List of frequently misused English words

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Information in this article or section has not been verified against sources and may not be reliable. Please check for inaccuracies and modify as needed, citing the sources against which it was checked. The meanings of words in the English language often change over time. Sometimes a meaning becomes entirely reversed; for example, nice used to be a negative word meaning "stupid", "wanton", or "lazy", but now means "agreeable", "pleasant" or "attractive". This process is part of the natural evolution of a language, and although it may meet with resistance from prescriptive grammarians, changes that stick are eventually noted in dictionaries. The list that follows is meant to include only words whose misuse is deprecated by most usage writers, editors, and other arbiters of so-called "correct" English. It is possible that some of the meanings marked Non-standard will pass into Standard English in the future, but at this time all of the below Non-standard phrases are likely to be marked as incorrect by English teachers or changed by editors if used in a work submitted for publication. Several of the examples are homonyms or pairs of similarly spelled words which are often confused. In any case, the words listed below are consistently used in ways that major English dictionaries do not condone in any definition. See list of English words with disputed usage for words that are used in ways that are deprecated by some usage writers but are condoned by some dictionaries. There may be regional variations in grammar, spelling and word-use, especially between different English-speaking countries. Such differences are not seen as incorrect once they have gained widespread acceptance in a particular country.


Abdicate, abrogate and arrogate. To abdicate is to resign from the throne, or more loosely to cast off a responsibility. To abrogate is to repeal a law or abolish an arrangement. To arrogate is to attempt to take on a right or responsibility to which one is not entitled.  Standard: Edward VIII abdicated from the throne of the United Kingdom  Standard: Henry VIII abrogated Welsh customary law.  Non-standard: John abrogated all responsibility for the catering arrangements (should be "abdicated")  Non-standard: You shouldn't abrogate to yourself the whole honour of the President's visit (should be "arrogate") Accept and except. While they both sound similar, except is a preposition that means "apart from", while accept is a verb that means "agree with", "take in" or "receive". Except is also rarely used as a verb, meaning to leave out.

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2 Standard: We accept all major credit cards, except Diners Club. Standard: Men are fools... present company excepted! (Which means "present company excluded") Non-standard: I had trouble making friends with them; I never felt excepted. Non-standard: We all went swimming, accept for Jack.

Acute and chronic. Acute means "sharp", as an acute illness is one that rapidly worsens and reaches a crisis. A chronic illness may also be a severe one, but it is longlasting or lingering.  Standard: She was treated with epinephrine during an acute asthma attack.  Standard: It is not a terminal illness, but it does cause chronic pain.  Non-standard: I have suffered from acute asthma for twenty years.  Non-standard: I just started feeling this chronic pain in my back. Affect and effect. The verb affect means "to influence something," and the noun effect means "the result of." Effect can also be a somewhat formal verb that means "to cause [something] to be," while affect as a noun has a technical meaning in psychology: an emotion or subjectively experienced feeling.  Standard. This poem affected me so much that I cried.  Standard. Temperature has an effect on reaction spontaneity.  Standard. The dynamite effected the wall's collapse.  Standard. He seemed completely devoid of affect.  Non-standard. The rain effected our plans for the day.  Non-standard. We tried appeasing the rain gods, but without affect. Aggravate and mitigate. "Aggravate" means to make worse. "Mitigate" means to make less bad. "Mitigating factor" refers to something that affects someone's case by lessening the degree of blame, not anything that has any effect at all. Assume: to suppose to be true, especially without proof, and presume: to take for granted as being true in the absence of proof to the contrary. "Presume" can also mean "take excessive liberties", as in the adjective form "presumptuous". Brought and bought. Brought is the past tense and past participle of the verb to bring, and bought is the past tense and past participle of the verb to buy. Confusion of the two occurs particularly in speech. Cache and cachet. A cache (pronounced kash) is a storage place from which items may be quickly retrieved. A cachet (pronounced kash-AY) is a seal or mark, like a wax seal on an envelope or a mark of authenticity on a product. Note that cachet is almost always used figuratively to mean "marked by excellence, distinction or superiority".  Standard: The pirates buried a cache of jewels near the coast.  Standard: Living in New York City definitely has a certain cachet.  Non-standard: If your web browser is running slowly, try emptying the cachet. Cant and can't. There are several meanings for the word cant (without an apostrophe); however, none of them is "unable to". One meaning of cant is "a kind of slang or jargon spoken by a particular group of people". Can't is a contraction of cannot.  Standard: I can't understand the dialogue in this book because it's written in cant.

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3 Non-standard: I cant swim; I've never taken lessons.

Comprise To comprise means "to consist of" or "to include". One sometimes meets the redundant usages "to comprise of" or "to be comprised of". (These may arise by confusion with the correct forms "to consist of" and "to be composed of").  Standard: The English Wikipedia comprises more than 1 million articles.  Non-standard: The English Wikipedia comprises of more than 1 million articles.  Non-standard: The English Wikipedia is comprised of more than 1 million articles.  Standard, alternative: The English Wikipedia is composed of more than 1 million articles.  Standard, alternative: The English Wikipedia includes more than 1 million articles.  Standard, alternative: The English Wikipedia consists of more than 1 million articles. Dawn and Sunrise. "Dawn" is frequently used to mean "sunrise", but technically it means the twilight period immediately before sunrise. Diffuse and Defuse. Diffusion refers to the dispersal of fluidic or solid wastes or otherwise into a medium, whereas defusion refers to the disengagement of an electromagnetic field, generally by dissolving the harmony of the magnetic field and allowing the surrounding medium to reclaim the energy released from the field. Discreet and discrete. "Discrete" means "having separate parts", as opposed to continuous. "Discreet" means "circumspect". Disinterested and uninterested. To be disinterested in something means to not be biased about something (e.g. to not have a personal interest in a particular side of an issue). To be uninterested means to not be interested in or intrigued by something.  Standard: As their mutual best friend, I tried to remain disinterested in their argument so as not to anger either.  Standard: Though his initial reaction suggested otherwise, he maintains that he remains uninterested in the business proposition.  Non-standard: The key to attracting a member of the opposite sex is to balance between giving attention to him or her and appearing disinterested. Economic and economical. "Economic" means "having to do with the economy". "Economical" means "financially prudent".  Standard: Buying in bulk can often be the most economical choice.  Non-standard: Leading economical indicators suggest that a recession may be on the horizon. e.g. and i.e.. The abbreviation "e.g." stands for the Latin exempli gratiā "for example", and should be used when the example(s) given are just one or a few of many. The abbreviation "i.e." stands for the Latin id est "that is", and is used to give the only example(s) or to otherwise qualify the statement just made.  Standard: A Briton is a British citizen, e.g. John Lennon.  Standard: Tolkien's The Hobbit is named after its protagonist, i.e. Bilbo Baggins.

4 Non-standard: A Briton is a British citizen, i.e. Paul McCartney (at the last count, there were about 60 million Britons — Sir Paul is far from being the only one)

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Eminent and imminent. Exacerbate and exasperate. "Exacerbate" means to make worse. "Exasperate" means to exhaust, usually someone's patience. Flesh and Flush. To flesh out is to put flesh to a skeleton, or to add substance to an incomplete rendering. To flush out is to cause game fowl to take to flight, or to frighten any quarry from a place of concealment.  Standard: The forensic pathologist will flesh out the skull with clay.  Standard: The beaters flushed out the game with drums and torches.  Non-standard: This outline is incomplete and must be flushed out. Flounder and Founder. To flounder is to be clumsy, confused, indecisive or to flop around like a fish out of water. A flounder is also a type of flatfish. To founder is to fill with water and sink.  Standard: The ship is damaged and may founder.  Standard: She was floundering on the balance beam.  Non-standard: The ship is damaged and may flounder. Flout and flaunt. One flouts a rule or law by flagrantly ignoring it. One flaunts something by showing it off.  Standard: If you've got it, flaunt it.  Standard: He continually flouted the speed limit.  Non-standard: If you've got it, flout it.  Non-standard: He continually flaunted the speed limit. Hay and Straw Historic and historical. In strict usage, historic describes an event of importance – one that shaped history or is likely to do so. Historical merely describes something that happened in the past.  Standard: The president made a(n) historic announcement. (The announcement was of historical importance.)  Non-standard: The office kept an archive of historic records. (The records are not necessarily of historical importance – they are simply records from the past.) Hoard and horde. A hoard is a store or accumulation of things. A horde is a large group of people.  Standard: A horde of shoppers lined up to be the first to buy the new gizmo.  Standard: He has a hoard of discontinued rare cards.  Non-standard: Don't horde the candy, share it.  Non-standard: The hoard charged when the horns sounded. Immaculate Conception. This is the Catholic doctrine that the Virgin Mary was born without original sin. Often misused to mean the Virgin Birth.

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5 Imply and infer. Something is implied if it is a suggestion intended by the person speaking, whereas a conclusion is inferred if it is reached by the person listening.  Standard: When Tony told me he had no money, he was implying that I should give him some.  Standard: When Tony told me he had no money, I inferred that I should give him some.  Non-standard: When Tony told me he had no money, he was inferring that I should give him some.  Non-standard: When Tony told me he had no money, I implied that I should give him some. Infamous and Famous. To be famous is to be widely known. Infamous is to be of exceedingly ill repute (it derives not from fame, but from infamy).  Standard: Adolf Hitler was an infamous dictator.  Standard: John Wayne was a famous actor.  Non-standard: John Wayne was an infamous actor. Inherent and inherit. A part inherent in X is logically inseparable from X. To inherit is a verb, meaning "pass down a generation".  Standard: Risk is inherent in the stock market.  Standard: The next president inherits a legacy of mistrust and fear.  Non-standard: There is violence inherit in the system. Ironic and Sarcastic. Irony is defined as the use of words to convey something other than, and especially the opposite of, the literal meaning of the words. Sarcasm is sneering, jesting, or mocking with the intent to wound or insult.  Standard: He thought it ironic when I said the chocolate teapot could be useful.  Standard: He was so insulting and sarcastic, the poor child was in tears.  Non-standard: He was being very ironic and left them quite offended.  Non-standard: Lovely weather we're having." Reply: "Don't be sarcastic." It's and its. It's is a contraction that replaces it is or it has (see apostrophe). Its is the possessive pronoun corresponding to it, in the same way that his corresponds to he. In standard written English, possessive nouns take an apostrophe, but possessive pronouns do not.  Standard: It's time to eat!  Standard: My cell phone has poor reception because its antenna is broken.  Standard: It's been nice getting to meet you.  Non-standard: Its good to be the king.  Non-standard: The bicycle tire had lost all it's pressure. Lay (lay, laid, laid, laying) and lie (lie, lay, lain, lying) are often used synonymously. Lay is a transitive verb, meaning that it takes an object. "To lay something" means to place something. Lie, on the other hand, is intransitive and means to recline (and also to tell untruths, but in this case the verb is regular and causes no confusion). The distinction between these related verbs is further blurred by the fact that past tense of lie is lay. A quick test is to see if the word in question could be replaced with recline; if it can, Standard English requires lie.

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6 Standard: I lay my husband's work clothes out for him every morning. Yesterday I decided to see if he paid attention to what I was doing, so I laid out one white sock and one black. He didn't notice! Standard: You should not lie down right after eating a large meal. Yesterday I lay on my bed for half an hour after dinner, and suffered indigestion as a result. My wife saw me lying there and made me get up; she told me that if I had waited for a couple of hours I could have lain down in perfect comfort. Non-standard: Is this bed comfortable when you lay on it? (Should be lie) Non-standard: Yesterday I lied down in my office during the lunch hour. (Should be lay) Non-standard: There was no reason for him to have laid down in the middle of the path, it unnerved me to see him laying there saying nothing. (Should be "have lain down" and "him lying there") Non-standard: Lie the baby down, and change his diaper (Should be "lay", as "lie" is intransitive)

Levee and levy. A levee is a structure built along a river to raise the height of its banks, thereby preventing nearby land from flooding (see: dike). To levy is to impose (1) a tax, fine or other assessment, or (2) a military draft; as a noun, a levy is an assessment or army thus gathered. The two words share a common root, but they are not considered interchangeable in Standard English. Because they are homophones, misuse is usually only apparent when observed in writing.  Standard: The Netherlands is well known for its elaborate system of levees.  Standard: This statute allows the state to levy a 3% tax.  Non-standard: Recent storms have weakened the levy. Loathe: Often used for loth or loath in phrases such as "She was loathe to accept." Loathe is used only as a verb in Standard English. Lose and loose. Lose can mean 'fail to win', 'misplace', or 'cease to be in possession'. Loose can mean the opposite of tight, or the opposite of tighten. Lose is often mispelled loose, likely because of the fact that lose has an irregular rhyme for the way it is spelled: it is more common for words ending -ose to rhyme -əʊz, like nose, or rose, but lose rhymes -uːz, like news or confuse. This may cause poor spellers to guess the correct spelling should match another -uːz rhyming word like choose, however choose is itself also an exception to the regular rhyme for words ending -oose (typically such words, including loose, rhyme -uːs, like goose or caboose).  Standard: We cannot afford to lose customers to our competitors.  Standard: A screw is loose and I need a wrench to tighten it.  Non-standard: If the team cannot score any points, they will loose the game. Marinate and Marinade. In Standard English, "marinade" is a noun.  Standard: The meat will taste better if you marinate it in olive oil before cooking.  Standard: Prepare the marinade by mixing vinegar and soy sauce.  Non-standard: Marinade the meat in wine for half an hour. Me, myself and I. In a traditional prescriptive grammar, I is used only as a subject, me is used only as an object, and myself is used only as a reflexive object, that is to say when the subject is I and the object would otherwise be me.  Standard: Jim and I took the train.

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7 Standard: He lent the books to Jim and me. Standard: That is I in the picture. Non-standard: Me and Jim went into town. Non-standard: It was clear to Jim and I that the shop was shut. Non-standard: That is me in the picture.

Myself is often used in a way that makes usage writers bristle, particularly when someone is trying to be "extra correct". Like the other reflexive pronouns, in prescriptive usage, myself should be used only when both the subject and object of the verb are the speaker, or as an emphatic pronoun (intensifier).  Standard (intensifying): I myself have seen instances of that type.  Standard (reflexive): I hurt myself. I did it to myself. I played by myself. I want to enjoy myself.  Non-standard: As for myself, I prefer the red. (Just use me here)  Non-standard: He is an American like myself. (Just use me)  Non-standard: He gave the paper to Jim and myself. (Just use me)  Non-standard: My wife and myself are not happy with all the development going on in town. (Just use I) Mitigate and militate. To mitigate is to make something milder. To militate is to fight or exert pressure for something to happen or not to happen.  Standard: The seriousness of your crime was mitigated by the provocation you were under  Standard: Over-protective practices in this factory militate against increased efficiency  Non-standard: Over-protective practices in this factory mitigate against increased efficiency Novice and novitiate. A novice is a prospective or trainee member of a religious order. The novitiate is the state of being a novice, or the time for which one is a novice. A novice monk or nun is frequently described in error as "a novitiate", in the belief that this sounds more impressively Catholic. Of and have. In some dialects of spoken English, of and the contracted form of have, 've, sound somewhat alike. However, in standard written English, they aren't interchangeable.  Standard: Susan would have stopped to eat, but she was running late.  Standard: You could've warned me!  Non-standard: I should of known that the store would be closed. (Should be "I should've known") Past and Passed. "Past" refers to events that have previously occurred, while "passed" is the past tense of "to pass" whether in a congressional action or a physical occurrence.  Standard: Congress passed the bill limiting the powers of the President.  Standard: History is mainly concerned with the events of the past.  Non-standard: He past my house on his way to the store. Pleasantry means a joke or witticism. Now often misused to mean polite conversation in general (as in the phrase "exchange of pleasantries").

8 Redundant does not mean useless or unable to perform its function. It means that there is an excess of something, that something is "surplus to requirements" and no longer needed, or that it is obsolete.  Standard: A new pill that will instantly cure any illness has made antibiotics redundant. (Antibiotics could still be used to cure illnesses, but they are no longer needed because a better pill has been invented)  Standard: The week before Christmas, the company made 75 workers redundant.  Non-standard: Over-use of antibiotics risks making them redundant. (This should read: over-use of antibiotics risks making them worthless) Set and sit. Shrink and shirk. To shirk means "to consistently avoid", "to neglect", "to be too afraid to engage". To shrink means "to contract", "to become physically smaller in size"; also to shrink away means "to suddenly jerk away from something in horror". However, to shrink from may also mean "to hesitate or show reluctance toward".  Standard: I won't shirk discussion.  Standard: I won't shrink from discussion.  Standard: She shrank away from me.  Non-standard: I won't shrink discussion.  Non-standard: I won't shirk from discussion. Sight and site and cite. A site is a place; a sight is something seen. To cite is to quote or list as a source.  Standard: You're a sight for sore eyes.  Standard: I literally found lots of sites on the internet---I was looking at a tourist site for Rome.  Standard: Please cite the sources you used in your essay.  Non-standard: I found lots of sights on the internet.  Non-standard: I will site the book I saw the statistics in. Temblor and trembler. A temblor is an earthquake. A trembler is something that trembles. Than and then. Than is a grammatical particle and preposition associated with comparatives, whereas then is an adverb and a noun. When spoken, the two words are usually homophones because they are function words with reduced vowels, and this may cause speakers to confuse them.  Standard: I like pizza more than lasagne.  Standard: We ate dinner, then went to the movies.  Non-standard: You're a better person then me. There, their, they're and there're. While they can all sound the same in some dialects, in standard written English they all have separate, definite meanings, and are not interchangeable. There refers to the location of something. Their means "belonging to them". They're is a contraction of "They are". There're is a contraction of "There are".  Standard: Since they're all coming to the restaurant for their dinner, we'll meet them there.

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9 There's, where's, etc. A common spoken mistake is using a singular contraction when it should be plural in words like "there's" and "where's."  Standard: Where's the car?  Non-standard: There's many types of cars. (Should be There're) You're, your, yore and ewer. While they sound the same in many dialects, in standard written English they all have separate meanings. You're is a contraction for "you are", and your is a possessive pronoun meaning "belonging to you". When in doubt, just see whether you can logically expand it to "you are". The third homophone, yore, is an archaism meaning in the distant past, and is almost always used in the phrase "in days of yore". The fourth is the name of a once common piece of household equipment made obsolete by indoor plumbing: the large jug holding washing water.  Standard: When driving, always wear your seatbelt.  Standard: If you're going out, please be home by ten o'clock.  Non-standard: You're mother called this morning.  Non-standard: Your the first person to notice my new haircut today! Won't and wont (usually pronounced like want, though in British English the two words are usually pronounced the same). Won't is a contraction for "will not", while wont is a less frequently used and completely different word: as an adjective it means accustomed or inclined to.  Standard: He won't let me drive his car.  Standard: He spent the morning reading, as he was wont to do.  Non-standard: I wont need to go to the supermarket after all.


Dr. Language has provided a one-stop cure for all your spelling ills. Here are the 100 words most often misspelled ('misspell' is one of them). Each word has a mnemonic pill with it and, if you swallow it, it will help you to remember how to spell the word. Master the orthography of the words on this page and reduce the time you spend searching dictionaries by 50%. (Use the time you save celebrating in our gameroom.)

acceptable Several words made the list because of the suffix pronounced -êbl but sometimes spelled -ible, sometimes -able. Just remember to accept any table offered to you and you will spell this word OK. It is no accident that the test for adverbs on -ly is whether they come from an adjective on -al ("accidental" in this case). If so, the -al has to be in the spelling. No publical, then publicly. Remember, this word is large enough to accommodate both a double "c" AND a double "m". Try to acquire the knowledge that this word and the next began with the prefix ad- but the [d] converts to [c] before [q]. See the previous discussion. Two words! Hopefully, you won't have to allot a lot of time to this problem. Amateurs need not be mature: this word ends on the French suffix -eur (the equivalent of English -er). A parent need not be apparent but "apparent" must pay the rent, so remember this word always has the rent. Let's not argue about the loss of this verb's silent [e] before the suffix -ment. Lord help you remember that this word comprises the prefix a- "not" + the "god" (also in the-ology) + -ist "one who believes."


accommodate acquire acquit a lot amateur apparent argument atheist

believe You must believe that [i] usually comes before [e] except after [c] or when it is pronounced like "a" as "neighbor" and "weigh" or "e" as in "their" and "heir." Also take a look at "foreign" below. (The "i-before-e" rule has more exceptions than words it applies to.) Often misspelled "bellweather." A wether is a gelded ram, chosen to lead the herd (thus his bell) due to the greater likelihood that he will remain at all times ahead of the ewes.


calendar category cemetery changeable This word has an [e] between two [a]s. The last vowel is [a]. This word is not in a category with "catastrophe" even if it sounds like it: the middle letter is [e]. Don't let this one bury you: it ends on -ery—nary an -ary in it. You already know it starts on [c], of course. The verb "change" keeps its [e] here to indicate that the [g] is soft, not

hard. (That is also why "judgement" is the correct spelling of this word, no matter what anyone says.) collectible column committed conscience conscientious conscious consensus Another -ible word. You just have to remember. Silent final [e] is commonplace in English but a silent final [n] is not uncommon, especially after [m]. If you are committed to correct spelling, you will remember that this word doubles its final [t] from "commit" to "committed." Don't let misspelling this word weigh on your conscience: [ch] spelled "sc" is unusual but legitimate. Work on your spelling conscientiously and remember this word with [ch] spelled two different ways: "sc" and "ti". English spelling! Try to be conscious of the "sc" [ch] sound and all the vowels in this word's ending and i-o-u a note of congratulations. The census does not require a consensus, since they are not related.

daiquiri definite(ly) discipline drunkenness dumbbell Don't make yourself another daiquiri until you learn how to spell this funny word—the name of a Cuban village. This word definitely sounds as though it ends only on -it, but it carries a silent "e" everywhere it goes. A little discipline, spelled with the [s] and the [c] will get you to the correct spelling of this one. You would be surprised how many sober people omit one of the [n]s in this one. Even smart people forget one of the [b]s in this one. (So be careful who you call one when you write.)

embarrass(ment) This one won't embarrass you if you remember it is large enough for a double [r] AND a double [s]. equipment exhilarate exceed existence experience This word is misspelled "equiptment" 22,932 times on the web right now. Remembering that [h] when you spell this word will lift your spirits and if you remember both [a]s, it will be exhilarating! Remember that this one is -ceed, not -cede. (To exceed all expectations, master the spellings of this word, "precede" and "supersede" below.) No word like this one spelled with an [a] is in existence. This word is a menage a quatre of one [i] with three [e]s. Don't experience the same problem many have with "existence" above in this word: -ence!

fiery foreign The silent "e" on "fire" is also cowardly: it retreats inside the word rather than face the suffix -y. Here is one of several words that violate the i-before-e rule. (See "believe" above.)

gauge grateful guarantee You must learn to gauge the positioning of the [a] and [u] in this word. Remember, they are in alphabetical order (though not the [e]). You should be grateful to know that keeping "great" out of "grateful" is great. I guarantee you that this word is not spelled like "warranty" even though

they are synonyms.

harass height hierarchy humorous This word is too small for two double letters but don't let it harass you, just keep the [r]s down to one. English reaches the height (not heighth!) of absurdity when it spells "height" and "width" so differently. The i-before-e rule works here, so what is the problem? Humor us and spell this word "humorous": the [r] is so weak, it needs an [o] on both sides to hold it up.

ignorance immediate Don't show your ignorance by spelling this word -ence! The immediate thing to remember is that this word has a prefix, in- "not" which becomes [m] before [m] (or [b] or [p]). "Not mediate" means direct which is why "immediately" means "directly." Please be independent but not in your spelling of this word. It ends on -ent. Knowing that this word ends on -able is indispensable to good writing. This one sounds like a shot in the eye. One [n] the eye is enough. Using two [l]s in this word and ending it on -ence rather than -ance are marks of . . . you guessed it. The apostrophe marks a contraction of "it is." Something that belongs to it is "its."

independent indispensable inoculate intelligence its/it's

jewelry Sure, sure, it is made by a jeweler but the last [e] in this case flees the scene like a jewel thief. However, if you prefer British spelling, remember to double the [l]: "jeweller," "jewellery." (See also pronunciation.) Traditionally, the word has been spelled judgment in all forms of the English language. However, the spelling judgement (with e added) largely replaced judgment in the United Kingdom in a non-legal context. In the context of the law, however, judgment is preferred. This spelling change contrasts with other similar spelling changes made in American English, which were rejected in the UK. In the US at least, judgment is still preferred and judgement is considered incorrect by many American style guides.


kernel (colonel) There is more than a kernel of truth in the claim that all the vowels in this word are [e]s. So why is the military rank (colonel) pronounced identically? English spelling can be chaotic.

leisure liaison library license lightning Yet another violator of the i-before-e rule. You can be sure of the spelling of the last syllable but not of the pronunciation. Another French word throwing us an orthographical curve: a spare [i], just in case. That's an [s], too, that sounds like a [z]. It may be as enjoyable as a berry patch but that isn't the way it is spelled. That first [r] should be pronounced, too. Where does English get the license to use both its letters for the sound [s] in one word? Learning how to omit the [e] in this word should lighten the load of English orthography a little bit.


maintenance maneuver The main tenants of this word are "main" and "tenance" even though it comes from the verb "maintain." English orthography at its most spiteful. Man, the price you pay for borrowing from French is high. This one goes back to French main + oeuvre "hand-work," a spelling better retained in the British spelling, "manoeuvre." The medieval orthography of English even lays traps for you: everything about the MIDdle Ages is MEDieval or, as the British would write, mediaeval. Why would something to remind of you of a moment be spelled "memento?" Well, it is. Here is another big word, large enough to hold two double consonants, double [l] and double [n]. Since that [a] is seldom pronounced, it is seldom included in the spelling. This one is a "mini ature;" remember that. Since something minuscule is smaller than a miniature, shouldn't they be spelled similarly? Less than cool, or "minus cule." This mischievous word holds two traps: [i] before [e] and [o] before [u]. Four of the five vowels in English reside here. What is more embarrassing than to misspell the name of the problem? Just remember that it is mis + spell and that will spell you the worry about spelling "spell."


memento millennium miniature minuscule mischievous misspell

neighbor No wonder many speaking Black English say "hood" for "neighborhood"—it avoids the i-before-e rule and the silent "gh". If you use British spelling, it will cost you another [u]: "neighbour." The [e] is noticeably retained in this word to indicate the [c] is "soft," pronounced like [s]. Without the [e], it would be pronounced "hard," like [k], as in "applicable."


occasionally occurrence Writers occasionally tire of doubling so many consonants and omit one, usually one of the [l]s. Don't you ever do it. Remember not only the occurrence of double double consonants in this word, but that the suffix is -ence, not -ance. No reason, just the English language keeping us on our toes.

pastime Since a pastime is something you do to pass the time, you would expect a double [s] here. Well, there is only one. The second [s] was slipped through the cracks in English orthography long ago. All it takes is perseverance and you, too, can be a (near-)perfect speller. The suffix is -ance for no reason at all. Funny Story (passed along by Bill Rudersdorf): The assistant VicePresident of Personnel notices that his superior, the VP himself, upon arriving at his desk in the morning opens a small, locked box, smiles, and locks it back again. Some years later when he advanced to that position (inheriting the key), he came to work early one morning to be assured of privacy. Expectantly, he opened the box. In it was a single piece of paper which said: "Two Ns, one L." Those who play right are right-players, not playwrights. Well, since they write plays, they should be "play-writes," wright right? Rong Wrong. Remember that a play writer in Old English was called a "play worker"

perseverance personnel


and "wright" is from an old form of "work" (wrought iron, etc.) possession precede Possession possesses more [s]s than a snake. What follows, succeeds, so what goes before should, what? No, no, no, you are using logic. Nothing confuses English spelling more than common sense. "Succeed" but "precede." (Wait until you see "supersede.")

principal/principle The spelling principle to remember here is that the school principal is a prince and a pal (despite appearances)--and the same applies to anything of foremost importance, such as a principal principle. A "principle" is a rule. (Thank you, Meghan Cope, for help on this one.) privilege According to the pronunciation (not "pronounciation"!) of this word, that middle vowel could be anything. Remember: two [i]s + two [e]s in that order. Nouns often differ from the verbs they are derived from. This is one of those. In this case, the pronunciation is different, too, an important clue. Let me publicly declare the rule (again): if the adverb comes from an adjective ending on -al, you include that ending in the adverb; if not, as here, you don't.

pronunciation publicly

questionnaire The French doing it to us again. Double up on the [n]s in this word and don't forget the silent [e]. Maybe someday we will spell it the English way.

receive/receipt recommend I hope you have received the message by now: [i] before [e] except after .... I would recommend you think of this word as the equivalent of commending all over again: re+commend. That would be recommendable. Final consonants are often doubled before suffixes (remit: remitted, remitting). However, this rule applies only to accented syllables ending on [l] and [r], e.g. "rebelled," "referred" but "traveled," "buffered" and not containing a diphthong, e.g. "prevailed," "coiled." Refer to the last mentioned word and also remember to add -ence to the end for the noun. The relevant factor here is that the word is not "revelant," "revelent," or even "relevent." [l] before [v] and the suffix -ant. 'Ey, you! Remember, these two words when you spell "restaurant." They are in the middle of it. Actually, "rime" was the correct spelling until 1650. After that, egg-heads began spelling it like "rhythm." Why? No rhyme nor reason other than to make it look like "rhythm." This one was borrowed from Greek (and conveniently never returned) so it is spelled the way we spell words borrowed from Greek and conveniently never returned.


reference relevant restaurant rhyme


schedule If perfecting your spelling is on your schedule, remember the [sk] is spelled as in "school." (If you use British or Canadian pronunciation, why do you pronounce this word [shedyul] but "school," [skul]? That has always puzzled me.) How do you separate the [e]s from the [a]s in this word? Simple: the [e]s surround the [a]s. The [a] needed in both syllables of this word has been pushed to the

separate sergeant

back of the line. Remember that, and the fact that [e] is used in both syllables, and you can write your sergeant without fear of misspelling his rank. supersede This word supersedes all others in perversity. As if we don't have enough to worry about, keeping words on -ceed and -cede ("succeed," "precede," etc.) straight in our minds, this one has to be different from all the rest. The good news is: this is the only English word based on this stem spelled -sede.

their/they're/there They're all pronounced the same but spelled differently. Possessive is "their" and the contraction of "they are" is "they're." Everywhere else, it is "there." threshold twelfth tyranny This one can push you over the threshold. It looks like a compound "thresh + hold" but it isn't. Two [h]s are enough. Even if you omit the [f] in your pronunciation of this word (which you shouldn't do), it is retained in the spelling. If you are still resisting the tyranny of English orthography at this point, you must face the problem of [y] inside this word, where it shouldn't be. The guy is a "tyrant" and his problem is "tyranny." (Don't forget to double up on the [n]s, too.)

until I will never stop harping on this until this word is spelled with an extra [l] for the last time!

vacuum If your head is not a vacuum, remember that the silent [e] on this one married the [u] and joined him inside the word where they are living happily ever since. Well, the evidence is suggestive but not conclusive. Anyway, spell this word with two [u]s and not like "volume."

weather weird Whether you like the weather or not, you have to write the [a] after the [e] when you spell it. It is weird having to repeat this rule so many times: [i] before [e] except after...? (It isn't [w]!)


Here is the second dose of Dr. Language's medicine for misspelling: another 150 words that are highly susceptible to misspelling. Master the orthography of the words on this page to control some of the most important points of written English. a while accumulate across axle broccoli cantaloupe chauvinism colonel criticize defiant development dissipate excellent finally fulfill grammar horrific incidentally irresistible liaison lying misogyny no one official particular piece plenitude propagate raspberry remembrance salary scissors septuagenarian similar simile tongue ukulele withhold absence acknowledge aficionado accordion business carburetor chili commemorate Dalmatian desiccate diorama difference exercise flabbergast generally gross hypocrisy incredible knowledge lieutenant magically missile occasion onomatopoeia peninsula pigeon preferable puerile receipt renowned sandal seize sheriff special tableau too/to/two usage you're/your accelerate acquaintance anoint barbecue camouflage Caribbean chocolaty congratulations deceive desperate disappear ecstasy explanation flotation genius guttural imitate ingenious labeled liquefy marshmallow nauseous occur/occurred parallel pharaoh pistachio presumptuous pursue refrigerator ridiculous sandwich sensible shish kebab subpoena tariff tragedy vicious accomplish acquire apology beginning candidate cartilage coliseum coolly defendant deterrence disappoint especially Fahrenheit fourth government handkerchief inadvertent irascible led lose mischief necessary octopus parliament physical pleasant proceed putrefy religious sacrilegious savvy separate siege success tomorrow truly village


100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English
Now that Dr. Language has provided a one-stop cure for the plague of misspelling, here are the 100 words most often mispronounced English words ("mispronunciation" among them). There are spelling rules in English even if they are difficult to understand, so pronouncing a word correctly usually does help you spell it correctly. Several common errors are the result of rapid speech, so take your time speaking, correctly enunciating each word. Careful speech and avid reading are the best guides to correct spelling.

Don't say

Do Say


acrossed affidavid Old-timer's disease Antartic across affidavit Alzheimer's disease Antarctic It is easy to confuse "across" with "crossed" but better to keep them separate. Even if your lawyer's name is ''David,'' he issues affidavits. While it is a disease of old-timers, it is named for the German neurologist, Dr. Alois Alzheimer. Just think of an arc of ants (an ant arc) and that should help you keep the [c] in the pronunciation of this word. Another hard-to-see [c]—but it is there. This mispronunciation has been around for so long (over 1,000 years) that linguist Mark Aronoff thinks we should cherish it as a part of our linguistic heritage. Most of us would give the axe to "aks." Two syllables are enough for "athlete."

Artic aks

Arctic ask

athelete, atheletic

athlete, athletic

barbituate bob wire barbiturate barbed wire Don't forget this word contains three others: bar+bit+u+rate No, this word wasn't named for anyone named ''Bob;'' it should be "barbed wire," although the suffix –ed, meaning ''having,'' is fading away in the U.S. The change of [s] to [d] before [n] is spreading throughout the US and when the unaccented [I] drops from this word the [s] finds itself in the same environment as in "isn't" and "wasn't." This phrase is no blessing if it comes from the skies. (Pronounce it correctly and help maintain the disguise.)



a blessing in the skies

a blessing in disguise





It isn't clear why we say, ''Mind your Ps and Qs'' when we have more difficulty keeping up with our Ls and Rs. Had there been a cavalry in Jesus' time, perhaps Calvary would not have been so tragic. You aren't being canny to drop the [d] in this word. Remember, it is the same as "candy date." (This should help guys remember how to prepare for dates, too.) Cardsharps probably won't eat you alive, though they are adept at cutting your purse strings. This one is mispronounced (and misspelled) several different ways; we just picked the funniest. Carpal means ''pertaining to the wrist.'' There is no greater cacophony [kæ'kafêni] to the ears than to hear the vowels switched in the pronunciation of this word. Although there are more than one mountain in this chain, their name is not a plural noun.



card shark Carpool tunnel syndrome caucaphony

cardsharp Carpal tunnel syndrome cacophony

The Caucases chester drawers

The Caucasus

chest of drawers The drawers of Chester is a typical way of looking at these chests down South but it misses the point. champ at the bit "Chomp" has probably replaced "champ" in the U.S. but we thought you might like to be reminded that the vowel should be [æ] not [o]. clothes The [th] is a very soft sound likely to be overlooked. Show your linguistic sensitivity and always pronounce it. Playing a crown (coronet) will make you about as popular as wearing a trumpet (cornet) on your head—reason enough to keep these two words straight.

chomp at the bit




dialate dilate The [i] in this word is so long there is time for another vowel but don't succumb to the temptation. The ''ph'' in this word is pronounced [f], not [p]. The world is even worse than you think if you think it merely a "doggy-dog world." Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news. You add the [d] only to the past tense and past participle. Ducks very rarely need taping though you may not know that ducts always do—to keep air from escaping through the cracks in them.

diptheria doggy dog world

diphtheria dog-eat-dog world drown duct tape

drownd duck tape


elec'toral e'lectoral The accent is on the second, not the third, syllable and there is no [i] in it—not "electorial." (By the way, the same applies to "mayoral" and "pastoral.") The good news is, if you say "excape," you've mastered the prefix ex- because its meaning does fit this word. The bad news is, you don't use this prefix on "escape." While I can't express my love for espresso enough, this word was borrowed from Italian well after the Latin prefix ex- had developed into es-. Latin for "and" (et) "the rest" (cetera) are actually two words that probably should be written separately. Things especial are usually not expected, so don't confuse these words.






et cetera



Febyuary February We don't like two syllables in succession with an [r] so some of us dump the first one in this word. Most dictionaries now accept the single [r] pronunciation but, if you have an agile tongue, you may want to shoot for the original. Syncopation of an unaccented vowel is fairly common in rapid speech but in careful speech it should be avoided. See also "plute" and read more about the problem here. We also do not like the combination [l] + [m]. One solution is to pronounce the [l] as [w] ("film" [fiwm}, "palm" [pawm]) but some prefer adding a vowel in this word. In fact, we don't seem to like any consonants together. Here is another word, like athlete and film that is often forced to swallow an unwanted vowel. Since it is unlikely that a boat would founder on a flounder, we should distinguish the verb from the fish as spelling suggests. Here is another case of metathesis, placeswitching of sounds. Remember, the [i] comes after the [l], as in related "folio." The younger generation is mispronouncing this phrase so intensively that it has become popular both as a mispronunciation and misspelling. The word is spelled "forte" but the [e] is pronounced only when speaking of music, as a "forte passage." The words for a strong point and a stronghold are pronounced the same: [fort].











For all intensive purposes forte

For all intents and purposes fort


Heineken remover Heimlich maneuver (or manoeuvre, Br.) height herb This term is mispronounced many different ways. This is just the funniest one we have heard. This maneuver (manoeuvre) was named for US surgeon Henry Jay Heimlich (1920- ). The analogy with "width" misleads many of us in the pronunciation of this word. Does, ''My friend Herb grows 'erbs,'' sound right to you? This is a US oddity generated by the melting pot (mixed dialects). Initial [h] is always pronounced outside America and should be in all dialects of English. Remember, hierarchies go higher than you might think. This one is pronounced "higher archy" and not "high archy."

heighth 'erb



in parenthesis in parentheses No one can enclose an expression in one parenthesis; at least two parentheses are required. This error results from the back-formation of "interpretate" from "interpretation." But back formation isn't needed; we already have "interpret." (See also 'orientate') "-Less" already says ''without'' so there is no need to repeat the same sentiment with "ir-." Again, the struggle of [s] before [n]. (See also "bidness" and "wadn't")



irregardless idn't

regardless isn't

jewlery jewelry The root of this word is "jewel" and that doesn't change for either "jeweler" or "jewelry." The British add a syllable: "jewellery" (See also its spelling.) As opposed to the adjective "just," this word is always unaccented, which encourages vowel reduction. However, it sounds better to reduce the [ê] rather than replace it with [i].

jist nor dis


Klu Klux Klan Ku Klux Klan Well, there is an [l] in the other two, why not the first? Well, that is just the way it is; don't expect rationality from this organization.


lambast lambaste Better to lambaste the lamb than to baste him— remember, the words rhyme. "Bast" has nothing to do with it. More metathesis. Here the [n] and [y] switch places. Mind your [n]s and [y]s as you mind your [p]s and [q]s. The sound [aw] picks up an [r] in some dialects (also "sawr" and "gnawr"). Avoid it and keep Laura Norder in her place. Southern Americans are particularly liable to confuse these two distinct words but the confusion occurs elsewhere. Look out for it. You are liable for the damages if you are successfully sued for libel. But don't confuse these discrete words. As mentioned before, English speakers dislike two [r]s in the same word. However, we have to buck up and pronounce them all. This compound is not derived from ''to live longly'' (you can't say that) but from ''having a long life'' and should be pronounced accordingly. The plural stem, live(s), is always used: "short-lived," "many-lived," "triple-lived."



Laura Norder

law and order









masonary masonry We have been told that masons are most likely to insert a spare vowel into this word describing their occupation but we know others do, too. Don't you. This word has not moved far enough away from French to assume an English pronunciation, [mawv], and should still be pronounced [mowv]. Ever wonder why the short form of a word pronounced "mannaise" is "mayo"? Well, it is because the original should be pronounced "mayo-nnaise." Just remember: what would mayonnaise be without "mayo"? Here is another word frequently syncopated. Don't leave out the third syllable, [a]. The definition of "moot" is moot (open to debate) but not the pronunciation: [mut] and not [myut]. It would be mischievous of me not to point out the frequent misplacement of the accent on this word. Remember, it is accented the same as mischief. Look out for the order of the [i] and [e] in the spelling, too—and don't add another [i] in the ending (not mischievious).





miniture mute mis'chievous

miniature moot 'mischievous





Misanalysis is a common type of speech error based on the misperception of where to draw the line between components of a word of phrase. "A whole nother" comes from misanalyzing "an other" as "a nother." Not good. Not good. The British and Australians find the American repetition of the [u] between the [k] and [l] quaintly amusing. Good reason to get it right. Many speakers in the US add a spurious [u] to this word, too. It should be pronounced [nêpchêl], not or [nêpchuêl].





often ofen We have mastered the spelling of this word so well, its spelling influences the pronunciation: DON'T pronounce the [t]! This is an exception to the rule that spelling helps pronunciation. You may have to use ordnance to enforce an ordinance but you should not pronounce the words the same. Another pointless back-formation. We don't need this mispronunciation from "orientation" when we already have "orient." (See also "interpretate") Be sure to keep your suffixes straight on this one. This pronunciation particularly bothers Australians themselves, most of whom can manage the [l] quite easily, thank you.





ostensively Ostraya

ostensibly Australia

parlament perculate parliament percolate Although some dictionaries have given up on it, there should be a [y] after [l]: [pahr-lyê-mênt] Pronouncing this word as "perculate" is quite peculiar. (Also, remember that it means ''drip down'' not ''up.'') The adjective meaning "drinkable" rhymes with "floatable" and is not to be confused with the one that means "capable of being potted." Even in dialects where [r] does not always trade places with the preceding vowel (as the Texan pronunciations "differnce," "vetern," etc.), the [r] in this prefix often gets switched. Same as above. It is possible that we simply confuse "pre-" and "per-" since both are legitimate prefixes. You may think us too pernickety to even mention this one. It is a Scottish nonce word to which U.S. speakers have added a spurious [s]. The old pre-/per- problem. Do not confuse this











word with "preemptive;" the prefix here is per-. prespire perspire "Per-" has become such a regular mispronunciation of "pre-," many people now correct themselves where they don't need to. This one, like "plice" [police], spose [suppose], and others, commonly result from rapid speech syncope, the loss of unaccented vowels. Just be sure you pronounce the vowel when you are speaking slowly. Read here for more on the problem. Haplology is the dropping of one of two identical syllables such as the [ob] and [ab] in this word, usually the result of fast speech. Slow down and pronounce the whole word for maximum clarity and to reduce your chances of misspelling the word. Just as "misspelling" is among the most commonly misspelled words, "pronunciation" is among the most commonly mispronounced words. Fitting, no? Though a pain in the prostate may leave a man prostrate, the gland contains no [r].



(probly, prolly)






realator realtor As you avoid the extra vowel in "masonry," remember to do the same for "realtor," the guy who sells what the mason creates. Here is another word that seems to invite metathesis. You don't have to invent a new word from "occur." We already have a verb "recur" that does the trick. Despite the spelling similarity, this word does not rhyme with despite; it is pronounced ['re-spit]. Give yourself a permanent respite from mispronouncing it.

revelant reoccur

relevant recur



sherbert sherbet Some of the same people who do not like two [r]s in their words can't help repeating the one in this word. Silicon is the material they make computer chips from but implants are made of silicone. I doubt we will get "snuck" out of the language any time soon but here is a reminder that it really isn't a word. The phrase "so as" has been reduced to a single word "sose" even when it is not called for. "Sose I can go" should be simply "so I can go." By the way, the same applies to alls, as in "Alls I want is to never hear 'alls' again." You can have your dog spayed but so long as she is a good dog, please don't spade her.

silicone snuck

silicon sneaked





spitting image spit and image The very spit of someone is an exact likeness. "The spit and image" or "spit image" emphasizes the exactness. In some areas the vowel in this word has slid a bit too far back in the mouth. Don't choke on it. Stamps are so called because they were originally stamped (not stomped) on a letter. You stamp your feet, too. If you don't wear it (a suit [sut]), then it is a suite [sweet], as in a living room suite or a suite of rooms. Adding –ly to participles is rarely possible, so some people try to avoid it altogether. You can't avoid it here. This word is derived from "supremacy," not "supreme." A supremist would be someone who considers himself supreme. You know there is no one like that.

stob stomp

stub stamp







tact tack If things are not going your way, do not lose your tact—that would be tactless—but take a different tack. We do tend to take granite for granted, it is so ubiquitous. But that, of course, is not the point. A tenant is a renter who may not hold a tenet (a doctrine or dogma). Tenters are frames for stretching cloth while it dries. Hanging on tenterhooks might leave you tender but that doesn't change the pronunciation of the word. Why make Spanish words more difficult than they already are? Just three syllables here, thank you. We don't like [th] and [l] together, so some of us insert a spare vowel. Pronounce it right, spell it right.

take for granite tenant tenderhooks

take for granted tenet tenterhooks

Tiajuana triathalon

Tijuana triathlon

upmost utmost While this word does indicate that efforts are up, the word is "utmost," a(!) historical variation of "outmost."


verbage verbiage Here is another word that loses its [i] in speech. Pronouncing it correctly will help you spell it correctly. Some voluptuous women may be lumpy, but please avoid this Freudian slip that apprises them of it.



wadn't ways wet wasn't way whet That pesky [s] before [n] again. See "bidness" and "idn't." "I have a ways to go" should be "I have a way to go." The article "a" does not fit well with a plural. In the Northeastern US the sound [hw], spelled "wh," is vanishing and these two words are pronounced the same. Elsewhere they should be distinguished.

yoke yolk Another dialectal change we probably should not call an error: [l] becomes [w] or [u] when not followed by a vowel. Some people just confuse these two words, though. That should be avoided.

zuology zoology Actually, we should say [zo], not [zu], when we go to the zoo but we'll let that pass. The discipline, however, must be pronounced [zo-'ahluh-gee].