What words can we just not spell?

Even the most proficient writers have the occasional word they just can’t remember how to put together. Perhaps you’re always tempted to put an ‘a’ somewhere in the word ‘sentence’, or maybe you find yourself reciting ‘I before E, except after C’ to yourself before wrongly spelling words like ‘weird’, ‘weight’ and ‘leisure’.

The state of spelling

In the U.S., Google Trends recently analysed which words internet users in each state were most unsure how to spell. This was based on the word that most often followed a search beginning “how to spell” in each state.

Two very different words seem to crop up the most – ‘beautiful’ and ‘pneumonia’ – but there are some big differences between spelling queries from one state to the next. Googlers from Rhode Island and Georgia are stumped by just four letters (‘liar’ and the American spelling ‘gray’ respectively), while Connecticut and West Virginia spelling bees are much more ambitious, wanting to know how to spell the Mary Poppins word ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.

Wisconsinites want to know how to spell the name of their own state, and I’m quite surprised the same isn’t true in Massachusetts. Folks in Vermont don’t know how to spell ‘Europe’, while Hawaiians struggle with ‘people’.

What this shows is that there is a huge range of words we are unsure how to spell, from everyday ones like ‘tomorrow’ and ‘sense’, to more specific and unfamiliar ones like ‘sauerkraut’ and ‘Chihuahua’.


When people have a word that stumps them, they often like to come up with some kind of memory aid, known as a mnemonic, to help them recall its spelling. One example of this could be remembering the difference between ‘stationary’ (not moving) and ‘stationery’ (writing equipment) is that the latter is spelt with an ‘e’ for envelope – a type of stationery.

In the Roald Dahl book ‘Matilda’, the title character produces a rhyme to remember how to spell ‘difficulty’ (Mrs. D, Mrs. I, Mrs. FFI/Mrs. C, Mrs. U, Mrs. LTY). Other amusing ways to remember awkward spellings can be found for ‘necessary’ (never eat cake, eat salad sandwiches and remain young) and ‘diarrhoea’ (don’t ignore a rumble – run hard or else accident!).

Mnemonics certainly bring some accessibility and fun to the often dry subject of spelling, even though ‘mnemonic’ itself is not an easy word to remember how to spell!

A matter of course

Although Google and spellcheck tools can do a lot of the work for us, a good head for spelling and grammar certainly helps us as writers and minimises the amount of time we need to spend Googling or leafing through dictionaries. For all kinds of valuable tips on spelling and grammar, why not give our Freelance Writing for Business and Business Blogging for Beginners diploma courses a try?

Categories: Words and Language

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