A Handy Spelling Guide: 20 Words You Need To Stop Misspelling Today

Spelling Bee Contest

Can you spell? How does your written word compare to your spoken English?

Reading comments online, I have noticed that there are people who write flawlessly, while there are people who have spelling and grammar mistakes littered all over their writings.

While there is no prize in life for the best speller, making empirical spelling mistakes in your writing can distract people from your core message, prevent you from delivering your point across, and worst of all—shortchange people’s impression of your cognitive ability. This is especially true in online mediums like e-mails, discussion boards, and blog comments where all the other party can “see” of you is your writing.

I know that I definitely pay more heed to an e-mail that is free from errors than one which is laden with mistakes; the former holds my interest longer and hence has a higher chance of achieving its objective, while the latter heads straight to the trash folder faster than you can spell the word “embarrassment”.

(Read: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Business Proposals (or Any Pitch for That Matter) [Examples Included])

I’m no spelling bee winner, but I do endeavor to make my writings as error-free as possible—because I know that the surest way to turn off someone with your writing is to have one littered with writing mistakes. Below is a list of words which I have observed to be commonly misspelled / misused, along with their correct forms (note that the writing on PE conforms to American English):

Common Spelling Mistakes

  Correct Word NOT…
1.

occasion
occasional

Spelled with two “c”s and one “s”.

Usage: “Weddings are such joyous occasions.”

ocasion, occassion
ocasional, occassional

2.

disappoint
disappointed

disappointment

Spelled with one “s” and two “p”s.

Usage: “He really disappointed me when he forgot all about our first year anniversary.”)

disapoint, dissappoint
disapointed, dissappointed
disapointment, dissappointment

3.

embarrass
embarrassed
embarrassment 

Spelled with two “r”s and two “s”s.

Usage: “John really embarrassed Ann in front of the crowd when he made fun of her like that.”

embarass, embarras
embarassed, embarrased
embarassment, embarrasment 
4.

definite
definitely

Spelled with “ite” at the end, not “ate”. There is no “a” in “definite”.

Usage: “I will definitely be there at your wedding. You can count on me for that.”

definate
definately 
5.

supposed

Spelled with two “p”s and one “s”.

Usage: “She is supposed to be here at two pm but she is still not here yet. She must be running late.”

supossed
suppossed 
6.

regardless

Usage: Regardless of what he did, he is still your father at the end of the day.

irregardless

Often wrongly used in place of “regardless”. There is no such word as “irregardless”. [More on wikipedia.]

7.

believe — believable (remove the last “e” when you add “able”)
love — lovable (remove the last “e” when you add “able”)
relive — relivable (remove the last “e” when you add “able”)
knowledge — knowledgeable (do not remove “e” when you add “able”)
change / changeable (do not remove “e” when you add “able”)
judge — judgment (American) / judgement  (British) 

The extended forms of the root words are commonly misspelled, either with an extra “e” or missing an “e” in the middle. This is where the quirks of English kicks in: there is no set rule on when to remove the “e” or not from the root word. The best way is just to memorize them by heart.

believeable
loveable
reliveable
knowledgable
judgement
changable 

8.

separate

Spelled with two “a”s in the middle.

Usage: ”The two brothers have been separated at birth. They have since been reunited.”

seperate 

9.

obsess
obsessed
obsession 

Spelled with three “s”s — one before the first “e” and two after that

Usage: ”You are obsessed with catching that thief. Stop thinking about it; he has already escaped with your purse and there’s nothing that can be done about it anymore.”

obsses, obssess
obssesed, obssessed
obssesion, obssession 

10.

possess
possessed
possession 

Spelled with four “s”s — two before the first “e” and two after that

Usage: ”He is a very materialistic person. He is often comparing his material possessions with other people.”

posess, posses
posessed, possesed
posession, possesion 

Commonly Misused Words

The words in both columns are correct and exist in English language, but are often wrongly used.

11.

effect (verb, noun)

To cause/bring about a change. Most commonly used as a noun.

E.g., “He effected these changes with his great persuasion skills.” (verb) or “The effects of the company merger are still being felt after two years.” (noun)

affect (verb)

To produce an effect.

E.g., “He affected me a great deal when he said those harsh words.”

12.

you’re

Contraction for “you are”.

E.g.,You’re the most beautiful person I have ever met.” or “You’re such a true friend to me.”

your

A possessive term. It refers to someone’s ownership over something.

E.g., “Is this your book?” or “Your boyfriend borrowed money from me yesterday.”

13.

it’s

Contraction for “it is”.

E.g.,It’s not easy for her to raise two kids on her own. We need to help her out.” or “It’s natural for her to be angry after a betrayal like this.”

its

A possessive term. It refers to an item’s ownership over something.

E.g., “This is a cat. That is its tail.” or “This book is a gift. Its cover is beautifully designed.”

14.

they’re

Contraction for “they are”.

E.g.,They’re very good friends.” or “They’re arguing with each other right now.”

their

A possessive term. It refers to a group’s ownership over something.

E.g., “That is the Stepford family. Their house is right across the block.” or “Mavis just got married to Prince yesterday. Their wedding was beautiful.”

there

Refers to a position or a point.
E.g.,There she is, standing right next to the pole.” or “There are twelve books in this box.”

15.

we’re

Contraction for “we are”.

E.g.,We’re currently living in New York.” or “We’re not on speaking terms at the moment.”

were

Past tense of “are”.

E.g., “We were at the Stepford’s yesterday. Their place was beautiful.” or “They were planning to go fishing, but the rain made them change their plans.”

16.

stationery (noun)

Writing materials such as pen, pencils, eraser, and envelopes. 

E.g., “We need to buy some stationery for Tadi. He doesn’t have anything to write with for his English lessons.”

stationary (adjective)

To remain motionless.

E.g., “That car has been stationary for a while.”

17.

principle (noun)

An accepted rule of conduct.

E.g., “You can find many principles of happiness in this happiness guide. Adhering to them will definitely make you a happier person, starting today.”

principal (adjective, noun)

As an adjective: First in importance.

E.g., ”The principal rule of baseball is to score more runs than the other team by crossing all four base paths.”

As a noun: The chief or head of an institution, usually an educational one.

E.g., “The principal of this school is Mr Quek. He has been here for over three years.”

18.

to (preposition, adverb)

As a preposition: To express direction, motion, or to a point in time.

E.g., “This shop opens from nine am to six pm.” or “Go to Grandpa and give him a kiss.”

As an adverb: Into a state of consciousness.

E.g., ”After he came to, his family began fussing over him.”

too (adverb)

Excessive, extremely, very.

E.g., “She is too spoilt. Her parents should keep her in check.” or “He is too fat. He needs to start losing some weight.”

19.

dessert (noun)

Spelled with two “s”s. Refers to cake, pie, ice cream, etc. that is typically served after the main course of a meal.

E.g., “What’s for dessert today? I hope it’s chocolate fudge ice cream.”

desert (noun)

Spelled with only one “s”. Refers to a region with so little rainfall that only few forms of life can exist.

E.g., “The Sahara is the largest desert on the African continent and the hottest desert in the world.”

20.

loose (adjective)

Free from restraint; not bound together.

E.g., “Your shoe laces have gone loose. Tie them before we get off the car.” or “He set his dogs loose on the intruder.”

lose (verb)
lost (verb, past tense); loss (noun) 

To come to be without possession of something, usually through accident or theft.

E.g., “He lost his wallet this morning.”

To be bereaved of by death.

E.g., “The loss of his sister devastated him.”

Any To Add To This List?

How about you? Do you know of any commonly made spelling or grammatical mistakes that are not in this list? Feel free to share in the comments section and I’ll gladly add the most common mistakes to the list!

Image: Spelling Bee


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  • http://www.shoomzone.com Amanda

    The misspelling that gets under my skin is using “loose” for “lose.” I see it all the time. Drives me nuts!

    • Jen

      Was the first thing I thought of when I was reading the list! Was going to be my comment…drives me crazy too!

      • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

        That’s what I have been told as well, though I have personally not seen them misused before. Are they really that commonly misused?

        • http://www.shoomzone.com Amanda

          Yes, I see it quite frequently.

          • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

            Cool, I just added it to the list! :)

  • Chris

    Actually, judgement/judgment can be spelled (or spelt!) with or without the e.

    http://www.dailywritingtips.com/judgement-or-judgment/

    • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

      I believe “judgement” is widely regarded as the British spelling while “judgment” is the American spelling. So in that sense, both are correct, though only one kind of spelling is deemed correct in each language. (My article is written with the American spelling in mind.) Thanks for the heads up, Chris!

  • Bob

    Hey Celes,

    I am grateful to have an automatic spell checker, which highlights the majority of my mistakes. I think that many people are prone to make errors because of:
    1. The speed we require work to be completed.
    2. Not having the complete knowledge to support our mistakes.
    3. Carelessness

    Spelling can be strengthened by knowing roots, prefixes and suffixes, especially of the words we use every day.
    http://www.learnthat.org/pages/view/roots.html – roots & prefixes
    http://www.learnthat.org/pages/view/suffix.html – suffixes

    If anyone knows a good grammar site I would be grateful.

    Just to end on an spelling point Celes, there are three different ways of spelling yogurt, yoghurt or yoghourt which are all correct.

    • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

      Thanks for sharing regarding yogurt’s spelling, Bob! I wonder why there are so many spellings available for this word?

      • Bob

        Maybe Celes, the spellings of yoghurt have come about from different nationalities introducing yoghurt (the product) and then spelling the word according to their sound system. For example
        I noticed many names sound almost the same in one language as they do in another John (English) and Jean (French).

  • Katylee

    A very common mistake made by public speakers is: “He gave the facts to Joe and I,” for example. The speaker would not say, “He gave the facts to I,” but when another person is added, the phrase gets mixed up very often. YES! It bothers me!

    • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

      Hey Katylee! I’m actually not sure what you are trying to say. Can you be more specific about how exactly the phrase is misused?

      • Trish

        Celes;

        In this instance, if you were to take “Joe” out of the equation/sentence, you would not say “He gave the facts to I”. You would say “He gave the facts to me” – so therefore, the proper sentence would read as if Joe were not included – “He gave the facts to Joe and ME”.

        • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

          Ah okay, now I understand! That is indeed a common mistake made (on when to use “me” or “I” when there is another pronoun). As you mentioned, the simplest way to solve it to be to formulate the sentence without John, then add him in after that.

  • http://www.selfstairway.com Vincent Nguyen

    Noooo! I’m embarrassed to say this, but… I used to misspell embarrass for a while. I’m a lot better about it now though, but it took a while!

    • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

      Better late than never Vincent! :D Congratulations on getting it right now!

  • ashley

    This a perfect guide. i am not great at grammar or punctuation, but I am trying to get better. I sometimes still get the two words, to and too mixed up. I would like to see them in the guide

    • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

      Hey Ashley, sure! I’ll include them in the guide. Regarding punctuation, a simple rule to follow is to always begin your sentences with a capital letter. Other letters are typically small letters, except for “I” and the beginning letters of names, countries, and the like.

  • http://www.hanlaw.com Richard Wilson

    There seems to be a MISUSED word :clap: or typo in the “Commonly Misused Words” section.

    Point 8., second column: “To product an effect”, I’m guessing this should have been “To produce an effect”

    Otherwise, useful list.

    Many thanks

    Richard Wilson

    • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

      That was definitely a typo. :) It has been corrected. Thanks Richard!

  • Debrah

    Most people mistakenly spell across as accross. I used to do that but now I’ve stopped.

  • http://www.norcom.org sue beisheim

    Loved this list. I would also add “insure” and “ensure”.

  • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

    Just updated the list with the following:

    - separate (not seperate)
    - stationery vs. stationary
    - principle vs. principal
    - to vs. too
    - dessert vs. desert
    - obsess (not obssess or obsses)
    - possess (not posess or possess)
    - loose vs. lose

    Please keep the suggestions coming!

  • Judy

    The misuse of bring instead of take drives me insane. I have been known to yell out at the television. Bring is used when it relates to something between the first person and the second person. “Bring that to me.” “I will bring that to you.” “I will bring it with me when I come.” The moment a third party or place becomes involved the word is TAKE. “I will take it to her.” “Please take that over there.” “Will you take it to him.” “Please take it with you when you go.”

  • Lameck

    I would want to add “Escalation” and “Concrete” to the list. Usually I misspell Escalation as Escallation while Concrete as Conrete.

  • Ray

    The misuse of the word “got”.
    I have a dog. Not: I have got a dog.
    I have a cold. Not: I have got a cold.
    My forth grade teacher would go crazy hearing all of these mistakes. Thank you for your observations.

  • Alice

    Another commonly misused words are “advise” and “advice”

    • Alice

      Correction: Other commonly used words are ‘advise’ and ‘advice’

  • Heather P

    The one I have come across a few times that really irks me is perspective vs. prospective. I had a Dean talk about all the Perspective Students coming for a visit. I was like “what? they are all art students?” I have also seen this misuse in a few small town newspapers. These folks are supposed to use the language for a living. They should know better.

  • robert

    Less is commonly mis-applied when fewer would be correct. “10 Items or Less” in the grocery line, for instance.

    Less should only used for items that are not counted in units. Fewer is for items that are counted.

    Correct:
    Less water, fewer bottles of water.
    10 items or fewer
    Less money
    Fewer dollars

    Incorrect:

  • http://www.yourbrainwaves.com Shawn

    Received is always one I have to think about…. Anything with the i before e except after c. I usually have to go back and fix those.
    I’m still not sure I understand affect and effect that well… but you would assume with spell check on everything these days, spelling would not be as much of an issue as it is today.

  • http://www.CoachingWithChristina.com Christina

    Hi Celes,

    You really did hit the nail on the head with some common ones–that was very helpful!

    ~Christina

  • mog

    Weary vs Wary

    Weary = tired
    Wary = cautious, apprehensive

    • http://personalexcellence.co/ Celestine Chua

      Nice one-that is indeed a common mistake I see. Thanks for the contribution mog!

  • Daniel

    Peaked = Looked discreetly or Reached a high point
    Piqued = Stimulated (Interest or curiosity)

    also…

    Discreet = unobtrusive
    Discrete = distinct, separate