Since many apps and programs now come with built-in spellcheckers to catch pesky errors—and even correct them automatically—you’re less likely to be embarrassed if you always forget how to spell embarrass.
You’re also not alone. In 2020, Lexico used data from the Oxford English Corpus, which monitors the usage of more than 2 billion English words, to compile a list of 100 most commonly misspelled words. Embarrass is one of them; people have trouble remembering that it has two r’s, writing it as embarass instead.
Of all the words on the list, more than two dozen have common misspellings related to double letters. For some of those entries, people seem to know there’s a double letter somewhere in the word, but they often choose the wrong letter to repeat—Caribbean, for example, is often spelled Carribean, and bizarre becomes bizzare. Others have multiple double letters, and people accidentally omit one, like missing the second t in committee or the second n in millennium.
Double letters aren’t the only recurring issue on this list. The old “i before e except after c” mnemonic rhyme hasn’t stuck for everyone; the two vowels are often mistakenly swapped in achieve, believe, friend, piece, receive, and siege. As a testament to how frustrating the English language can be, the words weird and foreign, two of the (many) exceptions to the “i before e” rule, are often misspelled as wierd and foriegn.
Another common vocalic blunder involves a’s and e’s in suffixes. It’s appearance, not appearence; calendar, not calender; and tendency, not tendancy. There aren’t always obvious mnemonic devices to help you keep these straight, but Reader’s Digest suggests exclaiming “Eeek!” whenever you need to remember that cemetery has three e’s and no a’s.
See all 100 words—with the correct spelling listed first, and the common misspelling listed after it—below. And if you’re not the greatest speller, don’t worry; neither were Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and these 9 other historical figures.
The Correct Spelling
Now that you know it's which and not wich, find out how these common words got their weird spellings.
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2023.
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