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6 Impossible Words To Spell Correctly


Every now and then on this blog, we’ll step out of the world of books and into a world that makes the world of books possible. That would be the world of words. Words.

We’ve talked about annoying words and disgusting words and even pleasant words. And, of course, since this is an English-speaking blog, I focus on English words.

Today, let’s take a look at impossible-to-spell words. Or at least words that I find impossible to spell.

These aren’t words like pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis or even floccinaucinihilipilification (both actual words) that I couldn’t be expected to spell if you gave me 24 hours and one of those wild-eyed spelling bee kids, like this girl, as a tutor.

These are simple words, words that we’ve heard and written all our lives. But for some reason, these words are the bane of my spelling existence. I simply can’t put the letters in the right order.

Rhythm: I’ve never spelled this word correctly on the first attempt. Ever. I think there’s some symbolism here. I’m a white boy who can’t spell rhythm.

Occasion: Why two Cs and only one S? Why not one C and two Ss. That’s the way I prefer to spell it. On occasion, I get it right. But usually, spellcheck has to correct me.

Maintenance: The spelling of this word makes zero sense. So we “maintain” the long-term health of our car by performing “maintenance” on it? I always, always, always want to spell this word as “maintainance.”

Liaison: I’ve probably needed to write this word maybe three times in my life, but when the opportunity comes around, it’s a futile effort. I have never and, likely will never, spell “liaison” right, unless I’m looking at the correct spelling of the word when I type it. Like I just did.

Restaurant: Why do I always want to put an E in place of the “AU” in “restaurant?” What kind of English spelling dimwit am I? Have you seen my baseball?

Diarrhea: The silent H here is the killer. And we all know diarrhea is anything but silent. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’m getting a little loose with my sense of humor. Oh, no. It happened again.

Should spelling common words like these be so difficult? Am I an idiot who should be ashamed to hold an English degree?

Or am I not the only one? Are there any words that you have trouble spelling correctly?

(Image: elginwx/Flickr)

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74 Comments Post a comment
  1. Amy #

    I have to spell “liaison” a lot because I am on a committee with that name. I always think to myself “Lia is on”.

    April 27, 2012
    • Great tip!

      April 27, 2012
    • Mary Pauline #

      Yeah ! Thanks a bunch ! :D

      November 5, 2013
    • Mica #

      That makes total sense!

      March 26, 2014
  2. You know that word that starts with a “c” that refers to the little voice inside your head that helps you distinguish between good and bad? Yeah, I can never, ever spell that word and I refuse to use spell check for it right now.

    April 27, 2012
    • K #

      Conscience? When I have to write it down, I silently call it “con science”, like in “chili con carne”. That always helps.

      April 27, 2012
  3. For some reason, the word “surprise” always trips me up. I always forget that first “r.” I think it’s because when I pronounce it, I tend to drop the “r.” However, I’ve always defended my misspellings by claiming that my English degree conferred upon me the right to create and (re)define words. (It’s got to be useful for something!)

    April 27, 2012
  4. You should be grateful, diarrhea is so much worse for us Brits! We spell it “diarrhoea”, yes, it has got a whole silent “ho!” in it. Fortunately for me, a stint as a medical secretary trained me to spell the word correctly; there are a whole lot of people with diarrhoea.

    April 27, 2012
    • Wow. I had no idea you guys spelled that word differently. That spelling seems even more difficult.

      April 27, 2012
      • If you like there is an interesting list here on British vs. Canadian vs. American:

        and another cool website here:

        April 27, 2012
    • Thank goodness you typed that out. I love the English way of spelling, as opposed to the American way. I like to see words spelt the English way. Spelt means spelled. How it is spelt.

      November 22, 2013
  5. Leisure and caffeine often give me problems. (Think I got those right). Often the spelling rules for difficult words find their origin in the roots of the words, and since it’s been so long since a major overhaul of the English language, these origins remain with us, befogging our sense of spelling.

    April 27, 2012
  6. I know they’re both valid, but I’ve always preferred ‘diarrhoea’ to ‘diarrhea’. Maybe because I’m from the UK. Proper English, you know? Not this slang they speak in the States . . . :)

    April 27, 2012
  7. onejackdaw #

    Many medical terms. usually referring to nasty conditions, contain the rrh combination: catarrh, gonorrhea, hemorrhoid, hemorrhage, cirrhosis, also some non-medical terms like pyrrhic… these are of ancient greek origin and contain the greek letter “rho”. Correctly spelling these words used to make you stand out as a member of a learned profession :-)

    April 27, 2012
    • Learn something new every day. Thanks! Those “rho” words sounds as nasty as the medical issues they represent.

      April 27, 2012
  8. I’ve always been a good speller, but those are all challenging words! I still do a mental, exaggerated pronunciation (that’s another one that actually one that gets me sometimes – I want it to be “pronounciation”) when I write restaurant so that I remember to include the U.

    April 27, 2012
  9. Oh my, Robert! It seems you have the most erudite commenters in the blogosphere. I spell so many words incorrectly that I sit with my Kindle open to the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY so that I have half a chance at spelling something correct (or is it correctly?). See…some of us need third grade grammer also.

    April 27, 2012
  10. Diane #

    Definitely. I always have to think about it before I write it, however I always notice when other people spell it wrong.

    April 27, 2012
  11. I had a teacher spell “sepArate” on the board with a capital A. That visual has helped ever since.

    April 27, 2012
    • Hey, I like that. This word is definitely on my list.

      October 12, 2013
  12. Can’t wait to use those long words in a sentence. Very entertaining. Thanks!

    April 27, 2012
  13. Perfect list. I have problems with all of these words specifically, and more. I’ve accepted that the art lies in using the words well, not spelling them well. For that, I have my trusted sidekick, spell check, to ensure that my attempted “art” has a chance to be received seriously. Maybe one day, I will purposefully spell all these words and all the others I can’t seem to spell wrong in a poem and see if it can be viewed as art as well.

    Who determined the spelling of these words anyway? Probably someone who couldn’t spell, or maybe an artist…

    Great post. Made me feel less alone in the world.

    April 27, 2012
  14. I’m such a horrendous speller that I decided to learn Latin in hopes of understanding some of the weird little things about English spelling better. It worked, until I had to start learning German. I never want to put “I” before “E” and in German “E” comes before “I” about half the time. I’m so very messed up now. Oh, and though I’m from Ohio I always use British spellings. So, even when I spell things “right” I get accused of spelling them wrong. Again, I’m so very messed up.

    April 27, 2012
  15. The first word you mentioned (“the longest word in the dictionary”) is my daughter’s favorite word…and she knows how to spell it…and she’s 11. Wth? Haha!

    April 27, 2012
    • Wow. You need to have her in that spelling bee.

      April 29, 2012
  16. Ophthalmologist

    April 27, 2012
  17. I have exactly the same problem with spelling rhythm, liaison and diarrhoea. And look, I don’t even spell the last one the same as you even when spellchecker takes over. A UK v USA thing perhaps. In addition, I cannot spell penicillin. One l or two? An e instead of the first i? Argh! As I am allergic to it, I have to write more often than most. You think I’d have learned to do it properly but no, it continues to defeat me.
    Oh, and definitely. I want to use an a. Pathetic.

    April 27, 2012
    • NB: My incorrect “impossible to spell words” are in brackets, next to the correct one. Hope SC & I didn’t miss anything!

      Me too! I see different doctors/specialists regularly (regulally) & every time (everytime) I write that I’m allergic (alergic) to penicillin (penicilin/penicilen/penacillin etc) I stuff it up, so I cross it out & try again multiple times then use spell check on my phone. Considering (concidering) I’m allergic (alergic) to it, I really should be more careful that my writing is legible to avoid potentially life threatening consequences!

      February 9, 2013
  18. “Occasion” always trips me up, too! I’m so glad I’m not the only one.

    It’s one of those words that, to me, looks wrong no matter how you spell it. Including correctly.

    On a related note: My four-year-old is very into the new Electric Company show on PBS. It’s made me realize how completely insane and impossible the English language is. Silent E, hard/soft G, hard/soft C, “bossy R” (changes the sound of the vowel before it), when Y makes what sound. Seriously, we should all take a moment to be grateful (almost typed GREATful – ha!) that we can spell anything at all.

    April 27, 2012
  19. Unnecessary. There are actually a bunch more but I’ve totally blanked.

    April 27, 2012
  20. I screwed up “Tyrannical” at the last spelling bee I went to. I still haven’t forgotten.

    April 27, 2012
  21. yearningtoread #

    Ahahahaha this made me laugh so hard! I HATE these words most of the time because…well, for obvious reasons. Thanks for this post. And for your sense of humor. ;)

    April 27, 2012
  22. Being non-native english, I am a pretty messy speller… And grammar is even worse! but I got a secret tool :p

    April 27, 2012
    • I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to learn English as a non-native speaker. Well done!

      April 29, 2012
      • Thanks Robert. It is not the learning that is difficult, but the mastering of the language. I once remember Tim Ferris saying that the first 80% where the easiest part and take less than 1 year. If you want to reach anything above. You will be in for much work, with very small amounts of fruits for joy.

        April 30, 2012
  23. I have trouble with many of the same words, in addition to receive, recommend, address, embarrass, license and for some reason, weird. I hope I spelled them correctly here!

    April 27, 2012
    • License is absolutely the one that trips me up the most!

      April 29, 2012
  24. I always enjoy carefully pronouncing and spelling “exacerbate.”

    April 27, 2012
  25. One word I have noticed that trips almost everyone I know up is ‘accommodation’. Everybody struggles to remember if it’s the c or m that is doubled up, until I gently remind them (if I’m there, that is – I’m not a spelling ninja who appears from behind hiding spots to correct people’s spelling…though that could be fun) that both letters are doubled up. A lot of spelling mistakes are often verging on grammar too, like practise and practice, another common one I have come across.

    April 27, 2012
  26. I always have a rough time with mischievous. I think it’s because people say “miss-chee-vee-us” and so I always throw an extra i in there, after the v.

    April 28, 2012
    • That’s a good one. I can’t ever spell that one either.

      April 29, 2012
  27. Jem, as in a jewel. I misspelled it so frequently that I have officially had it changed. No more Gem, it shall forever be spelled “Jem”. Now that I think about it, spelling Jem with a “G” is really misguided.

    April 28, 2012
  28. turnerbethany #

    Definitely and unfortunately are two of the words that trip me up the most.

    April 30, 2012
  29. Robert, try “manoeuvre” the British spelling. Can’t get it right the first time too!

    April 30, 2012
  30. Connoisseur!

    May 1, 2012
    • tristen #

      love the word mane!!!

      July 5, 2013
  31. If you have trouble spelling rhythm, remember that Rhythm Helps You To Have Music – something I was taught in school.

    Personally I can never spell compotent, wouldn’t have been able to spell conoiseur if it weren’t right above me (I looked away to test myself, and that was the best I could do!) and just about anything foreign-sounding.

    May 5, 2012
  32. A side comment on spelling here at WordPress:

    I would say that at least 80% of the spelling errors introduced into my writing are created by the intrusive spelling correction function used by WP. What happens is I stumble over a word while typing (a typing error, not a spelling error) and then WP makes the correction so I don’t know anything bad happened, but the correction is not in any way the word I originally was typing. When I proofread I am amazed at the idiot substitutions WP makes (obviously the spelling correction has no idea of the context).

    Add this to the unnecessary and obtrusive auto-completion feature and I think we would be better off without these tools. Roger may think those words are difficult (they aren’t) but if you stumble over them, the WP correction may be even more egregious that the original attempt.

    May 5, 2012
  33. Kyrsta #

    You spelt the longest word incorrectly. It’s actually with a C, not a K.
    It’s an inflammation of the lungs caused by silica dust and other than remembering that there’s a P in front of the word it isn’t that hard to spell. Just break it up into words you probably already know like microscopic and volcano. The real issue is remembering it :)

    June 22, 2012
  34. Thanks

    December 17, 2012
  35. How about gonorrhea and pancreatitis? Fortunately, I have never had either one, but my son is a type 1 diabetic, so he had a bout of pancreatitis last spring.

    December 18, 2012
  36. Danny V #

    Wow. I have the same problems and for the same reasons! I’m a musician and still have trouble with “rhythm!” I learned to spell “restaurant” when I learned to pronounce it in Spanish.

    December 20, 2012
  37. Margaux #

    Funny story, when I was in highschool, I joined a spelling bee and I got more points in the hard round than in the first “easy” round because I couldn’t spell occasion. Occasion is really an annoying word. And so is “colonel”. Because you have to pronounce it like “kernel”, till this day I find colonel rude and disrespectful towards the word kernel. I think I’d rather prefer the word pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Excellent list.

    January 3, 2013
  38. Spelling vs. pronunciation. In elementary school, a test question asked: How many syllables does “vegetable” have? WELL! Of course it has four, right? :o)

    February 7, 2013
  39. Serenity #

    I have problems with defintly, convience, and a few others ones I can think of right now. I left them misspelled on purpose. But it is suppose to be definitely and convenience. Other than that I am generally a good speller.

    February 14, 2013
  40. Serenity #

    Reblogged this on Serenity's Musings and commented:
    Every now and then on this blog, we’ll step out of the world of books and into a world that makes the world of books possible. That would be the world of words. Words.

    We’ve talked about annoying words and disgusting words and even pleasant words. And, of course, since this is an English-speaking blog, I focus on English words.

    Today, let’s take a look at impossible-to-spell words. Or at least words that I find impossible to spell.

    February 14, 2013
  41. You’re certainly not alone.

    February 28, 2013
  42. My 5th grade teacher told us a story about a faraway land where creatures called Urants were over-worked beasts of burden. The people in the land took pity on them and started a campaign to secure vacations and time-off for the poor Urants. They marched to the capital holding signs that read “Rest A Urant.”

    Ta-da! I’ve never misspelled that word since hearing that story.

    March 5, 2013
  43. Till the third grade I used to spell the word ‘monsoon’ as ‘mansoon’ without being corrected even once by my tutors! It was only mother who finally told me I was making a blunder! Well the most unusual case was a former classmate of mine who wrote the letter ‘m’ like ‘n’ and letter ‘n’ like ‘r’ right up to the fifth grade!

    I’m not really sure what those spelling bee guys will achieve memorizing all those technical words (apart from a title and perhaps a scholarship).

    March 11, 2013
  44. YoJoe #

    the words ‘desiccate’ and ‘supersede’ always get me. I never have to write them, but they are the only words that have ever beaten me in a spelling bee. Especially supersede, because of the second ‘s’! It completely ignores the ‘c’ rule, and I hate it XD

    May 21, 2013
  45. Leena Gupta #

    man, that maintainence thing of yours is so much like me :p

    August 9, 2013
  46. My high school music teacher gave me a great tip for rhythm – she said just remember that it’s Red Hot You Two Headed Monster. I’ve never forgotten it since.

    August 19, 2013
  47. Needie #

    Another word I always spell wrong is “necessary”! I hate that word!

    August 21, 2013
    • I was hoping someone mentioned ‘necessary’. I always want to put two Cs. I have a little trouble with ‘occasion’, but it helps if I pronounce it out loud. “Necessary” is more difficult,

      October 12, 2013
  48. Business should really be spelled buisness, and I can never remember if it’s the ms or the rs that are double in tomorrow.

    October 18, 2013
  49. The following words get me every time when I write by hand: tomorrow, agreement, career, and vacuum. I don’t know why, but words with double letters just kill me. I’m so grateful for spell check its silly.

    October 24, 2013
    • Phoenix #

      I struggle with vacuum too, for some reason I always want to add an ‘n’ in there somewhere! I also get “lounge” wrong a lot – I try to spell it as “longue” :\

      April 10, 2014
  50. So glad I am not alone in this problem. Spellchecker constantly underlines at least five of those on a regular basis for me. And one of them is just a mental block, no matter how many times I look the word up!

    January 6, 2014
  51. Dont Know #

    Im just 9 and I know how to spell most of those words. I also learnt them when I was 7 or 8. Its just grammar which trips me up.

    March 10, 2014
  52. Phoenix #

    I used to struggle with “definitely”, and came up with the following mnemonic to help: “There are a FINITE number of ways to correctly spell deFINITEly”

    April 10, 2014
  53. Elise Berwick #

    Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving – tadaaaa!

    April 10, 2014
  54. Cat #

    Not helpful

    May 15, 2014

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