Did you know the word “misspell” is often misspelled?
Some word spellings in English just don’t seem to make sense.
But we have a way you can learn how to spell in English without going crazy!
Just find the patterns.
Lots of English words that seem difficult to spell actually follow clear patterns.
In this post we’ll teach you these the patterns, so you’ll know why certain words are spelled the way they are.
When you know the “why,” that reasoning can transform these 47 hard-to-spell words into words you’ll never spell wrong again!
Why Are Some English Words So Hard to Spell?
The English language is always growing and changing. It has changed pretty dramatically in a few hundred years. Just try to read this text. This is what English looked like until around the 15th century. It’s pretty different, isn’t it?
As English grew, it picked up words from other languages. Over time, the words changed into the ones we know today. That’s how you get words that are spelled strangely, like the word “night.” “Night” actually comes from the German word Nacht, but it picked up the letter “g” from French along the way.
Because of that, there aren’t many set “rules” you can use to know how to spell all words correctly. Luckily, if you dig a little you can find patterns that will help you fix many of your English misspellings.
Finding Spelling Patterns in English Words
How is a pattern different from a rule? Rules are sets of regulations that you need to follow. Patterns are repetitions that happen naturally. For example, here’s a rhyme to help you remember when to write “ie” and when to write “ei:”
“I” before “E”
Except after “C”
Or when sounding like “A”
Like in “neighbor” and “weigh”
This is a great rhyme to know, but it’s not a firm rule—it’s a pattern! There are many words that follow this pattern: “perceive,” “piece,” “eight.” But there are also many words that don’t follow it: “science,” “neither,” “weird.”
If patterns don’t always give you the correct spelling, why bother learning them? Patterns are useful because they give you somewhere to start, so that you’re not just guessing.
They can also make certain words easier to remember because you can learn them in groups. Most importantly, they give you a better understanding of the English language!
A great place to learn commonly misspelled words is FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Each video includes interactive subtitles, so you’ll be reading everything that’s being said. This’ll help you memorize both the pronunciation and the spelling of words, and you’ll never have trouble with them again. Give FluentU a free try and leave misspellings behind!
47 English Words You’ll Never Misspell Again
Words ending in “-ary” and “-ery”
We will see four different spelling patterns to watch for in this first category of words that end in “-ary” and “-ery.”
The pattern: If the root word ends in a silent “e,” just add “-ry.”
Bravery (n.): Courage, fearlessness in a dangerous situation.
Look at the word before the “-ery” ending. Do you recognize it? The word “bravery” comes from the word “brave.”
“Brave” is the root word of “bravery.” It’s the most basic part of the word once you remove all prefixes (word parts you add to the beginning of a word to change its meaning) and suffixes (parts you add to the end of a word).
Since “brave” ends in an “e,” all you need to do is add the “-ry” to form “bravery.” How brave of you!
Forgery (n.): A faked or copied document.
The word “forgery” comes from the word “forge.” Since “forge” ends in a silent “e,” we just add “-ry” to create the new word.
Scenery (n.): A pleasing landscape or natural surroundings.
You might think the word “scenery” is a bit different since its root, “scene,” is not a verb. It ends in a silent “e,” though, so the “-ry” gets added.
The pattern: If the original word ends in “-er,” add “-y.”
Discovery (n.): Finding something for the first time.
Since the word “discover” already has an “-er” ending, all it needs is the final “y.”
Flowery (adj.): Something that looks or smells like flowers, or has flowers on it.
Something flowery is like a flower. By adding the “y,” you turn the noun (“flower”) into a descriptive adjective (“flowery”).
You can do this with many words, even if they don’t end in “-er,” like “sunny” (from noun “sun”) and “lemony” (from noun “lemon”).
Watery (adj.): Something resembling (similar to) water, or having too much water.
Like the word “flowery,” “watery” is something that is like water. Just add “y” and you’ve changed the word into a brand new adjective.
The pattern: If the root is not a full English word, add “-ary.”
Vocabulary (n.): The words of a language. You probably already know this one!
Sometimes you’re left with nonsense when you remove the ending, like “vocabul–.” In many cases, this is a sign that you should use “-ary.”
This usually happens because the words are based on old Latin words, which end in “-a” or -“arius.” In this case, the original Latin word is vocabularis.
Culinary (adj.): Dealing with cooking.
Culina is the Latin for kitchen, so it makes sense to add “-ary” since it already ends in an “a.” Even if you didn’t know that, you might realize that “culin” doesn’t look like an English word.
Solitary (adj.): Alone.
“Solit” is not an English word, but solitarius is the original Latin. Add that “-ary” to the end, and you have the right spelling of “solitary.”
The pattern: If the root word is a full English word that doesn’t end in a silent “e,” use “-ary.”
Dictionary (n.): A resource that lists all the words in a language and their definitions.
Remove the “-ary” and you’re left with the word “diction.” This is a full English word with no silent “e” ending, so it uses the “-ary” ending.
Cautionary (adj.): A warning tale.
The word “caution” means to be careful, and doesn’t end in a silent “e.” That gives it the “-ary” ending.
Visionary (n./adj.): Someone who has big ideas for the future. / Used to describe big ideas, which often aren’t practical.
If you’re a visionary, you have vision for the future. “Vision” doesn’t end in a silent “e,” so we add the “-ary” suffix here.
- “Imaginary” comes from the word “imagine,” but it ends in “-ary.” (Remember: “imagination” uses an “a”!)
- “Surgery” doesn’t have a full English word when you remove the suffix, but it still uses “-ery.” (Remember: “surgeon” uses an “e”!)
- “Stationary” and “stationery” are both! Something that is stationary doesn’t move (it uses the word “station,” so it ends in “-ary”).
A “stationer” is someone who sells materials used in writing, and since it’s an “-er” word, it uses “-ery.” The noun “stationery” is writing paper.
Words ending in “-ily” and “-ally”
In this next section we’ll see two different patterns you can look for when spelling words that end in “-ily” and “-ally.”
The pattern: If the root word ends in an “l,” add “-ly.”
Actually (adv.): Having to do with the truth or facts of a situation.
The word “actual” already ends in an “l,” so you need to add “-ly” to the end. This creates a double “l” in the “-ally” ending.
Equally (adv.): In a similar way.
“Equal” is another word that ends in an “l.” By adding “-ly,” you turn it into an adverb.
Totally (adv.): Completely, absolutely.
Once again, all you have to do is add the “-ly” and you’re left with a new word.
The pattern: If the root word ends in a “y,” remove the “y” and add “-ily.”
Readily (adv.): Without hesitation.
When adding a suffix to a word ending in “-y,” that “y” is usually dropped and replaced. That’s why the word “ready” turns into “readily.”
Noisily (adv.): Making a lot of sounds.
Drop the “-y” from the word “noisy,” then add “-ily” to get this adverb.
- “Tragically” doesn’t come from the word “tragical” but it still uses “-ally.” (Remember: It doesn’t end in an “l” or a “y,” so it’s a special case).
- “Drily” is an odd word because it can be spelled both “drily” and “dryly.”
Words ending in “-ful”
Our next section involves words ending in “-ful,” which tend to be adjectives.
The pattern: The word “full” as a suffix only uses one “l”: “-ful.”
Beautiful (adj.): Pleasant to look at.
Someone beautiful is someone who is full of beauty. When you put the two words together, drop the second “l”! Out of all the words that end in “ful,” only the word “full” has two l’s.
Thankful (adj.): Pleased and grateful.
When you’re full of thanks, remember that “thankful” ends in “-ful.”
Careful (adj.): Done with caution.
When you’re careful, you’re full of care. Here, again, the word ends in just one “l.”
The words “overfull,” “brimfull” and “topfull” are the only words besides “full” that end in a double “l.” (And the last two can be spelled either way, actually. They’re rarely used, so don’t worry about them!)
Words ending in “-ence” and “-ance”
The following five patterns involve words that end in “-ence” and “-ance.”
The pattern: If the root word ends in “-ear,” “-y” or “-ure,” use “-ance.”
Appearance (n.): What someone looks like.
If you remove the suffix, you’re left with the root word “appear.” Words that end in “-ear” usually use the “-ance” ending.
Appliance (n.): A piece of equipment used at home, like a refrigerator or a dishwasher.
The word “appliance” actually comes from the word “apply” (because appliances have specific applications!). When you add “-ance,” you need to replace the “y” with an “i” to keep the same sound.
Endurance (n.): The ability to continue going even when things are difficult.
Endurance is when you endure something, and since the word “endure” ends in “-ure,” it uses the suffix “-ance.” (Notice we had to drop the silent “e” from “endure.”)
The pattern: If the root word ends in a hard “g” or “c” sound, use “-ance.”
If it ends in a soft “g” or “c” sound, use “-ence.”
Root words that end in “c” and “g” sounds will be pronounced softly when followed by the letter “e.” Here’s a nice intro to soft and hard “c” and “g” sounds, if this is a new concept for you.
License (n.): A permit or ID card that gives you permission to do something, like a driver’s licence.
The word “licence” must be spelled with “-ence” because the first “c” has a soft sound (like an “s”).
Innocence (n.): Purity, not guilty.
The first “c” in “innocence” needs a soft sound, so this word ends in “-ence.” This is also why you spell “innocent” with an “-ent” ending (and not “-ant”).
Intelligence (n.): Having wisdom and smarts.
“Intelligence” and “intelligent” both use suffixes with the letter “e.” And that’s because the word needs the soft “g” sound.
The pattern: If the root word is a verb ending in “-ate,” use “-ance.”
Tolerance (n.): The ability to accept ideas and situations even if you don’t agree with or like them.
You’ll need to tolerate (allow) all these rules. The verb “tolerate” ends in “-ate,” so the ending of “tolerance” will be “-ance.”
Dominance (n.): Having power over other people.
The word “dominance” comes from the verb “dominate,” which ends in “-ate.”
The pattern: If the original word ends in “-ere,” “-er” or “-ist,” use “-ence.”
Interference (n.): The act of preventing or interrupting something.
“Interference” comes from the word “interfere,” which ends in “-ere.” So to make it end in “-ence,” we just add “interfere + nce” together and you’re done!
Insistence (n.): To keep saying that something should be done.
The original word, “insist” ends in “-ist,” so when adding a suffix, choose “-ence.”
Preference (n.): Liking one thing over another.
This is a word that prefers the “-ence” ending, because it comes from the word “prefer,” which ends in “-er.”
The pattern: If the word contains “-cid-,” “-fid-,” “-sid-” or “-vid-,” use “-ence.”
Coincidence (n.): When something happens that seems connected but is not.
It’s no coincidence that the word uses the “-ence” ending, since it has the letters “-cid-” in the middle.
Evidence (n.): Proof that something happened.
The word “evidence” has the letters “-vid-” in it, so it ends in “-ence.”
“Sentence” and “balance,” and a number of other words, don’t seem to follow any of these patterns. Sometimes this happens! Whenever you find words like this, look at their origin for some help.
- “Sentence” comes from the Latin sententia.
- “Balance” comes from the Latin bilanx.
Now it makes sense!
Most of the time, words that end in “-ence” can be changed into “-ent” words (i.e. “innocence” → “innocent”). And words that end in “-ance” can usually be changed into “-ant” words (i.e. “significance” → “significant”)
Words that use the letter “q”
Our next category deals with words that have the letter “q.”
The pattern: If a word has the letter “q,” follow it with a “u” and then another vowel.
Quiet (adj.): Not making any noise.
The letter “q” can be tricky. It’s not used that often, and when it does it’s almost always followed by the letter “u” and then another vowel, like in “quiet.”
Question (n.): A statement that asks something.
“Question” begins with “que” (if you speak Spanish, you can use that to remember the spelling!) because the letter “q” can’t stand alone in a word.
The only words that have the letter “q” on its own are foreign words like “faqir” and “burqa,“ and are not often used.
Many “q” words are borrowed from French, and to mimic the French pronunciation they are spelled with “cq.” The words “acquire” and “racquet” are examples of this. There are not that many of them, so they’re easy to memorize (here’s a list).
Words beginning in “per-” and “pre-“
Our second to last category has two patterns for words starting with “per-” and “pre-.”
The pattern: If a word’s meaning involves “very,” “completely” or “around,” it probably is spelled “per-.”
Perfect (adj.): Something complete.
The prefix “per-” can be used to mean “completely,” “through” or “around.” The word “perfect” means something that is complete, so it uses “per-.”
Perimeter (n.): The area around a space.
The definition of the word “perimeter” hints at the “per-” prefix since it means “around.”
Perform (v.): To play something for an audience.
This one is not as obvious: “to perform” means to play something through to completion. Since the definition includes something going “through,” it uses the “per-” prefix.
The pattern: If a word’s meaning involves “before,” it probably uses “pre-.”
Prefix (n.): The part added to the beginning of a word.
The prefix “pre-” means “before” or “first.” Now you know why “prefix” is spelled with “pre-“!
Prepare (v.): To get something ready.
This word uses the “pre-” prefix because when you prepare something, you get it ready before you can use it.
Preview (v.): To see something before it’s available.
Movie trailers let you preview a movie before you go watch it in theaters. You are literally viewing something before (“pre-“).
In the word “percent,” the “per-” is a prefix that means “for every part.” The word can be split into two parts: per cent, meaning “for every 100.”
Some words, like “person” and “present,“ do not use “per-” or “pre-” as a prefix. The spellings of those words just have to be memorized!
Double “r” words
In our last section we’ll look at two patterns that involve double “r” words.
The pattern: If the vowel before the “r” says its own name, use one “r.”
If it makes a different sound, use two r’s.
Embarrass (v.): To make someone feel self-conscious or ashamed.
The trick to knowing where to double your “r” is in the vowels. In the pattern “vowel-consonant-vowel,” the first vowel usually says its name. If we left off the second “r” in “embarrass” (i.e. embarass) the pronunciation would change to “em-bae-rass,” which isn’t correct.
Since that first “a” does not say its own name, we double the “r”: embarrass.
Arrow (n.): A pointed stick used with a bow, or a sign that shows direction.
Since the “a” in “arrow” is not saying its name, the two “r”s are necessary.
Interrupt (v.): To stop or pause something before it’s finished.
As before, listen to the sound of the “e” before the “r” in “interrupt.” It isn’t saying its name “ee,” so there must be two “r”s separating it from the next vowel.
The pattern: If a verb ends in “-r,” its past tense uses “-rred.”
Occurred (v.): Something that has happened.
Many words that end in “-r” use a double “r” in the past tense. So “occur” turns into “occurred.”
Blurred (v.): Made something fuzzy and unclear.
To turn the word “blur” into past tense, add another “r” and then the usual “-ed.”
Words like “harass” and “apparent” don’t follow the rule. Sometimes you just have to memorize them!
Look out for more patterns in your vocabulary words as you learn to spell. Some spellings might start to make more sense when you look at a few words as a group.
What other patterns can you find in English spelling? Write them down and remember them, and you’ll become a better speller!
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:
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.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
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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