English spelling can be tricky because it is not a phonetic language and words are not written as they sound. Also, they can sound like another word with a different meaning and this can result not only in having difficult words to spell, but also many mistakes in English writing!

English spelling rules for vowel pairs, silent vowels, prefixes, suffixes as well as forming adverbs and adjectives makes phonetic teaching helpful, but not enough when it comes to how to avoid spelling mistakes in English.

In fact, there are so many exceptions, that if you want to know how to avoid spelling mistakes in English it is advisable to simply memorise their spelling while you are learning their actual meaning.

A case in point would be pole and poll. The former is the structure of something long and slender, while the latter describes a survey.

Whether you have just started learning English, or already have a degree of fluency, you may already know which are the difficult words to spell. If not, you are ready to learn the top 10 most misspelled words in English, as well as other tips and English spelling rules to help you along the way.

Actually, did you know that misspelled is one of the difficult words to spell in English?

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English Spelling Rules and Word Origins

Learning vocabulary etymology is usually not a part of conventional English teaching. English lessons usually emphasise English spelling rules as a facet of basic English, rather than examining the deep origins of each word, how it acquired its meaning and how English spelling rules have changed through time. However, one way to avoid mistakes in English writing is to remember that there are exceptions and that English spelling rules can even differ depending on which country you find yourself in.

Basically, the English vocabulary consists of words from many other languages. How these words are written in English (as opposed to their original language) may be different, but the connotation is close, if not the same, as the word’s origin.

If you are an international language student, you may recognise many English words that have roots in French, and of course, Latin.

One of the common difficult words to spell is ‘government’ which is often also pronounced incorrectly.

Both native English speakers and English foreign language students alike tend to omit the ‘n’ in the middle of the word. This is one of many common mistakes in English, where that letter should be pronounced.

A handy tip to help you remember how to spell and pronounce this word is to learn its root as well as its related words: governance, govern, governor.

In each of these cases, the n must be pronounced. Adding the suffix ‘ment’ will not remove any of the letters in the root word.

Mistakes in English writing are very often caused by difficult words to spell. If you are studying business English, then this group of words that can cause common mistakes in English is essential to memorise.

Double Consonant Pairs

These difficult words to spell, which some native English speakers even struggle with are worth learning:

  • Aggression
  • Occurrence
  • Embarrass
  • Millennium
  • Accommodate
  • Happiness
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If you are learning English as a foreign language and want to avoid common mistakes in English, one of the best ways to include proper spelling and pronunciation of words, is to distinguish where they originate from, and how they were first used.

Learn English usage of Pre- and Suffixes

In case you are wondering, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the most misspelled word in the English language is the word ‘publicly’ which is an adverb.

Confusion results because when adverbs are made from adjectives, for example, finally, typically and normally – they give the impression that they should end with the suffix ‘ally’.

Remember that adverbs are created by adding –ly.

However, because the adjective public does not end in -al – as normal, final, and typical do, all you have to add to the public is the adverbial suffix -ly, which makes the word publicly, not publically, which is one of the common mistakes in English writing.

This mistake happens so often that publically has earned its own entry into most English dictionaries.

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Further Tricky English Spellings

When it comes to how to avoid spelling mistakes in English for both native and foreign English speakers, there are some words where the root word spelling and the forming of an adverb from it, can be confusing.

 

Incorrect SpellingCorrect Spelling
responsable responsible 
disposibledisposable
capeablecapable
invisable invisible 
divisabledivisible

Even though it seems to be right that by that adding -able to a word gives a clue to the word's meaning, ending a word with a suffix will not alter the central spelling of the word.

The Impact of Regional Dialects and Slang on Spelling  

Admittedly, some people do pronounce the words above as though there were a rather than an I, but this can be a result of local dialect – in other words, the way people from a given region will use the language.

Another reason for all this is the increased use of slang in ordinary vocabulary or the use of ordinary words as slang. In fact, this has become so common that there is a website called No Slang that updates their list of words misrepresented as slang.

Despite the use of regional dialects or using ordinary words as slang, English students should always spell and use words correctly. Having said this, it also makes sense that language learners from all over the world naturally pick up the trendiest vernacular of the country they happen to be visiting.

The Misuse of Homophones

According to Merriam Webster, the leading dictionary for American English, a homophone is a word that sounds just like a word with an entirely different meaning, even when it is spelled the same.

Thanks to spell check and software like Grammarly, today people seem less concerned by proper spelling knowing that they can count on some nifty automation to correct their mistakes.

While these are excellent tools, don’t forget that auto-correct can actually hinder your development when it comes to mastering English!

Consider this homophone to illustrate this point:

  I shall leave all of my worldly possessions to my airs.

Your nifty word processing software will not recognise any error because everything is spelled correctly!

This is because the word airs is a homophone for heirs - meaning: people who will inherit.

Using the wrong homophone in an exam, even if correctly spelled, will result in a spelling error.

It would be advisable to add them to your new vocabulary list and learn them well, in case they cost you marks on your qualification exams.

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Other Tips to Improve Learning English for Non Native Speakers

  • Memorise words in groups including all of the words that are associated with it, as well as any word derived from it.
  • Memorise this list of most commonly misspelled words collated by Oxford University
  • Invest some time in discovering where the words you are studying come from. Often, etymology can really help you remember why a word is spelled in the way it is.
  • Study prefixes and suffixes as this will help you to understand the meanings of words as well as how to spell them properly.
  • Adjust your computer's spell check ability to manual. This way, words that need revision are highlighted, for you to correct by yourself.
  • Similarly, you could disable the auto-correct functionality of your word processing programme. This will force you to develop spelling and grammar skills without relying on a machine.
  • Go through a few practice quizzes to challenge your abilities.

While rote memorisation of certain vocabulary is essential, also try grouping words together into families by tracing their origins and then applying for correct extensions. By doing so, you will be on the road to learning English in a more in-depth way correctly, you are putting yourself to not only improve your spelling but to learn English in a more in-depth way.

Did you know that you can also improve your English listening skills by playing podcasts from the British Council website?  These segments are hosted by Oxford English speakers whose pronunciation is faultless. The topics are concise and educational. In addition, you can print out the segment transcript and read along to practice your own pronunciation.

Language is Art in Words

When you express yourself in writing, with every word carefully crafted and spelled, you are contributing to an alive and active art called language!

There are many ways to learn a new language, but if you are serious about English, the best way to do that if it is a foreign language for you is to consider private tuition. Consider using a reputable website like Superprof which is host to thousands of credible English teachers located all over the country.

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.