All writers misspell, no matter how experienced we are. Sometimes, it’s because of the pressures of time, lack of typing skills or the distractions of our working environment. At other times, it’s simply a case of bad habits. Even if we’re aware of different spellings, we’re not always sure which one to use. This list offers help for the most common mistakes. Some people use short rhymes and sayings, where the first letter of each word spells out the problem word, e.g. Never Eat Cakes Eat Sausage Sandwiches And Remain Young helps to spell necessary. Quirky statements can also help, e.g. one collar, two socks signifies the one c, and double s in necessary.
Words that people often misspell
address double d and double s
accommodate double c, double m
allege ends with ege
apparent double p, e not a
biased one s
business remember the i
category e not a
committee double m, double t, double e
commemorate double m, single m
controversy use o after the t
Caribbean one r, double b
definite i before the t, not a
desiccate one s, double c (the opposite to how it sounds)
desperate use e after the p, not a
disappearance a not e after the the r
disappointment double p
embarrass double r, a, double s
extraordinary don’t forget to use both a and o
fluorescent remember uo and sc
focused one s
fulfil both single l (unlike full and fill)
glamorous or (not our, as with glamour)
government remember to use the n
humorous or (not our, as with humour)
necessary one c, double s
manoeuvres e between the o and u (not e after ou)
Mediterranean one d, one t, double r, single n both times
millennium double l, double n
obsess one s, double s (unlike possess)
occurence double c, one r, ence (not ance)
possess double s, double s (unlike obsess)
precede c not s (unlike supersede)
privilege i, i, e, no d
recommend one c, double m
separate a (not e) after the p
skilful single l, single l
supersede s not c (unlike precede)
withhold spell with double h
Words that people often confuse
affect is a verb and means to change or make a difference, e.g. Tina’s singing affected most of the audience; effect is a noun that means a result or consequence, e.g. Tina’s singing had a clear effect on the audience.
breath is a noun that describes the air produced by lungs when breathing, e.g. That camel has particularly fragrant breath; breathe is a verb, and describes the action of lungs, e.g. He was breathing like a camel still trapped in the eye of a needle.
cloth is a noun, a general term for material, e.g. Lloyd’s windcheater was made from a heavy cloth; clothe is a verb, meaning to dress, e.g. Victoria always clothed her children in the best that David’s money could buy.
compliment is a kind of flattering remark, e.g. John complimented Tina’s tango; complement is a helpful addition to something, e.g. Natasha’s green jumper complemented her scarlet handbag.
continuous generally means an object or unit of time that occurs without interuption, e.g. my nightmare involved a continuous line of ants; continual means an action that recurs, e.g. my continual nightmares about ants were affecting my work.
criteria is the plural form of criterion, therefore you would write: These criteria need to be considered not This criteria needs to be considered.
discreet is an adjective used to describe actions that are designed to avoid and deflect attention, e.g. Andrina was always discreet when collecting money for the couple’s wedding gift; discrete means something that is separate, unconnected, e.g. The workshop used eight sessions, each with a discrete agenda, to encourage a focus on individual matters.
illicit is an adjective used to describe something that is considered illegal or wrong, e.g. the use of illicit medicines is not allowed; elicit is a verb, meaning to encourage or prompt an action, e.g. She smacked his face to elicit a response.
imply is a verb, meaning to suggest, e.g. Raymond implied they would have more fun with the new Poloroid camera; infer is also a verb, meaning to understand, e.g. Kylie inferred from Raymond’s excitement that the new camera would change their relationship.
loose is an adjective, meaning something that is not very well attached, e.g. Please secure all loose articles of clothing before riding this rollercoaster; lose is a verb to describe when you no longer have something, e.g. Sadly, Britney Spears will lose her voice if she continues to sing at that volume.
phenomena is the plural form of phenomenon, therefore you would write: Bridget Jones became a phemonenon when she published her diary.
practice is a noun, meaning the repeated behaviour of a person, e.g. It is common practice for Mr Gourley to wear purple silk smoking jackets, or profession, e.g. Doctor Phibes had a small practice for a man of his ambitions; practise is a verb, meaning to repeat an activity in order to improve, e.g. John practised the can-can until his kicks were perfect.
stationary is an adjective, meaning ‘not moving’, e.g. the reporters watched the kittens from the safety of a stationary car; stationery is a noun that describes office or writing materials, e.g. Andrina ordered the stationery last Tuesday, or so she said.
’til is a shortened form of until; till is a noun, another word for cash register, e.g. The thief forgot to ask for the money from the till or a verb, which means to turn over the soil, e.g. Farmer MacDonald tills the second field every winter.
whose is used to question, e.g. whose socks are these? or show possession, e.g. the man whose socks were responsible for Sally’s exit; who’s is a contracted form of who is, e.g. the man who’s waving his socks around should be stopped.
your is a possessive pronoun, e.g. your tutu, your pencil case, your problem; you’re is a contracted form of ‘you are’, e.g. you’re a lady, you’re quite wrong about Frankenstein, you’re not listening.
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