20 common misspelt words in English

With an evolving world relying heavily on autocorrect and spell-checking applications, it is becoming very easy to repetitively make spelling errors in our writing. Even native English speakers can find great difficulty in the spelling of these most common misspelt words. In today’s blog, we are going to be exploring why these spelling errors may occur.

Before we start, 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.

1. Inconsistent Pronunciation

One source of difficulty is inconsistent pronunciation; many sound out ‘definately’ when they mean definitely (2). And comparatively few outside the Royal Shakespeare Company pronounce separate (1) – more typically the ‘A’ becomes an ‘E’. This problem is most obvious when (many) young people transcribe ‘could have’ as ‘could of’ or a lot (14) as ‘alot’.

2. Foreign Influence

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.

3. Choosing The Right Letter

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’.

4. Double Letter Dilemma

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.

Common Misspelt Word List

  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

 Kieran McGovern earned a degree in Speech, with an emphasis on Speech Pathology and has a Masters degree in Linguistics. She has over 30 years’ experience working with English language learners in the USA and Taiwan, as an ESL/EFL teacher at various levels. She has also conducted teacher-training workshops in Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the USA. In addition, she has been an advisor for international students of all ages and their families. She is co-author of Let’s Go, one of the world’s best-selling English courses for children, published by Oxford University Press.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

9 thoughts

  1. I have been a subscriber for a few years now but recently am unable to get any response whenever I submit a word for the meaning , I don’t know who or how to complain but it is most frustrating, as far as I know I am fully paid up please advise who to seek help from.
    Gordon Robinson…

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