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10 tricky words in English & how to stop misspelling them

Along with pronunciation and grammar, one of the biggest challenges for English language learners is vocabulary. You may not struggle with new words when speaking, but when the time comes to put them on paper, your spelling abilities are put to the test.

Although a beautiful and thoroughly awesome language (just check out these nine reasons why English rules), it isn’t the easiest to spell. Odd combinations of letters run amok and pronunciation is not always a loyal indicator of spelling – so it’s no wonder learners (and native speakers!) sometimes struggle to write correctly.

We’ve rounded up ten of the trickiest words in English and provided tips that will help you stop misspelling them.

1. Necessary

What a pain! Is this devil of a word spelled with two “c’s”, two “s’s” or something in between? Resolve the conundrum by imagining yourself trying to put on a shirt with one sleeve. It isn’t easy, is it? Of course not – because it’s necessary for a shirt to have onecollar (the c!) and twosleeves (the s’s!).

2. Stationary vs. Stationery

These two words have completely different meanings: “Stationary” means not moving, whereas “stationery” refers to office supplies like pencils, erasers, paper, and envelopes. But how can you remember which one’s which? Take –ERY, the last part of “stationery”, as your clue: Now remember that the “e” is for erasers and envelopes – two very common pieces of stationery!

3. Separate

When we pronounce this word, it sounds like “seperate”. However, spelling it this way is wrong, wrong, wrong! Now, to never make that mistake again, think of a large, hairy rat. That’s an image that won’t get out of your head for some time! Just remember: there’s a rat in “separate”.

4. Affect vs. Effect

These homophones – words that sound alike but have different spellings and/or meanings – wreak havoc in essays across the globe! How do you remember which one to use? Look to the first letter of each word as your guide. “Affect” begins in “a” and refers to an action, while “effect” begins in “e” and refers to an end consequence.

5. Embarrassed

Embarrassed by not being able to spell this word? You’re not the only one! This is another case of double letters causing problems. This time, we need to remember the double “r” and “s”. To jog your memory, imagine a little boy who’s embarrassed by his sister’s terrible singing and think: “He goes really red when his sister sings.”

6. Compliment vs. Complement

A compliment is something positive that someone says about another person, whereas a complement is something that adds to or completes something else (for example, cheese is a good complement to wine). To remember which is which, look to their middle letter: The opposite of a compliment is an insult. On the other hand, a complement enhances something else.

7. Accommodation

Whew, another difficult double letters moment! To keep track of the two double letters in this word, try picturing yourself checking into a luxurious hotel room with two large beds. After all, the best accommodation has two double beds.

8. Rhythm

Ahh, rhythm. That tricky word devoid of vowels and with more “h’s” than usual. You’re not the only one who thinks it’s weird on the eye and hard on the memory. Now, imagine a dance floor full of dancers twisting to their hearts’ content and be a spelling pro with this easy mnemonic: “Rhythm helps your two hips move”.

9. Dessert vs. Desert

“Dessert” is far too similar to “desert” for most English language learners – and some native speakers too! Which word has the double “s”? Picture yourself indulging in a sumptuous chocolate cake, banana split, or sweet treat of your choice. Do you want more? We thought so! Get ready to add another “s”: When it comes to dessert, we always want a little bit more.

10. Dilemma

With all these spelling dilemmas, it’s only natural to learn this one! Very often, people drop the second “m” when spelling this tricky word. Pick it up and never let it go by remembering that “Emma has a dilemma.”

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