The Most Common English Misspelled Words & How to Avoid Them in Final Papers

When writing papers in English, spelling can be difficult not only for English learners but also for native speakers, but don't worry, here at LinguaLink DC, we got your back (i.e. we support you). This spelling guide should help with the most common spelling mistakes students make. Your English spelling will improve considerably, and you'll be able to write better papers for any class.

Study the spelling examples and exercises below. For extra practice, write the words several times in a row and draft sentences using what you’ve learned.

Affect versus Effect

Remember "affect" is a verb, and "effect" is a noun. A great synonym to use in place of "affect/effect" is "impact" which can be used as a noun and verb.

Note: Effect can be used as a verb, meaning to bring about or to accomplish. However, I recommend using a synonym and only using effect as a noun. If you choose to use this word as a verb, here is an example of how it is properly used.

Example 1: Many non-profits have effected changes in anti-poverty efforts since the 1990s.

Instead of using effected, I would recommend the following sentence:

Example 2: Many non-profits have brought about changes in anti-poverty efforts since the 1990s.

Remember that affect is always a verb and effect is almost always used as a noun to avoid confusing the two words. Learn more about the different uses of affect and effect.

Accept versus Except:

"Accept" is a verb referring to consent to receive something or to come to recognize an opinion as correct or valid. "Except" is a preposition meaning "not including; other than".

Example 1: I accepted the invitation to the party because I like the host.

Example 2: Everyone I knew was going to the party except my best friend because she was out of town.

Learn more about the use of accept and except.

Words that either end in -ible or -able:

  • Personable
  • Detestable
  • Irritable
  • Fashionable
  • Remarkable
  • Comfortable
  • Valuable
  • Dependable
  • Suitable

Versus

  • Eligible
  • Inedible
  • Undigestible
  • Horrible
  • Contemptible
  • Possible
  • Incredible
  • Invisible
  • Irresponsible
  • Flexible
  • Permissible
  • Illegible

Example 1: My friend always has the most fashionable outfits.

Example 2: I heard that people who practice yoga become more flexible.

Learn more about the different uses of -able and ible.

EI/IE Spelling Rule

  • Niece
  • Piece
  • Chief
  • Brief
  • Thief

Versus

  • Conceited
  • Freight
  • Sleigh
  • Received

Example 1: I would like a big piece of cake for dessert.

Example 2: I received my acceptance letter in the mail three months after submitting it to my top university.

Learn more about the IE/EI rule.

Lead/Led

Lead is both a verb and a noun, which causes a large number of spelling errors. The verb lead refers to someone who takes the directing part; whereas, the noun may refer to a metal alloy and pronounced similarly to led. Led is the past tense of lead and never refers to metal.

Example 1: The teacher will lead the students to the gym.

Example 2: The teacher led the choir performance last week. (past tense)

Example 3: Lead pipes cause considerable health problems. (the metal)

Example 4: The lead in the play was played by a famous actress.

Their/There/They’re

These words are consistently misused in writing assignments. If you want to get a good grade, good spelling should be your priority so make sure you are using the correct word.

Their is a possessive noun. 
Example 1: Their house is beautiful.

There refers to in or at a place. 
Example 2: There are five apples in the basket.
Example 3: The man is over there.

They're is a contradiction of they are. 
Example 4: They're home.

To catch mistakes, reread the sentence slowly to capture the true meaning of the word. Remember these definitions and pay attention to how they are used in a sentence.

Conscious/Conscience/Cautious

These three words are hard to pronounce and spelling them correctly is even harder. Remember that conscience has the word science in it and refers to your internal reasoning whether an action is good or bad. I try to remember that conscience has the word science in it, which helps me remember that it has to do with your mind and your internal reasoning to do good or bad.

Conscious — awake or aware (verb) 
Example: The man regained consciousnesses after the accident. He was unconscious for two days.

Conscience = sense of obligation to be good (noun) 
Example: The politician's conscience would not let her vote for the candidate.

Cautious = careful
Example: Sarah is always cautious when she goes out at night.

Then/Than

Many English learners and students frequently mix up the two words. Avoid this confusion by memorizing the true meanings of the two English words. Study the examples below to help clarify their meanings.

Than is used in a sentence with a comparison or preference. 
Example 1: This house is nicer than the other one.
Example 2: We should use more sugar in this recipe than in the other one.

Then is used to describe a time in order or space. 
Example 1: We will have a meeting on Friday. Then we will decide what to do with the new project.
Example 2: We bought some vegetables and then decided to make a soup.

Your/You're

Your is a possessive noun. 
Example: Your house is beautiful,

You're is a contraction of you are. 
Example 1: You're always nice. Example 2: You're reading an interesting book.

The rest of the words on the list were taken from a list of commonly misspelled words that has been circulating among American businesses for a very long time.

To accommodate (verb)

Example: It is sometimes difficult to accommodate everyone.

Acknowledgment (noun)

Example: The acknowledgment of his mistake was difficult for him.

Argument (noun)

Example 1: Her argument was valid. Example 2: They got into an argument over the dishes.

Commitment (noun)

Example: Her commitment to her job is admirable.

Consensus (noun)

Example: Consensus-building is a political strategy.

Deductible (noun)

Example: Some health insurance plans come with deductibles.

Dependent (adjective)

Example: The child is dependent on her parents.

To embarrass (verb)

Example: He embarrassed her at the party,

Existence (noun)

Example: The existence of polar bears is wonderful.

Foreword (noun)

Example: Some books have a foreword.

To harass (verb)

Example: He was harassing her on the subway.

Inadvertent (adjective)

Example: This was an inadvertent mistake. (unplanned)

Indispensable (adjective)

Example: She was indispensable at her work.

Judgment (noun)

Example 1: Her judgment can be trusted. Example 2: The court's judgment was just.

Liaison (noun)

Example: She served as a liaison for visitors at her company.

License (noun)

Example: She got her driver's license yesterday.

Occasion (noun)

Example: He wrote a song for the special occasion.

Occurrence (noun)

Example: A party erupted outside our door, an unusual occurrence for this rural area.

Perseverance (noun)

Example: Perseverance is an important personality trait.

Prerogative (adjective)

Example: It is prerogative we make a decision tonight.

Privilege (noun)

Example: It is a privilege to meet you,

To proceed (verb)

Example: You should proceed to the counter.

To separate/separate (verb/adjective)

Example: They separated last year.

To supersede (verb)

Example: She was chosen to supersede her boss.

To withhold (verb)

Example: They withheld their support for a controversial measure in parliament.

By learning how to spell these English words correctly, you’ll improve your grades considerably. Practice these on your own, and you'll quickly improve your grades and impress your professors!

Marike Korn