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21 Commonly Misspelled Words and How to Spell Them

If you've ever second-guessed yourself while trying to spell words like "beautiful," "receive," and "license," you're far from the only one.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Ftrd.com, Getty Images

How to spell commonly misspelled words

The English language is filled with confusing and hard-to-spell words. If you’ve had to think twice or consult a dictionary or Google before writing a certain word, you’re not alone. We consulted English experts, including Dictionary.com’s Associate Director of Content & Education and top lexicographer/linguist, John Kelly, to compile some of the most commonly misspelled words in English. Some are fancy words, but others are pretty common—all the more reason for people to look them up.

“Doubled consonants [are] a great challenge in spelling English words, especially in words with more than one set of them,” Kelly says about the words that trip people up the most. He also cites different spellings of the same vowel sounds, (receive vs. siege) and consonants (Why is there a C in acquire but not equate?). “Due to the history of the English language, [many words are] pronounced the same way, but spelled completely different,” he asserts.  Silent letters are another big contributor to the confusion. And that’s just spelling—English has loads of confusing grammar rules, too!

While we’ll provide the correct spelling of 21 hard words to spell below, Kelly offers a word of advice: Even if you’re a language pro, there’s no need for spell-shaming. “I think we all need to give ourselves permission to struggle with English spelling,” he says. “No one should ever feel bad because they aren’t masters of the weirdness and eccentricities of English spelling. These words are really hard to spell, no matter how good at English you are. ” Want practice? Test your spelling chops with these impossible spelling bee words.

Accommodaterd.com, Getty Images

Accommodate

Commonly misspelled as: “Accomodate” or “acommodate”

“Accommodate” was the most commonly misspelled word on both Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com in 2021. Kelly believes this word tops both lists because it’s so hard to remember that both the C and the M are doubled. With both consonants doubled like that, it almost looks wrong, but it’s correct. Another bit (or more than a bit) of confusion arises when there are two very similar words, both correct, that mean slightly different things and are spelled differently—like laying vs. lying.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Beautifulrd.com, Getty Images

Beautiful

Commonly misspelled as: “Beutiful”

“Beautiful” is a pretty common descriptor, but keeping the precise order of all those vowels straight can be tricky. And the pronunciation doesn’t help matters. Really, English: Why are the four letters “beau” pronounced “byoo” when they start a longer word, but when they’re on their own, they’re pronounced “boh”?

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Separaterd.com, Getty Images

Separate

Commonly misspelled as: “Seperate”

There are, of course, two different parts of speech and pronunciations for this word, which makes spelling it all the trickier. But whether you’re using it as a verb, “sep-a-RATE,” or as an adjective, “SEP-a-rate,” it’s spelled the same way, and that second vowel is an A, not an E. For more spelling fun, check out these common acronym examples.

Niecerd.com, Getty Images

Niece

Commonly misspelled as: “Neice”

For two little letters, I and E can certainly cause a whole bunch of linguistic confusion when they’re together. Just think of all the different vowel sounds “ie” can make in words like “pie,” “friend,” and “diesel.” With the order flipped, “ei” can make the “ee” sound as well, in words like “receive” and “seize.” So it’s no surprise that spellers are uncertain which of these configurations makes the first sound in “niece.”

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Perseverancerd.com, Getty Images

Perseverance

Commonly misspelled as: “Perserverance”

“Per-ser-ver…” does have a nice symmetry to it, but of course, it can’t be that easy. There’s no R between the E and the V. The pronunciation of this word contributes to the misspelling as well.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Environmentrd.com, Getty Images

Environment

Commonly misspelled as: “Enviroment”

This one’s a classic case of a silent letter. That N can make you do a double-take, since we don’t say it when we pronounce the word. “Government” follows the same pattern, though it takes the edge off with a verb version, “govern,” that ends with the N, which can help you remember when you’re stuck on this commonly misspelled word. (“Environ” is a word, but it’s not used all that frequently.)

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Occurrencerd.com, Getty Images

Occurrence

Commonly misspelled as: “Occurance”

This also falls into the double-consonant trap—and is all the more confusing because “occur” only has one R, but derived forms like “occurrence” and “occurred” have two. All of those forms, unsurprisingly, are commonly misspelled words too, but “occurrence” takes the hard-to-spell cake with that ambiguous vowel in the last syllable.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Acquirerd.com, Getty Images

Acquire

Commonly misspelled as: “Aquire”

The C in “acquire” is a more-or-less silent letter. “That C has an etymological purpose, but today, it’s not pronounced. What’s it doing there?!” Kelly says. Especially since there are words, like “aquatic” and “aquiver,” that do start with an A immediately followed by a Q, “acquire” can trip people up.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Congratulationsrd.com, Getty Images

Congratulations

Commonly misspelled as: “Congradulations”

Raise your hand if you pronounce the first T of “congratulations” more like a D. Yeah, us, too. You won’t really hear people, at least in the United States, pronouncing “congratulations” with a hard, crisp T. Now we know why so many people choose to abbreviate it to “congrats.” Check out these grammar mistakes you may not have known you were making.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Definitelyrd.com, Getty Images

Definitely

Commonly misspelled as: “Definately,” “deffinately, “deffinitely,” or “definitley”

When it comes to “definitely,” common misspellings abound. People seem to get the first “def-” right, but after that, it seems like all bets are off. Switching that second I for an A, doubling the F, and flip-flopping the L and E at the end—they’re all errors people might make when sounding out this word.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Persistentrd.com, Getty Images

Persistent

Commonly misspelled as: “Persistant”

The final syllable of “indignant” is spelled with an A…so what’s up with the final syllable of “persistent”? This is a textbook example of the exact same sound being spelled differently.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Apparentlyrd.com, Getty Images

Apparently

Commonly misspelled as: “Apparrently,” “aparrently,” or “apparantly”

“Apparent” and “apparently” have the opposite double-letter problem of words like “accommodate.” There are two Ps, but only one R, so people end up doubling too many letters. And then there’s the E, which can easily be mixed up with an A for all kinds of misspellings.

Licenserd.com, Getty Images

License

Commonly misspelled as: “Lisence” or “licence”

It’s all too easy to swap the C and the S, which both make the exact same sound in “license.”

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Acknowledgmentrd.com, Getty Images

Acknowledgment

Commonly misspelled as: “Acknowledgement”

The deal of leaving out or including Es in words like “acknowledgment” and “judgment” could be worth a whole article on its own. In fact, this isn’t as cut-and-dry a misspelling as many of the others, since “acknowledgement” is the British spelling of the word. The Americans just loved to be difficult with their spelling when Webster was compiling his dictionary, and deemed the spelling without the E the “correct” one.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Siegerd.com, Getty Images

Siege

Commonly misspelled as: “Seige”

“Siege” is a weird word—it follows the “I before E” rule even though “seize” doesn’t, which leads people to spell it “seige.” This word is certainly pretty darn tricky to spell, but Kelly notes that it was an especially popular word to search for this past year, after the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Receiverd.com, Getty Images

Receive

Commonly misspelled as: “Recieve”

Sure enough, another culprit of the “ie” vs. “ei” confusion makes this list of tough-to-spell words. Luckily, “receive” is one of the (frustratingly few) times when the “I before E, except after C” rule is actually right. “Perceive”—another commonly misspelled word—follows the rule as well. Find out some more common grammar rules your English teacher lied to you about.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Bizarrerd.com, Getty Images

Bizarre

Commonly misspelled as: “Bizzare”

For how uncommon Zs are, double Zs are weirdly common. “Buzz,” “jazz,” and “fizz” use them, which might lead you to think that “bizarre” does, too. Alas, it’s the R that’s doubled.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Succinctrd.com, Getty Images

Succinct

Commonly misspelled as: “Succint”

“Those three Cs, [following] that initial S, is a mess!” says Kelly. “There are all soft S sounds in the Cs—and then there’s that final hard C.” You’d think the double C would cover it, which leads people to forget the final C altogether.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Believerd.com, Getty Images

Believe

Commonly misspelled as: “Beleive” or “belive”

Here’s another one that can make you second-guess yourself but that does follow the “I before E” rule. This one pops up on Thesaurus.com searches. Check out some more spelling and grammar rules that are still hotly debated.

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Thoroughrd.com, Getty Images

Thorough

Commonly misspelled as: “Thourough”

Add one letter to “through” and its entire pronunciation changes. And that one letter, the first O in “thorough,” is often pronounced more like a U. It’s also tempting to add a U after the first O, as in “though.”

21 Commonly Misspelled Words Misspellrd.com, Getty Images

Misspell

Commonly misspelled as: “Mispell”

Of course, the word for spelling something wrong is hard to spell. It’s another one where the double double-letters look a little funky…but are right! You need an S for the prefix “mis-” and for “spell.” Next, brush up on these hard words to pronounce that’ll make you even more annoyed at English.

Source:

  • John Kelly, Associate Director of Content & Education and top lexicographer/linguist at Dictionary.com

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.