achieve (i before e) rather than the common misspelling acheive (e before i).
Receipt is a commonly used word that also follows the rule above. With a C directly preceding the ei, receipt is the correct spelling.
neighbor and weigh
The second half of the rule states that e comes before i when the combination sounds like A as in the words neighbor (pronounced nay·br) and weigh (pronounced way). Some other words that contain an A-sounding ei are: eight, sleigh, beige, feint, reign, and vein.
Unfortunately, there are some exceptions to this rule, and here are some commonly used words that do not follow the formula: science, seize, weird, and foreign.
This is one of the most common homophone mistakes that even native English speakers make. Affect is a verb that means: to make a difference to. Effect is mostly used as a noun that means: a change that is a result of an action or cause. If you intend to use the word as a verb, you probably should be using affect, but if you are looking to use the word as a noun, then effect would be the correct choice. There is an unlikely exception when effect is used as a verb, but because it is uncommon, you will probably have no problem abiding by this method.
These example sentences can help you fortify your understanding of the two words:
- Don’t let his obnoxious attitude affect your mood.
- The increase of sales tax had a negative effect on the economy.
Like the previous pair, accept and except are also commonly mixed up. Accept is a verb that means: consent to receive something. Meanwhile, except can be used as a preposition, conjunction, or verb. As a preposition, except excludes the items that follow it: I eat all vegetables except carrots. As a conjunction, except adds a modifier to a sentence: The shop does not take credit card, except if it’s for purchases over $50. As a verb, except excludes certain items or ideas: The professor excepted from his thesis all the unproven claims about gravitation. Using except as a verb is by far the least common, so you can follow this general rule:
If you intend to use the word as a verb, accept is most likely the correct choice.
If you intend to use the word as a preposition or conjunction, use except.
Here are some example sentences:
- I accepted the job offer last Tuesday.
- Ron wants to try every extreme sport except bungee jumping.
Your and you’re are another pair of homophones that are commonly mixed up. When using the word as a possessive pronoun, use your. If you can replace the word with you are, then use you’re.
Refer to the following example sentences:
- Willa used your hair dryer without your permission.
- He knows you’re not going to the high school reunion.
Similar to the your and you’re mixup, its and it’s are also confused by many. If you are looking to use a possessive pronoun, then use its. If you can replace the word with it is, then use it’s.
Check out these example sentences:
- Do you think it’s wrong to tell a white lie?
- The cat licked its paw and yawned.
Like the previous two pairs, who’s and whose are commonly confused. If you are looking for a possessive pronoun, then use whose. If you can replace the word with who is, then use who’s. You probably can see a pattern with these pairs.
Here are some example sentences:
- Paul, whose only wish was to make impress the manager, caught the attention of the CEO for his superb coding skills.
- Who’s going to do the presentation for the workshop tomorrow?
Then and than are both pronounced then, but the two hold different meanings. Then is used when related to time or a sequential unfolding of events. Meanwhile, than is used when comparing objects, ideas, or actions.
Check out these example sentences:
- Helen finished her homework and then her chores.
- Sebastian is better than Aaron at basketball.
to, too, two
These three homophones sound the same but all have different meanings and uses. To is a preposition that expresses a motion or action in a certain direction. Too means also (He got an award, too.) or excessively (She was driving too fast.). Two is the number 2. Out of the three homophones, the most common mixup is with to and too because they have the most similar spelling. Check which of the three meanings you are trying to express in order to choose the correct one (or two/to/too).
Here are some example sentences:
- Evan ran to the post office before it closed.
- She has great social skills, too.
- I ordered two hamburgers and a side of cajun fries.
there, their, they’re
Like to/too/two, there/their/they’re is another common homophone triplet where each word holds different meanings. There is used to express a place or position. Their is a possessive pronoun used to convey ownership. They’re is a conjunction of the two words they are, so if you can replace the word with they are, then they’re is the word you are looking for.
These example sentences can help you distinguish the three words:
- The manager left the new company mugs over there.
- Their research impressed the professor.
- Do you think they’re waiting for us?
The use of apostrophes can get confusing for international learners of English and can even trip up native speakers at times. We gathered the most common apostrophe spelling mistakes in English below.
When writing decades, writers tend to misplace apostrophes or use apostrophes when not needed. When writing the full year for the decade, do not use an apostrophe.
- Incorrect: 1700’s, 1960’s, 2010’s
- Correct: 1700s, 1960s, 2010s
When abbreviating the first two digits of the decade, place an apostrophe at the abbreviated spot.
- Incorrect: 20’s, 60’s, 90’s
- Correct: ‘20s, ‘60s, ‘90s (which means 1920s, 1960s, 1990s)
rock ‘n’ roll, sweet ‘n’ sour
When abbreviating and, two apostrophes are used to replace the A and D in the word. Writers tend to incorrectly abbreviate rock and roll as rock ‘n roll when the correct spelling is rock ‘n’ roll.
- Incorrect: rock ‘n roll, sweet ‘n sour, black ‘n white
- Correct: rock ‘n’ roll, sweet ‘n’ sour, black ‘n’ white
When pluralizing acronyms, many people incorrectly apostrophes before the S. However, apostrophes are not needed in such words.
- Incorrect: USB’s, GIF’s, TV’s
- Correct: USBs, GIFs, TVs
The only occasion in which you would place an apostrophe before the S in full decades or acronyms is when you are trying to convey possession. For the full decade however, using the apostrophe before the S would mean the possession of just that single year, while using an apostrophe after the S would me the possession of that whole decade. The same would apply to acronyms.
- The 1960’s economy was heavily influenced by politics.
This would mean the economy of the single year 1960 was influenced by politics.
- The 1960s’ economy was heavily influenced by politics.
This sentence is conveying that the economy of the whole decade of the 1960s was influenced by politics.
- The old USB’s tip was damaged, so it didn’t work anymore.
The above sentence is expressing that the tip of a single old USB was damaged.
- The old USBs’ tips were damaged, so they didn’t work anymore.
This sentence is saying the tips of multiple old USBs were damaged.
Words that don’t sound like they’re spelled
Although pronounced wenz*·*day, Wednesday has unique spelling due to its Germanic roots. In fact, some research states that 80% of English words originate from foreign loanwords, and hence the inconsistency in spelling.
February is commonly misspelled as Febuary because the first R is not pronounced. Meanwhile, the correct pronunciation of library involves both Rs, but the word is commonly mispronounced as libary which can cause some people to misspell it.
English is a fan of silent letters such as the Gs in gnat and gnome.
The silent K in knee and knack may seem unnecessary, but it’s just another one of those “That’s just how it is” moments with spelling.
homage, herb, hour, heir, honest
The silent H is also common. Words like homage, herb, hour, heir, and honest are all pronounced without the H sound yet contain those sneaky Hs.
psychic, pseudo, pneumonia
Pronounced sigh**·**kick, psychic is a
terribly spelled word that can be difficult to write correctly. Likewise, although the P holds no role their pronunciation, pseudo and pneumonia are also spelled with silent Ps.
hustle, castle, whistle, listen, Christmas, tsunami
Do you see what the six words above have in common? That’s right. They all have silent Ts: hustle (huh·sl), castle (ka·sl), whistle (wi·sl), listen (li·sn), Christmas (kri·smuhs), and tsunami (soo·na·mee). Tsunami is a loanword from Japanese, a language in which tsu and su are pronounced differently. Although the T in tsunami may seem unnecessary in English, it does have a function in Japanese. This applies to countless other foreign borrowed words in English which causes English to be difficult to spell.
As with many French-based words, the last few letters of debris (duh·bree) ***and ballet (bah·*lay) ****are not pronounced. Over time, the French tended to omit pronouncing the last letters of certain words and that carried over to many French loanwords in English.
subtle, doubt, salmon
Silence is the silent killer in English spelling. The words subtle (suh·tl), doubt (dowt), and salmon (sa*·*mon) all have silent letters that can cause the words to be misspelled or mispronounced by non-native speakers of English.
café, cliché, financé
In English, an E at the end of a word is typically silent, but there are words where the E at the end has to be pronounced. Café, cliché, and financé are all words where the last E is pronounced, and these days, it is usually acceptable to spell these words without the accent (diacritic) which may cause English learners to mispronounce these words with a silent E.
Pronounced peet*·*suh, pizza is not commonly misspelled but commonly mispronounced by non-native speakers of English. Although it contains no T, pizza in English is pronounced with a T sound in the middle.
Words with an S and C together can be easily misspelled. Miscellaneous can commonly be misspelled as micellaneous.
Misspelled as goverment at times, government contains silent letters that can throw even a native speaker off. Likewise environment can be misspelled as enviorment due to its pronunciation.
Fourty is a common misspelling of forty because of the spelling of the corresponding number four. Although four is spelled four, forty is not spelled as fourty.
The word truly is often misspelled as truely because of the spelling of the directly related word true.
colonel, yacht, chic, faux, façade
Here are some other words whose pronunciation seem to have nothing to do with their spelling. Colonel, although pronounced more like kernel, is spelled without any R in sight. The ch in yacht and chic are not pronounced the traditional way ch is pronounced in English. Faux is pronounced more like the word foe despite having an X at the end. Lastly, façade
, potentially the worst of the bunch, is pronounced fa·saad.
In British English, the word queue is used instead of line. British speakers would say “queue up” instead of “line up.” However, there are residents of the Internet who wonder why queue has so many unnecessary letters when you only pronounce one of the letters in the whole word. Unfortunately, this is a mystery that cannot be explained with logic. Queue is simply the accepted proper spelling.
theatre, centre, metre
Although in American English, the above words are spelled theater, center, and meter, in British English, they are spelled theatre, centre, and metre respectively. If you are an English learner writing in British English, the pronunciation of these words may throw you off when spelling them as it may seem more logical to spell these words with er rather than re due to their pronunciation.
toward vs. towards
When speaking in both American and British English, it is common to say towards instead of toward. In writing however, toward is the correct spelling of towards in American English. Meanwhile in British English, towards is favored over toward.
English spelling is illogical, so it can be difficult for non-native English speakers. If you are having trouble with spelling, you can always visit Engram to check your spelling and grammar.