Surprising Words The Spelling Bee Kids Can Nail But The Rest Of Us Get Wrong All The Time

These are the shockingly simple words we misspell way too often, according to professors, copy editors, resume experts and Google.
Anyone in the annual national spelling bee will get these words right, but plenty of mere mortals definitely don’t.
Hill Street Studios via Getty Images
Anyone in the annual national spelling bee will get these words right, but plenty of mere mortals definitely don’t.

Every year since 1925, except during World War II and in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic was going strong, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has been held in Washington, D.C. This week, the tradition continues: A bunch of young academics will somehow spell impossibly difficult words, causing breathless, impressed adults to think, “Wow, I am really stupid. Where did I go wrong?”

That got us thinking. What are we generally misspelling in real life? Where are we going wrong in our everyday writing? What words spell trouble for many of us?

We asked a bunch of professionals who work with words every day, and, well: Get ready to feel even dumber.

1. Accommodation

“Accommodation [is] often misspelled as acommodation, accomodation, or acomodation,” said Haley Slade, CEO and founder of Slade Copy House, a digital copywriting agency based in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I work with words literally all day long,” said Slade, who said that “accommodation” is a top offender for most-misspelled word.

Two c’s and two m’s, folks. It shouldn’t be hard with autocorrect and spell check, but apparently, it is.

2. Affect

As noted, most of us have autocorrect and spell check (which kept trying to fix the words in this article we were intentionally misspelling, by the way). So people aren’t misspelling as many words as they used to, but they often misspell words because they don’t understand which words are the correct ones to use.

Lisa Williams is the Charles J. Luellen Professor of English and director of creative writing at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, and is not related to this author (as far as we know). Williams said that she sees a lot of students using the word “affect” when they mean “effect.”

For instance, these sentences are correct: The storm had quite an effect on the town. It affected all of the citizens.

These sentences are not correct: The storm had quite an affect on the town. It effected all of the citizens.

But, generally, Williams said, due to spell check, she doesn’t see a lot of misspellings from her students.

“It’s a very different world from when I was in school, and the act of reading and memorising vocabulary lists to learn spelling was just what you did,” she said.

3. A lot

It’s a lot, not alot, said Gigi Marino, a communications and public relations professional in Winter Park, Florida. She also writes professionally and says she has seen “a lot” written as “alot” a lot. In fact, she has seen “alot” so often that she thinks it will be one day accepted into standard usage. Let’s hope not.

4. And

And? People misspell “and”?

It’s not that dumb, but it’s still pretty dumb. It isn’t like people are writing “andd,” but we still manage to screw up the word pretty often by not actually using it.

“This one is a pet peeve of mine,” said Debra Boggs, founder and CEO of D&S Executive Career Management. A big part of Boggs’ job is reworking and rehauling executive resumes, and she sees many professionals sticking in an ampersand — that is, an “&” — in the middle of resumes and cover letters instead of writing “and.”

“It makes the content look unrefined and casual,” Boggs said, & we think most people will agree with her. “Ampersands are perfect for headlines and titles, but they don’t belong in bullet points or full sentences inside your resume.”

5. Definitely

Anyone in the annual national spelling bee will get this word right, but plenty of mere mortals definitely don’t, according to Jennifer Smith, associate professor and chair of the English department at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. She said that many students confuse “definitely” with “defiantly.”

She also sees “definitely” frequently misspelled as “definately” and “definatly.”

“The placement of the ‘I’ and ‘a’ in the word can be confusing, leading to incorrect spelling,” Slade said.

There are invariably a million ways people can muff this word. Definitely was named the most misspelled word in a survey years ago.

6. It’s/its

Knowing when to spell “it’s” or “its” is many spellers’ downfall. Still, while it’s confusing, the virtue of learning how to get these two words right is its own reward.

“The most common misspelling I see is ‘it’s,’ or depending on your point of view, ‘its,’ and the reason is simple: It’s irregular,” said Lenny Cassuto, an English professor at Fordham University in New York City.

“Students are taught that a possessive ends with an apostrophe followed by an s,” Cassuto explained. “But the ‘it’s/its’ pairing violates the rule.”

If your head is now spinning, Cassuto calls it a “forgivable mistake,” though he says that we should still learn exceptions to grammar rules.

7. High school

Not “highschool.” Marino said she sees this a lot, too. Really? The spelling is right there on the sign over the entrance of the school building we all went to — for four years!

8. Lead

Often, people use this word when they want to use “led,” Boggs said.

I’m not sure where this comes from, but many people think that ‘lead’ is past tense of the verb ‘to lead’ when it should in fact be ‘led.’ This causes confusion in a sentence when all other verbs are correctly spelled in past tense.”

9. Misspell

Slade sees this a lot. People forget that there are two s’s.

“I have noticed over the years that people are becoming more illiterate. Just read any social media site.”

- Gigi Marino, communications and public relations professional

10. Premier

“Premier” is the correct spelling for “top of the line,” not “premiere” (a first performance of something).

“I have noticed over the years that people are becoming more illiterate,” Marino said. “Just read any social media site ― oh, site and cite are commonly confused ― like Nextdoor, and you will see how atrocious the spelling is.”

11. Restaurant

It’s such a common word, one that spelling bee kids would probably never trip over. But grown-ups do, perhaps due to carelessness.

Commonly misspelled as ‘restaraunt’ or ‘resturant.’ The placement of the ‘u’ and ‘a’ in the word is often mistakenly switched,” Slade said.

12. Separate

Separate is often misspelled as ‘seperate’ because of the placement of the ‘a’ and ‘e’ in the word is often interchanged or confused,” Slade said.

13. Spelled

Google Trends recently revealed that one of the words we’re most unsure about spelling in 2023 is, interestingly enough, “spelled.” A lot of people are typing into the search engine, “Is it spelled or spelt?”

So which is right?

Well, that depends. If you live in America, you would go with “spelled.” If you live in England, you would probably use the word “spelt,” which is the past tense of “spell” there.

14. There, they’re and their

Stuart Patterson, associate professor in the Shimer Great Books School at North Central College, who teaches courses like, “Why – and What – Should We Read?” and “Theories of Metaphor,” said that he constantly sees students messing up “their, there and they’re.”

He does defend his students and any adult who is feeling bad about their spelling. “Spelling itself is a relatively recent invention,” he pointed out.

In fact, when it comes to spelling words correctly, if you consider yourself a poor speller, you are in pretty good company. When it comes to consistently spelling words correctly, Patterson said, “Shakespeare could hardly have done it to save his life.”