23 difficult words to spell
Of course, not everyone spells these words wrong – but lots of people do! Let’s take a look at a few words that are always putting our spelling to the test. From sneaky silent letters to devious double letters, English sure doesn’t make spelling easy.
1. weird (wierd)
Breaking everyone’s favourite spelling rule – ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ – the word weird is, well, weird.
2. accommodate (acommodate, accomodate)
The easiest way to remember the two double letter pairings in accommodate is to remember that this word ‘accommodates’ a lot of letters.
3. handkerchief (hankerchief)
The lurking ‘d’ in handkerchief can be remembered by thinking about the fact that these squares of nose-blowing cloth fit in one’s hand. Don’t get confused by the shortened hanky! (Nor should you try adding a ‘d’ in there: handky is far from correct.)
4. indict (indite)
The silence ‘c’ in indict (and related words indictment, indictable, etc.) baffles lots of people, both in its spelling and its pronunciation.
5. cemetery (cemetary)
Though many are tempted, there is no ‘a’ in cemetery. You might contrast the word with graveyard, which has two ‘a’s.
6. conscience (conscence, conscious)
The first step is to avoid confusing conscience – a person’s moral sense of right and wrong (noun) – and conscious – aware and responding to one’s surroundings (adjective). Once you clear that hurdle, you need to make sure that ‘science’ makes an appearance in your spelling.
7. rhythm (rythm, rhythym, etc.)
This notorious word boasts only a single vowel – and ‘y’, at that! – plus a couple of ‘h’s running amok. The related word rhyme is only slightly easier.
8. playwright (playwrite)
Even though playwrights do write, the ‘wright’ in this word actually refers to a builder, as in similar words like shipwright. You can remember this by thinking of a playwright as someone who ‘builds’ a theatre experience.
9. embarrass (embarass, embaress)
This word unequivocally demonstrates that language has a sense of humour. Why else make the word embarrass embarrassingly difficult to spell?
10. millennium (millenium)
The incorrect spelling of millennium with only a single ‘n’ is very common, possibly because similar words, such as millenarian and millenary, follow this single ‘n’ pattern. When you’re talking about the ‘millennial’ generation, take to care to keep that second ‘n’ in there.
11. pharaoh (pharoh)
Given the world’s fascination with ancient Egypt, you’d think that the word for their rulers wouldn’t present such a problem, but the sneaky ‘ao’ in the second syllable is a tricky one.
12. liaison (liason)
Both liaison and liaise boast that tricky triple vowel, a gift from French.
13. convalesce (convalece)
The -sce ending in convalesce is a spelling difficulty that crops in several English words that have a Latin origin, including acquiesce, coalesce, and incandesce.
14. supersede (supercede)
Derived from the Latin word supersedere, this word is frequently misspelled as supercede thanks to the influence of words like accede and intercede.
15. ecstasy (ecstacy)
Ecstasy may turn to despair when you realize that you’ve assumed that the ‘c’ at the start of ecstasy makes a later reappearance.
16. Caribbean (Carribean, Caribean)
The Caribbean tropics may seem slightly less alluring once you realize how much trouble you have spelling this name.
17. harass (harrass)
While harass may have two different pronunciations, it doesn’t have two r’s!
18. maintenance (maintainence)
Although maintenance often implies the maintaining of something, the word does not have maintain in it.
19. pronunciation (pronounciation)
Even though the verb form of this word is pronounce, the noun – pronunciation – does not have that ‘o’ in the middle. Before writing the word out, you might try saying both pronunciation and pronounce out loud and hear the difference yourself.
20. Arctic (Artic)
Although the pronunciation without the ‘c’ sound is considered acceptable, the spelling still requires that the ‘c’ be present. (The same goes for Antarctica.)
21. occurred (ocurred, occured)
Make sure that you double both the ‘c’ and the ‘r’ when you use the past tense of occur! Many verbs ending in a single ‘r’ will take a double ‘r’ in the past tense, such as recur, blur, and refer.
22. recommend (reccommend, reccomend)
Another double-letter kerfuffle, recommend might seem as though it deserves a second ‘c’, but the word only has one.
23. deductible (deductable)
This word is one of many examples of -ibles and -ables that may easily be confused. Check out ‘Words ending in -able or -ible’ for help on figuring these out.
Photo credit: Mark Clifton, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0