The English language is exceptionally difficult to learn. Part of the reason relates to how words are put together – often using ‘silent’ letters that don’t seem to appear when the word is spoken.
Here, we’ve put together a list of the trickiest words to spell in common English – and an explanation of why each of these words catch people out.
For such a common word, Wednesday is commonly misspelled. Why, well – a big part of the reason is how the word is spoken.
In some accents, the word appears to sound like “Wens-day”. In other regional accents, the word sounds more like “Wedens-day”. However, it’s very rare to hear anyone say “Wed-nes-day” – which is how the word is actually spelled.
It seems we have the Norse god Odin to blame for these errors. Known as ‘Woden’ in ancient Norse lore, his name was given to the day in the middle of the working week. Translation into Old English and development of the language saw the word eventually change from “Woden’s Day” into Wednesday.
When you liquefy something, you turn it into liquid. It’s something you might do with baby food or fruit – and it’s infinitely easier than spelling the word!
Liquefy is so tricky because it doesn’t follow the rule of many other words ending with the same sound. Whether you aim to “pacify”, “specify” or “clarify” – you’ll be doing so with an “-ify” suffix – but not so with liquefy.
To make matters worse, the route word that liquefy comes from – liquid – seems to be perfectly set up for an -ify” ending! Just knock off the final “d” and add “fy” – right? Unfortunately not – this is one of those rare words that just doesn’t follow the common rule.
Ah, a playwright, someone who writes plays? That couldn’t be easier – just combine the two key words of their job description and you get – playwrite. Oh.
Unfortunately, the apparent logic here is misleading. The “wright” in “playwright” doesn’t have anything to do with writing – it’s actually to do with “creating”.
When something is created, it’s considered to be “wrought”. You might have heard the term when people talk about “wrought iron” – this is iron that’s been worked into a shape. This would be carried out by a “wright” – someone skilled in that area. You might have also found shipwrights and sword wrights too. Back in the 17th Century, the people who created plays were considered to have “wrought” them – fashioning them into something entertaining. As such, their job role is spelled “playwright”.
To continue our “logic doesn’t apply here” theme, it’s worth considering what our brains do when we try to spell minuscule. If something is minusule it’s very small – and the word is pronounced “minis-cule”.
With this in mind, our brains will almost always jump to the word “mini” (meaning small) – but this will lead to an incorrect spelling.
Instead, we need our math heads on. “Minus” is the Latin word for “less” – so it’s useful to think of a minuscule object as “lesser in size” rather than “mini”.
If an action is considered “sacrilegious” it means it is disrespectful to something religious. With that in mind, you might think the word is spelled “sacreligious” – but, despite looking like the obvious link, “sacrilegious” and “religious” aren’t connected.
To find logic in the actual Latin break down of the word. “Sacri-” means “sacred” and the “leg” part actually related to “legere” meaning “to steal”. So, the actual meaning of the word is more like “stealing the sacredness” of something meaningful.
Got a local neighbourhood kid who’s always getting up to mischief? More often than not, we’d pronounce the description of that child as “mis-CHEE-vee-ous” – especially in the UK and certain U.S. states.
The problem is, this is a mispronunciation of the word. It’s actually intended to sound like “MISS-chi-vous”.
The trouble comes when we think logically about how to write down the sound of “ee” – as it’s commonly written as “ie” – think “achieve” as an example. This leads to us breaking the word into four syllables – where the actual word only has three.
It might not be a word you use very often – but the infrequency of onomatopoeia probably just adds to the confusion when you do want to write it down.
Onomatopoeia refers to a word that sounds like the noise it represents. “Bang”, “woof”, “crack”, and “snap” are some examples.
The problem with onomatopoeia is the “-poeia” suffix. In reality, you’re probably only pronouncing three of those letters – “-pia” – but the others are along for the ride, thanks mostly to the word’s complex Ancient Greek origin.
You might have learned a not-so-helpful rhyme in school about the placement of “i” and “e” in different words – “I before E except after C”.
The good thing about this little rhyme is that it’s easy to remember. The bad thing about this rhyme is that it’s often just plain wrong. Not so useful now, eh?
One of the many (and there are many) instances where this rhyme doesn’t check out is in the word “weird”. We tend to think that a “ee” sound is made using “ie” – but it isn’t always the case. Ditch the rules and just remember that “weird” is indeed weird, and needs the “e” before the “i”.
If you’re talking about how you might “pronounce” a word, you’re almost certainly going to be talking about “pronounciation” right? Well, actually, no – you’re wrong.
The problem with some words is the fact that the sounds we use to make them change as they change in form. So, while “pronounce” sounds like ‘pro-NOUN-se’, “pronunciation” sounds like ‘pro-NUN-see-A-schon’.
Unfortunately, some words just follow their own rules – so memory becomes a big part of spelling tricky words!