A Lesson in Spelling “Definite”

By Maeve Maddox

Next to the possessive adjective its, the word definite is possibly the most misspelled word in English. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve circled the misspelling “definate” in a student’s paper, I’d have enough money to buy a house.

Perhaps one way to impress the correct spelling of definite on the mind would be to consider the family of words to which it belongs.

finite: having bounds, ends, or limits

infinite: having no limit or end

infinity: the quality or attribute of being infinite or having no limit

define: to settle the limits of

And, of course, there’s

definite: Having fixed or exact limits

Look at all the “i” words in these definitions; Something that is infinite has no limits. Something that is finite has limits. To define is to limit. Something that is definite is limited.

There! Go forth and spell definite with two is.

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15 Responses to “A Lesson in Spelling “Definite””

  • Katie

    This is one of those words I just can’t seem to get right first time, despite the fact that I know perfectly well how to spell it. I annoy myself whenever I do this because I know as I type or write the word that I’m spelling it wrong but I continue to do so and have to fix it afterwards.

    I have no idea why this is.

  • Frank Elliott

    Katie, I understand. Every time I use the word I have to stop and think about the correct spelling.

    Mauve, thanks for the mnemonic device to keep weak-brained scribblers like us on the path. I know of many for other troublesome words, but never been able to come up with one for “definite.”

  • Frank Elliott

    Sorry for the typo, MaEve.

    How about adding a timed “edit your comments” function to the site?

  • Cat Woods

    I see this all the time on blog posts and comments. I guess I’ve never thought about it being hard to spell.

    I guess I’ve been too busy concentrating on my other problem words…

  • Daeng Bo

    Add “rediculous” (Ack!) to your list.

  • PreciseEdit

    “Definite” is on the list I created of my most commonly misspelled words, a notepad document that resides on my desktop.

  • Erik

    Add “they’re” instead of “their” and “you’re” instead of “your” as well 😉

  • Joanne Smith

    The words that I have the most trouble with are separate, desperate, and separate. Got any hints for remembering these? joanne

  • naomi hamm

    I feel that this article is so true. I also have problems with spelling other words, i. e. friend
    allocate, as well as nuerous others.

    What is it about some words that make spelling a chore? and other words a love of which you can be proud of?

    I guess if I had the answer to that one I could a billion dollar award!

    Do any of you agree with me on that? I’d love to hear from any of you out there in cyber air.

  • Moo Kahn

    If I were teaching any class that required writing in English, on the very first day I would tell students that anything they handed in with “your” when they meant “you’re” or “there” when they meant “their” or “they’re” would receive an automatic ZERO. Second occurrence would fail the class for the semester.

  • grog

    Wow, Moo, you sure would be a popular teacher. And long lasting. Next you should teach a class on intolerance.

  • naomi hamm

    Dear Grog,

    hi there! oh man that is but a real good one. Okay though. here’s the thing. A teacher whom lets their pupils get away with monkey business knows what those kids will turn out to be : a mentality just like a monkey. Uh while that may be good as monkeys are all good and nice, teachers should want the best of the best for their students, otherwise they will come out not knowing how read, write and learn as well. Just the way I came out bad at math!

    While you may know yes, the level of interolence should never be there that much, a teacher may be mad that, say this kid is in junior high and or sr high and has not yet learned that or I should say was taught that: I feel the teacher may be angry that another teacher a long time ago in that kids developement never taught him/her that.

    But I yes, did think that person has an ungrounded anger and attitude and no parent wants or expects that from any teacher.

    Home schooling, folks, works though. No more ruthless Governemnt squandering tax payers money on a lot of those teachers who abuse the kids, even when it comes down to sexaul molestation. The statisitics are way too high. As well as the kids coming out of school not knowing how to read or write, the constant bullying and now: the principels snooping into the kids interenet. Morbidily illegal if you ask me. so are the lawyers and judges who seek to ignore it all they way they always do: and then hide it under classified. It’s not classified. The media has ways and means to get ahold of these hide/and lie cases.

    But Grog that is real funny what you commented. thanks for the share! Great day to all!

  • Justin

    It seems to me that at least some of these errors might be closely related to differences or divergences between written and spoken English. If you happen to speak with an accent that shifts the ending “nit” towards “nat” then, even if you know full well the proper spelling, it would be easy to get your mental wires crossed when writing. I know that when I write, especially when my concentration is elsewhere, I speak the worse mentally.

  • Moomrik

    Justin: “[…]it would be easy to get your mental wires crossed when writing”?!

    Really? Actually, the crossing of your “mental wires” would be impossible, as these are completely different parts of the brain responsible for the process of speaking and that of writing. (If they did, God forbid, cross, you’d end up completely screwed… literally and otherwise.) The fact that one of them is not disciplined enough (underdeveloped might sound too harsh, huh?) has nothing to do with the accent you have or any of those multiple excuses for plain illiteracy that seem to have gained popularity among the so-called “writers”.

  • Jade

    I can not spell “definitely” right and when I try to remember I always forget 😛 I guess it’s like one of those cursed words!

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