Words Often Misspelled Because of Double Letters

By Maeve Maddox

An email in which balloon was spelled “baloon” got me thinking about words with double letters.

Many of the most frequently-misspelled words in English are misspelled by leaving out a letter.

Others are misspelled because we think a letter should be doubled, so we put in an extra one.

I thought it might be useful to organize these frequently-misspelled words into three categories.

Words we try to spell with too few letters
balloon
dumbbell
embarrass
millennium
misspell
occurrence
possession
broccoli
occasionally
questionnaire
coolly
dissipate
difference
generally
incidentally
magically
success

Words that have double letters, but not as many as we think
deterrence
harass
personnel
recommend
referred
disappear
disappoint
finally
fulfill
necessary
occasion
occurred
parallel
sheriff
tomorrow

Words that don’t have double letters, but we want to add them
preferable
procedure
coliseum
labeled

NOTE:
i. There’s also the spelling colosseum with a double s.
ii. British usage doubles the l in labelled.

Caveat to writers of British English: Most word-processing software comes with spell-checkers programmed for American spelling usage.

Another NOTE: Merriam-Webster gives programmed as the first spelling and programed as an alternate. Go figure.

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22 Responses to “Words Often Misspelled Because of Double Letters”

  • C D Winkler

    Another word we try to spell with too few letters:

    accommodate

    Love your site! It appeals to the stickler in me!

  • Greg May

    My favorite: bookkeeper. I don’t know if this is true, but I once read that it is the only word in the English language with three consecutive sets of double letters.

  • Keira

    I heard that too Greg May.

    How about Jewellery -X- Jewelery and Travelled -X- Traveled for more words we want to add extra letters too.

  • Mot

    Common misspellings – a topic after my own heart. 🙂
    Having been taught British English in school (in the Netherlands, before the internet), my main struggle to spell words correctly comes from being confronted with American/international English more than British.

    For ‘to marvel’ goes the same as for ‘to label’ — British: marvelled, marvellous / American: marveled, marvelous.
    On a side-note: in British English, the word ‘fulfill’ doesn’t have any double letters at all and is spelled ‘fulfil’.

  • Brett Peace

    Thanks for the easy-to-follow format of this post! The word I see often misspelled is APOLOGIZE. People, only one “P”!

  • Maeve

    Greg,
    According to the experts at AskOxford, bookkeeper
    “is not the only word of this kind, but it is the only one in which omission of the medial hyphen is a practical option, which it is not in, for example, hoof-footed or sweet-toothed.”

  • Erik

    Don’t misspell misspell. 🙂

  • tmg

    How about travelling? I think there is a difference between the American and British spelling?
    I like the look of the double l.

  • David R. Slayton

    Assassin. I always screw this one up. Four s’s just seems too many.

  • Rod

    Great post, what about travelling that double L is British usage I presume so

  • Peter

    my main struggle to spell words correctly comes from being confronted with American/international English more than British.

    It seems funny to call it “American/international English”, given that of all the countries that have “an” English (i.e., not just those in which English is the primary language; I mean places like India, Malaysia, etc.), and all English-native countries except the US, and most everywhere it’s taught, except Japan, British English is the norm.

  • Mot

    @Peter — Ah, I suppose you’re right. It often seems American is ‘the international flavour’ of English, though.

    An Australian writer friend of mine recently told me she had to ask her Australian friends to have a critical look at her stories in regard to idioms that may be American in origin. She blames American television series.
    — Of course, this example is not so much about spelling. Still, it made me think…

  • Andy Knoedler

    Then there’s desiccate, which is often misspelt/misspelled.

    And broccoli that always gives me fits when I make a shopping list (yes, I could stop eating it, I suppose).

    Here there are several words already discussed in this forum: http://www.askoxford.com/betterwriting/spelling/?view=uk

    Finally, instalment (UK) is one word that has a single letter where the US version has two.

  • Daniel J.

    Nisus, a word processing programme for Mac, does include a lot of languages, including British, Australian and U.S. English. I love it!

  • Robyn Broyles

    Don’t forget “vacuum,” which I often see spelled “vaccuum” or even “vaccum.” I never understood why the “uu” spelling was hard to remember, as this is the only common word with double u’s (as opposed to double-u, w).

  • Redgie A. Bautista

    Another word is “queue/que-ue”.

    Having them (words) change in the spelling mostly comes when using it on a sentence like turning it into a past-tense.

  • gay

    is this subscription free ?

  • umber

    “How about travelling? I think there is a difference between the American and British spelling?”

    Yes. The American rule is that you double the l on words that are stressed on the last syllable– control/controlling, patrol/patrolling; and you do not double the l if the stress is on the first syllable– level/leveling, travel/traveling, model/modeling.

  • Chuck

    Can you sight some factors that lead people in misspelling words?

  • brooke

    I found this when I was looking for a list of doubled consonant words for my son who is dyslexic.

    A primary factor in misspelling, Chuck, is a lack of visual memory.

    I was always an excellent speller and couldn’t understand why anyone would not be. Then I had my second son, and no matter what we did, he absolutely could not spell. After much heartache and finally testing, we discovered he was dyslexic. In my reading, I have found that dyslexics have little to no visual memory. If I were asked to visualize any word, I could do it. It is only the words that I cannot visualize which I spell incorrectly. My son (and other dyslexics) rely almost entirely on known spelling rules rather than their visual memory. And the typical array of spelling rules given in schools is short and completely inadequate. Now that we are using a program designed for dyslexics, his spelling has improved. It will always be difficult, but it will be better.

    I have found, also, that my compassion for poor spellers has increased to the point where I have reached what I thought impossible – believing that English language spelling makes very little sense and feeling despair for those who have little visual memory. I have learned so much about how it is designed, but am truly shocked at how difficult it is. We learn German in the home and the spelling is incredibly predictable. Not so with English.

  • venqax

    @Chuck

    Can you sight some factors that lead people in misspelling words?

    One of the most common is people simply confusing one word for another. Like wirting “sight” or “site” when they mean “cite”, four eggs ample.

  • venqax

    As opposed to writing wirting for writing. Interestingly, the last is a genuine typo— meaning a mistake that is an artefact of typing on a keyboard– as opposed to a *normal* misspelling. One would never write *by hand* sace when he meant save, lon grun for long run, or hte for the. That’s technology’s contribution– making brand new mistakes possible (only with the aid of a computer keyboard would you misspell THE for god’s sake!).

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