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30 Hard Words to Spell in English Even for Native Speakers

Have you ever encountered a word in English that you could not spell right, no matter how hard you tried?

Have you made a mistake trying to spell complicated words like “acquaintance” or “rhythm”?

You’re not alone! English has a very old fashioned spelling system that sometimes isn’t at all related to how the word sounds today.

This means there are a lot of  long, complicated—just plain hard words to spell in English. 

The good news is that everyone makes English spelling mistakes, even native speakers.

To avoid making spelling errors, we’ve put together this post of 30 hard words to spell, grouped in logical categories about why they’re hard to spell.


Words with Confusing Letter Combinations

The English language has many combinations of letters that you see often. For example, CH, EI, IE and others can be particularly confusing for English learners. This is because these combinations may be pronounced differently in different words or not pronounced at all!

1. Achieve

Meaning: to accomplish, get something done

Common misspellings of “achieve” include acheive, acheve, archieve and even achiev. To spell it right, just remember:

  • There is no R in “achieve”
  • The H is followed by I, just like in the English alphabet!

Example: I want to achieve my dream by age 40.

2. Receive

Meaning: to be given something

Why does “achieve” above use the IE vowel order, but “receive” uses EI, even though the syllable sounds exactly the same? Ask Shakespeare.

Example: I will receive $20,000 tomorrow.

3. Perceive

Meaning: to become aware of something

Do you “perceive” a pattern here?

Example: Do you perceive a spirit in this room?

4. Deceive

Meaning: to lie to someone

To remember these words, there’s a great mnemonic rule in English that you may have heard:

I before E, except after C, or when sounding like “A” as in “neighbor” or “weigh.”

The words above are great examples that are commonly spelled wrong because people remember “I before E,” but not the “after C” part or any of the rest.

Recieve, percieve and decieve are all wrong! E comes before I in these examples, because the EI combination comes after C.

This spelling rule, however popular, has plenty of exceptions.

Example: Please don’t deceive your mother.

5. Weird

Meaning: strange, unusual

The correct spelling of “weird” is an exception to the mnemonic above. There is one common, incorrect spelling: “wierd.” The pronunciation of the word may also be to blame. A good way to remember to spell “weird” right is to think of “we” as part of the word. You may be normal, but we can be weird.

Look for more ideas of mnemonic devices and rules in English here and here!

Example: That purple car is pretty weird.

Words with Long Strings of Vowels

Words in this group are difficult because the vowels in them form sounds that are normally represented by just one or two letters. As a result, some vowels get lost in the process.

The best way to remember the spelling of these tricky nouns and adjectives is to make associations with other words that you do know how to spell.

6.  Acquaintance

Meaning: someone you know

“Acquaintance” is a tough one! The combination of UAI is not very common in the English language, but it occurs sometimes.

To master the spelling of this word, keep in mind that Q is always followed by U. Then memorize the A and I.

Example: He’s not really a great friend—he’s more of an acquaintance.

7. Beautiful

Meaning: pleasing to the eye or the mind

If you have ever studied French, you are familiar with the EAU vowel string. It is quite common in French! In fact, the French word “beau” means “beautiful,” which may help you to remember how to spell this important English adjective.

“Beautiful” is also difficult due to the TI part. People sometimes incorrectly spell the word as “beautyful” because of the obvious connection to the English noun “beauty.”

A rule of thumb to spell “beautiful” correctly is to alternate the Is and Us (U-T-I-F-U) and forget the Y in the noun.

Example: The rose bush looks beautiful this time of year.

8.  Conscientious

Meaning: hard-working, careful, attentive to detail

This very useful adjective has a lot of Is and Os with Us and Es added. It can be difficult to spell it right.

Remember the mnemonic, “I before E, except after C”? It does not work here—this word is another exception to the rule.

If you are good at spelling the word “science,” which is yet another exception to the rule, you can use this to your advantage as well.

Example: To earn your medical degree, you need to be conscientious.

9. Queue

Meaning: a line

This word is all vowels. Wouldn’t it be better if it was just spelled Q? Or Kew? Remember that a Q likes a U. After that, add an E and repeat the vowel combination.

The term is more common in British English. In American English, the word “line” is used more often.

Example: The queue is going out of the door at the supermarket today.

10. Quay

Meaning: a pier, a wharf

A friend of mine once confessed that he used to spell the word “quay” as “key,” until the day he saw it in writing. Just like with the word “queue” above, remember the QU combination. The rest you just have to memorize: UAY is just another tongue twister.

Example: Walk down the quay and turn right when you see the big boat.

Words with Double Consonants

With words in these group, the difficult thing to spell are the double consonants.

While there are a lot of examples and exceptions to the rules, pronouncing the words correctly will help you spell the words correctly too. The sounds produced by double consonants are elongated. With one exception, all words below have more than one double consonant. So, remember to double up!

11. Accessible

Meaning: easily reached

Common misspellings: acessible, accesible and even accesseble

How to remember it: double the C and double the S!

Example: The new building is accessible for people in wheelchairs.

12. Address

Meaning: the location of a place

The most common misspelling is, of course, “adress” or “addres.”

To make it easy to remember, recall that to send something somewhere, you need to add the address to your mail!

Example: Do you have my address in your phone?

13. Accommodation

Meaning: lodging

Common misspellings: accomodation, acomodation

It is the M and not the C that gets lost from this wonderful word more often. Don’t forget that both are double consonants!

Example: Have you found accommodation for Friday in Austin?

14. Committee

Meaning: a group of people formed to get something done

Such a treat to spell, “committee” has double Ms, double Ts and double Es, too!

Common misspellings: comitee, commitee

How to remember it: Committees are groups of people, so make sure to give M, T and E some company!

Example: They formed a committee to deal with making the office smoke-free.

15. Occasional

Meaning: occurring only sometimes

As you can see, double Cs are one of the most common double consonant combinations in the English language. The way this word is most commonly misspelled is “ocasional.”

Think of this word as something occurring on occasion—both words need double Cs!

Example: I only have a drink on occasional evenings.

Words that Change Meaning Depending on Spelling

These words sound absolutely the same, but are spelled differently depending on their meaning.

Misspelling these words is very common among native English speakers, who automatically spell the words one way, while wanting to say something else (sometimes even without realizing it).

The rule to spell these kinds of words right is memorizing the correct spelling for all of them, then choosing the one you want to use! The difficulty is only in knowing which one is which.

16. & 17. Lose Loose

Meanings: Lose means to not win. Loose means something about to detach or not fitting tightly.

You lose a game, but your T-shirt is loose, not the other way around.


Don’t lose your key.

I like to wear loose pants.

18. & 19. Weather / Whether

Meanings: Weather is the natural phenomenon of rain, sunshine, snow and other daily changes in the atmosphere. Whether is a conjunction meaning “if.” 

Whether the weather is good or bad depends on your mood!


I like rainy weather.

Whether or not we decide to go to the game on Friday depends on the weather.

20 & 21. Than Then

Meanings: Than is a conjunction and a preposition used to compare and/or contrast two or more things. Then is an adverb meaning “after that.”

For example: If one cake is cheaper than the other, then we are getting the cheap one.


I like dogs more than cats.

I’ll go to the market then to the flower shop.

22. & 23. & 24. There / Their / They’re

Meanings: There is an adverb indicating location. Their is the possessive form of “they.” They’re is a contraction of “they are.”

There is a fun (if a bit naughty) comic by The Oatmeal explaining some of the words above.


There is no reason to get angry about this.

Their dog is so cute.

They’re going to the opera tonight, right?

Just Plain Difficult Words

You may have trouble spelling the examples above, but the words below are just hard, period. They may combine difficult consonants with lots of vowels, or be pronounced one way and spelled the other… Some are just difficult to type right. Whatever the case might be, study them and memorize them. You will eventually get there.

25. Privilege

Meaning: an advantage, an opportunity

Common misspelling: privelege

How to remember it: I-I followed by E-E.

Example: I was born into a world of privilege.

26. Psychology

Meaning: the science of the human psyche

Common misspellings: psichology, sychology

The P is silent, and our friend CH is also here. This is a hard word to spell, so you just have to remember it.

Example: I’m studying psychology at university.

27. Rhythm

Meaning: a pattern of sound or movement

Common misspellings: rhytm, rythm

How to remember it: There are two Hs in this word, and only one Y.

Example: This song has a great rhythm.

28. Separate

Meaning: standalone

Common misspelling: seperate

How to remember it: There are two As and two Es, and the As separate the Es.

Example: I’m trying to keep our money separate to avoid confusion.

29. Sincerely

Meaning: honestly

Common misspelling: sencerely

How to remember it: E is not the only vowel present in the word. I comes before E in this word, even though the mnemonic does not apply.

Example: I sincerely don’t care about his issues anymore.

30. Definitely

Meaning: without doubt

Common misspelling: definately

How to remember it: Think about something finite when spelling this word, since “definitely” puts an end to all arguments!

Example: Let’s definitely meet up on Friday!

One great way to hear (and see through interactive subtitles) these hard to spell words is with FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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These are just some of the examples of many, many English words that are difficult to spell.

Don’t worry if you spell something wrong. Making spelling mistakes is something that happens to everyone all over the world, even to people who speak English as natives! Take the time to study the correct English spellings of words you use most often, and don’t be afraid to consult a dictionary when in doubt.

And One More Thing...

If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:


If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.


FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:


FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.


FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.

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