Get Commonly Misspelled English Words Right: Improve Your Spelling Skills

We all make spelling mistakes from time to time, but some English words seem to trip people up more often than others. Knowing the commonly misspelled words can help you identify patterns, remember the correct spellings and improve your overall spelling skills.

Why is spelling important? Even with spellcheckers, incorrect spelling can make you seem less professional, undermine your message, or cause confusion. Getting the basics right matters, especially for common words. Fortunately, most misspellings follow patterns that you can learn.

What are the most commonly misspelled words in English?

There is no definitive list, but some words cause problems for many English speakers and writers. Examples include:

  • Accommodate – remember, it has two c’s and two m’s
  • Receive – i before e except after c
  • Definitely – it ends in ite + ly
  • Occurrence – remember the double r and double c
  • Maintenance – ends in ance like “performance”
  • Calendar – ends in ar not er
  • Publicly – ends in ly not cy
  • Separate – there’s a rat in separate!
  • Conscious – remember the sci makes a sh sound
  • Argument – no e after the g

Why are some words so hard to spell?

Certain spelling patterns trip people up. Words with double consonants, like accommodate, cause issues. So do suffixes like -ible/-able.

Some words are also spelled differently in American and British English, like “color” and “colour.” And words that sound similar but have subtle distinctions of meaning cause confusion too.

How can you avoid common spelling mistakes?

Look at suffixes…

Many misspelled words involve suffixes where people pick the wrong one. For example, adding -ance rather than -ence to words like performance/performence.

Pay attention to patterns…

Note doubling consonants that can catch you out. For instance, the double s in embarassment. Also, prefixes and suffixes that begin or end with the same letters as root words, like dis + similar = dissimilar.

Use memory devices…

Mnemonics help fix spellings in memory, like: “There’s a rat in separate” or “Big Elephants Can Always Upset Small Elephants” for because.

Still struggling with some tricky words?

Certain words cause perpetual problems, even for strong spellers. Examples and tips to get them right include:

Definitely – Remember the word ends in ite + ly. “Finite” and “ lovely.”

Occurrence – Note the double c and double r. Say o-curr-rence slowly.

Conscious – the sci makes a sh sound. Remember “science.”

Publicly – Goes with the word public, not actual. Ends in ly.

Calendar – Say slowly to hear it ends in ar not er.

Separate – Use the rat memory device!

Want to improve your spelling skills?

The best ways to upgrade your spelling include:

  • Read more – exposes you to correctly spelled words
  • Use spellcheck selectively – don’t rely on technology alone
  • Study commonly misspelled words and spelling rules
  • Test yourself – take online quizzes or spelling bees
  • Look words up when unsure – check the dictionary
  • Ask others to check your writing – a second pair of eyes helps

Remember these top tips for spelling success:

  • Know the most frequently misspelled words
  • Look closely at suffixes and word endings
  • Use memory aids and say words out loud
  • Check uncertain words in the dictionary
  • Read more to internalise correct spellings
  • Ask others to proofread your writing

Tips for Mastering Tricky Pronunciations

Learning to pronounce words correctly is key to spelling them properly too. English pronunciation and spelling have complex relationships that can trip learners up. Here are some tips for mastering tricky pronunciations:

Focus on vowel sounds

Vowel sounds vary widely in English and changing a vowel can change a word’s meaning. Listen closely to vowel sounds in words you find hard to pronounce. Break words into syllables sounding out each one.

Watch for double letters

Consonant doubling often affects pronunciation in English. For instance, the double t in “letter” makes the vowel short. Say words with double letters slowly, emphasising the double consonant sound.

Note noun endings

 Pay attention when nouns ending in a consonant double that consonant before adding a suffix that starts with a vowel. For example, shop becomes shopping. Hearing the extra syllable can aid pronunciation.

Use memory techniques

Rhymes, sayings and verbal imagery help cement tricky pronunciations in your mind. For example, remembering that “Maine has only one A” flags it’s pronounced like “mane” not “main” with a long A sound.

There are irregularities between spelling and sounds in English language words. But breaking pronunciation challenges down into manageable steps makes it easier. Consistent effort to correctly pronounce challenging words will boost spelling skills too.


Nobody expects any teacher to even attempt to impart the correct spelling of every word in any language to each and every student. However, there will definitely be sore spots where your students find certain words difficult – similarly to how there, their and there are used interchangeably on social media. 

A custom school planner or primary school planner can include a reference guide for the words your students find most difficult and can be included alongside reading records for primary schools in a design customised for your particular school and your student’s particular learning needs and objectives.

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