10 Words Often Misspelled in Business Correspondence

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Most word processing programs have a built-in spell checker, but business correspondence still goes out with misspelled words that a checker would have caught.

I’m not talking about words like bare and bear, which are both English words acceptable to an automatic spelling program, but words like definite and separate, which have no homophones, and typos like standarad for standard (one of my own recent embarrassments).

Writers need to keep two things in mind about spell checkers:
1. They cannot catch any misspellings if a writer doesn’t let the application run.
2. They cannot be entirely trusted to catch every spelling error.

For whatever reason–overconfidence or sloth–the same misspellings continue to appear in business emails, advertising copy, resumes, and on blog sites. The writer’s best defense is to take a good look at the most frequent misspellings and zero in on every letter in the word.

Mastering a few at a time is a better way to approach the task than scanning long lists.

Here are ten of the most frequent misspellings, their correct forms, and tips that may help you remember the differences.

Misspelled: seperate
Correct: separate
Tip: There’s a rat in sep-a-rate.

Misspelled: definate
Correct: definite
Tip: Take a close look at the final syllable: nite.

Misspelled: calender
Correct: calendar
Tip: You probably pronounce the last syllable as [er], so you have to think [ar] as you write it: cal-en-dar.

Misspelled: mispell
Correct: misspell
Tip: You know how to spell spell; add the prefix mis- to it: mis-spell.

Misspelled: privlege
Correct: privilege
Tip: You may pronounce this three-syllable word with only two syllables. Notice the second i: priv-i-lege. Another common misspelling is privilige. Note the e in the final syllable: priv-i-lege.

Misspelled: arguement
Correct: argument
Tip: The verb argue ends in e, but you must drop the e for ar-gu-ment.

Misspelled: concensus
Correct: consensus
Tip: The sensus in consensus has nothing to do with the word census. Our word census comes from Latin censare, “to rate, assess.” Consensus comes from Latin consensus, “agreement, accord, sympathy, common feeling.” Think SSS: Con-Sen-SuS.

Misspelled: pronounciation
Correct: pronunciation
Tip: There’s no “ounce” in pronunciation, but there is a “nun.” The verb is pronounce; the noun is pro-nun-ci-a-tion.

Misspelled: accomodate
Correct: accommodate
Tip: Two sets of double letters, cc and mm: accommodate

Misspelled: dependant
Correct: dependent
Tip: People who misspell this one may be thinking of defendant, which does end in –ant (although the –ant in defendant is also pronounced [ent].) Note the final syllable in dependent: de-pen-dENT.

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14 thoughts on “10 Words Often Misspelled in Business Correspondence”

  1. My own mnemonic for accommodate is: ‘Accommodate one more m in the word’. ‘Don’t be embarrassed, by missing out the double r and double s in the word.’ And, ‘harass has an ass’!

  2. And I am sorry! The tenth word, ‘dependant’ is not necessarily misspelt/wrong. It is a different noun. “A person who relies on another person for support (especially financial support)” is the definition by WordWeb dictionary.

  3. Regarding number 10, in British English (or in Australia), dependent is the adjective whereas dependant is a noun. A dependant is someone who depends on someone else, like young children or a non-working spouse. In American English, both adjective and noun are spelled the same.

  4. Regarding number 2, I often see definitely spelled ‘defiantly’. As this is a valid word in its own right, it is not picked up by spell checkers.

  5. “Accommodate” reminded me of one I have problems with: recommend. I tend to double the c, because the words are similar.

  6. I have another tip for picking up those misspellings and even missing words. Since our brains compensate for errors and ommissions when we are reading forward (the normal way), reading backwards when proofreading is a great way to spot the mistakes. In other words, read the last word first, the second to the last word next, etc. Try it and see!

  7. VERY well-taken. I don’t think the “rat” in separate really helps though, does it? It seems that the mistake there tends to happen with an errant E for the first A, sepErate, rather than the second– separEte. I don’t think I’ve ever seen separete.

    For me, double letters are the most vexing: omission vs ommission, occurrence vs occurence, and pairs like refer/reference/referring, infer/inference/inferring, where the consonant gets doubled sometimes and sometimes not for the suffix. I remember defandant because in court it is commonly pronounced “defenDANT” with a pronounced emphasis on the last syllable, and definite by likening to the word *finite*. I think for me the problem is not so much that if I stop and think, I know the proper form, but that the “wrong” spelling in these cases doesn’t look wrong to me right off, so I don’t stop and think about it. Being me, of course, I am obligated to point out that many spelling errors occur due to pronUnciation errors– like that one. Many words are spelled pretty phonetically when they are simply SAID properly: goverNment, goveRnor, arCtic, diPH(F not P)thong, chipoT-LEE (LAY), electorAL, nuCLEar, real-TOR, eT cetera.

  8. Venqax,
    My tip for separate works if it’s formatted they way I want it. The mnemonic is “There’s A RAT in sep-A-RATe.”

  9. @Hariki: ozimarco is correct. In American English there are no dependants, only dependents who are, by definition, dependent. And this site is primarily focused on American English as opposed to British and Commonwealth forms, which seem to delight in superfluous letters and multiple forms for some reason. 😉

  10. The word “acknowledgement” is a spelling from some parts of the British Commonwealth, just as “judgement” is.**

    One of my favorite writers of science fiction was a man from Northern Ireland named James White, and one of his novels he named ALL JUDGEMENT FLED.

    Mr, White died of a stroke several years ago, but a few years before that, he had been awarded a medal for surviving for 50 YEARS on on shots of insulin, That is an extraordinarily long time to survive on insulin because diabetes is such a difficiult disease to manage.

    **My guess is that they probably spell “acknowledgment” in Canada and maybe the Bahamas they same way that we do in the U.S.A.

  11. Hi There!
    I m a regular reader of your subscription, which i get in emails 🙂 i m very happy that i’ve improved a lot..

    I m not confidant in spellings, means i do a lots of mistakes, how can refrain from this? I m also not gud at pronunciation. Any tips?

    Thanks and best regards,
    Pawan ji

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