Bloggers’ Top 10 Annoying Spelling Errors: Spellcheck Won’t Save You

You may be uneducated – but you needn’t advertise the fact.

Of course, we all understand typos – though the sight of them uncorrected on a blogpost suggests serious amateurism.

But what’s worse is a spelling error that is more than a spelling error – that belies a failure to understand the difference between two very different words. If you think you ever watched a Western movie that involved sending in the calvary, you are not only mistaken, you are flaunting your ignorance.

Spell-check will not help you here; these are words that have two very different meanings. If all you do is rely on spellcheckers, then all you’ll get is correctly-spelled indications that scream out loud you don’t know what you’re talking about.

You may not have graduated college – but why advertise the fact? And if you did – why make it look like you weren’t paying attention?

Study this list of examples I’ve encountered over the years – my Top Ten Most Annoying Spelling Mistakes. (Non-native English speakers get five free passes).

  1. Cavalry vs. Calvary. A cavalry is a group of horse-mounted soldiers. Calvary is the name of the hill on which Jesus was crucified. The only cavalry at Calvary that day was Roman.    
  2. Compliment vs. Complement. To compliment someone is to say something nice about them; a complement is something that goes well with something else. Being complimentary is a nice complement to a set of good manners.
  1. i.e. and e.g.  i.e. is short for the Latin “id est,” or “that is.” e.g. is short for the Latin “exempli gratia,” or “for example.”   “I’m from Missouri, i.e. show me,  e.g. by citing a few cases.”
  1. Memento and Momento. A memento is a piece of memorabilia. A momento is Spanish or Italian for the English word “moment.” Un momento, por favor, I just want to grab a memento of my last day in Madrid. 
  1. Chord and Cord. A chord is a harmonious set of intervals played at one moment; an idiomatic use is “struck a chord,” meaning ‘resonated with.’  A cord is a length of rope or string.  To make it more musically confusing, we all have vocal ‘cords’ – not chords.  That movie struck a chord with me, especially when the lead character yanked on the cord and proceeded to exercise his vocal cords at full strength. 
  1. Effect vs. Affect. Effect, the noun, is a result – to effect, as a verb, is to bring something about. To affect, the verb, is to influence something – affect, the noun, is a demeanor.  The effect of his affect was to change everything; he affected world politics, and thereby effected world change.  
  1. Pare and Pear and Pair. To pare is to strip something down to its essentials. A pear is a fruit you eat. To pair is to match up with another.  Would you please pare down that pear? I want to pair it with another pear that is already pared down considerably. 
  1. It’s and Its. “It’s” is a contraction for “It is.” Its is the possessive form of “it.”  It’s about time that cartoon rabbit got its own TV show. 
  1. Sight vs. Site. Sight is the ability to see, one of the five senses. Site is a location. He chose the new factory site on paper alone, sight unseen. 
  1. Reader’s Choice. What’s your nomination for number 10 on the list of most cringe-worthy spelling mistakes?  I’ll print all good answers, and the best three get a free copy of one of my books.







44 replies
  1. ME Biery
    ME Biery says:

    Yours were great. #1 and #4 were a few I’d never seen on these types of lists, so I was thankful you included them. Here are a few of the ones I see often:

    Lose vs. loose. I see the adjective often mistakenly used for the verb, as in “You win one, you loose one.” No, if you confuse these two words, we all lose.

    Continually vs. continuously. Continually means over and over again, as in, “She checked her grammar continually.” Continuously means unbroken or without interruption, as in “He loved her continuously.”

    • Charlie Green
      Charlie Green says:

      Ooh, good ones ME, thank you.

      I had not heard that very clean distinction between Continually and Continuously; it highlights how one refers to a series of discrete events, and another is about an unbroken state of affairs.

      Which now that I think of it, reminds of another common error – discrete vs. discreet. Discrete refers to distinct parts; discreet means being careful, as in, “If I were you, I’d keep pretty discreet about that book – unless you release it in small, discrete chapters.”

  2. Sandy Styer
    Sandy Styer says:

    For me there are a couple, and I win some and lose some:

    Misplaced apostrophes in plural words: “Live Bait and Sandwich’s For Sale”. The other one I’ve lost on,and even the experts now allow it: hopefully. I still cringe at “Hopefully it won’t rain tomorrow.” Really? Is “it” – presumably the weather – full of hope? But again, this is one I’ve lost. Hopefully, I’ll get used to this over time. And hopefully the live bait is not in the same container as the sandwich’s.

    • David Heath
      David Heath says:

      Actually, your “Live Bait and Sandwich’s For Sale” is strictly correct ~grin~

      In that specific instance, the apostrophe is there to represent missing letters…

      ~ducking and running~

      And in the same vein (vain?) as your ‘hopefully’ we also have “I’m going to try and get .” What is it? Are you going to ‘try’ or are you actually going to get it? perhaps the speaker should have offered “try *to* get…”

      Any while we’re at it… “I should of tried harder.” How is it that when should have was contracted to should’ve, it was re-expanded to should of???

  3. Gail Bower
    Gail Bower says:

    Great post!

    Here’s my nails-on-a-chalkboard mistake: “comprised of.” The word “comprise” means “consist of,” so the incorrect “comprised of” is like saying “consisted of of.”

  4. David Heath
    David Heath says:

    actually, your #8 has always irritated me… but not how you would expect. The second form *ought* to have an apostrophe. Just about every other possessive does – this is just about the only exception.

    My contributions:

    their vs. they’re vs there

    … take a look here:

    your vs you’re

    As well as being an Instructional Designer, I also have to deliver my courses, mainly to other trainers.

    In that situation, I actually (quite deliberately) play with language when I’m delivering the training. It’s a great way to force the students’ minds to execute a sudden “what th…’ ”

    I’ll sometimes use a word that is structurally correct, but not the norm. For instance, the past tense of teach is taught; however the past tense of reach and preach is neither raught nor praught!!

    Another favourite is humble… one might have humility, but one is never humile.


  5. David Heath
    David Heath says:

    You have me on a roll (role?) here!

    What about can vs. may? Children struggle with it (I recall my parents forever correcting me on it!), but perhaps the number of correcting parents has dropped as we have far too many young adults unable to distinguish the two.

    Of interest too is the way the discussion has drifted away from your initial theme of written language to spoken. Homonyms abound in the spoken domain and it’s quite amusing to see them appear in writing.

  6. David Heath
    David Heath says:

    Oh… and the one that literally makes my blood boil…

    A request from someone, “would you please revert to me at your earliest opportunity…”

    I am NOT going to “revert” to you… I might “respond,” I might even “get back to you” I may perhaps “reply,” but I refuse to “revert.”

    (yes, the other incorrect usage in the text above was deliberate)

    • Des Walsh
      Des Walsh says:

      Except when you are doing business with Indian companies, David. “Revert” in that sense is perfectly acceptable usage with perfectly well educated Indians, in my experience.

      Took me a while to get used to it, and “I will revert” is more economical of letters than “I will get back to you on that”, for example.

  7. Dave
    Dave says:

    It was good of you to brooch this subject, Charles.

    I appreciate your council and will insure I follow your advise. This entire list has my ascent. I will practice and look forward to your next update with baited breath.


  8. Bruce MacILROY
    Bruce MacILROY says:

    An excellent post! I have noticed that not many folks have two essential items on their desk/credenza in this spell checking age. One is an actual bound dictionary, and the second is a thesaurus. I enjoyed the day I responded to a recent graduate’s question, “what’s a thesaurus”, with “look it up.” I would suggest a third publication I now keep along side the first two, “The Wrong Word Dictionary” by Dave Dowling (Castle Books). You can find it on Amazon. Oh, and my favorite misuse of all time was effluent and affluent, and I will leave the rest to your imagination.

  9. Thomas Swoyer
    Thomas Swoyer says:

    This was a great post, I see these errors frequently and find it very distracting. I offer two more:

    their vs there vs they’re, and

    ensure vs insure

    I look forward to reading more of these grammatical faux pas. Thanks for the entertaining post.

  10. Greg Acton
    Greg Acton says:

    Ensure (to make certain); insure (a financial instrument to spread risk, or the verb of implementing that instrument)

  11. Bob Whipple
    Bob Whipple says:

    Hi Charlie. I ran into an example of an error just this morning. A student wrote “peruse” when she really meant “pursue.”

    Another favorite one for me is when someone writes “People need to be lead well” I point out that “lead” is either 1) the present tense of the verb to lead, or 2) a type of heavy metal, or 3) the graphite stick used in a pencil.

    Many students confuse there with their. It is disappointing to read, “Two family members showed up in there bathing suits.”

    By far the most common writing problem I encounter is noun/pronoun agreement. It occurs most often with a singular antecedent noun followed by plural pronouns. For example, “Someone forgot their lunch.” Most students do not recognize that someone, anyone, or even everyone are all singular nouns. Everyone sounds plural, but it refers to each person individually, so it is singular. I will see sentences like, “Everyone was at their work station by noon.” It should be “All the students were at their work stations by noon.” Alternatively one could write “Everyone was at his or her work station by noon.” Less frequently I see the reverse situation where a plural antecedent noun is followed by a singular pronoun. An example of that one is, “All of the children were taking his or her nap.” People usually catch that one because it sounds so cumbersome.

    Another pet peeve of mine is when people say or write the word “preventative” (my spell checker did not even flag the word as improper here). I believe the proper word is “preventive.” It’s the same thing with “irregardless” versus “regardless.” Sometimes I say irregardless very carefully and with much emphasis on the “irr” part just to annoy my wife.

    • David Heath
      David Heath says:

      ah yea, plural mismatch… although I’m not convinced your specific example is wrong. What would you replace ‘their’ with? ‘His?” “Her?” In my experience (I may be wrong) ‘their’ is available for use as a non-gender-specific abstract reference to a person.

      The other big peeve is the difference between countable and uncountable ranges (and related topics).

      The one that has me yelling at the page is “between ten to twenty people have…” It’s either from x TO y” or it’s between x AND y.”

      Similarly we confuse ‘amount’ and ‘number’ – we can have an amount of sand (because it is uncountably finite) but a number of people (because we can reasonably expect to count them).

      • David Heath
        David Heath says:

        yes, I know… I’m replying to myself. But I realised later that I’d missed the biggest aspect of plural mismatch. Portmanteau terms.

        When an accumulation of individual items (people?) is given a new noun, that noun is SINGULAR!!

        For instance, “My team IS going to win” not “my team ARE going to win.”

        That’s probably a little too simplistic, let’s try these (both are correct); Google IS going to release a new product to conquer the world,” and “members of Google’s world-leading development team ARE to receive a raise in pay.”

        (that’s grammatically correct, not necessarily truthfully correct!)

        • Charles H. Green
          Charles H. Green says:

          David, true true, but maybe one of our English friends can help us out.

          Am I correct that it’s considered proper received English to say, “Arsenal are in the lead at this point,” which would appear to contradict the singular/plural noun-verb agreement rule that David articulates here?

          • David Heath
            David Heath says:

            I have no idea, however, I have long been of the opinion that the evolution of any language is at the whim of teenagers, marketers and stupid people.

            We smart people tend to understand how the language is used now and don’t (much) want to change. The ‘stupid’ amongst us care not a whit for the status quo and will slur, bend and distort the language as they see fit.

  12. David Heath
    David Heath says:

    A couple more…

    Firstly, why do we have to assign a direction to everything? For instance (and this is but a simplistic example), “I’m going to clean up the house.” Would you clean it down? Look at the newspapers, listen to people on TV, they litter their words with unnecessary directions all the time.

    And why does an executive sign off on a contract? “off on” ????? Neither word is required.

    And finally, whatever happened to making a decision? These days our political leaders seem intent on taking a decision. From where? It seems as though they have some minion carrying around a bucket of potential decisions from which they can draw one (seemingly) at random.

    And to keep you all amused (if you’re not already!)… I don’t recall where I saw it (maybe on a TV show), but Washington DC was once described as “a combination of northern charm and southern efficiency.”

  13. Des Walsh
    Des Walsh says:

    “Here” and “hear”.

    I’ve seen “hear” used for a location reference.

    The one that gets my goat (not, as some say, “gets on my goat”) is when someone is applauding and using the parliamentary form of agreement, “Here, here!” To which my response is “Yes, I know you are there, but what are you trying to tell us?”

  14. NJ. Dawood.
    NJ. Dawood. says:

    Interesting post, and in a relevant blog. Seemingly illiterate writing is unlikely to imbue written material with credibility – the reader being unlikely to trust it.

    We can all tend to make such mistakes. As someone who writes and reads a great deal, I am made constantly aware of the seemingly never-ending need for writers to audit and correct their writing for general failings – including such as, for example, bad grammar, incorrect spelling, poor use of English, and malapropism – whether it is one’s own writing or that of other writers. Except that it’s often the case that it is other writers who seem to need to do this, but are presumably unaware of that need.
    That’s probably the key, really – awareness – of one’s capacity for unwittingly making mistakes.

    For years I have saved myself and my readers from the potential pain of my mistakes in this area by making reference to:
    (a) “The Complete Plain Words”, by Sir Ernest Gowers,
    (b) A computerised Concise Oxford Dictionary (10th Ed.).

  15. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    Agreed, but in this case I fear it may be us Yanks who are the ignorant teenagers, and the BBC types may have the upper hand on us.
    A real Brit, please way in? I mean, weigh in…

  16. Tim
    Tim says:

    Another good example is lead versus lede. Lead means to guide or to direct. Lede, a noun, is the introductory sentence of an article.

  17. P.M.Lawrence
    P.M.Lawrence says:

    Curiously enough, “Live Bait and Sandwich’s For Sale” is actually technically correct, for a rather abstruse reason: the apostrophe indicates elision, where one or more letters have been dropped for convenience (and often to match their sound being dropped from the spoken version). In “it’s” a space and then an “i” have been dropped, in “don’t” an “o” has been dropped (though nothing indicates the elision of the space on its own) – and, in singular genitives, there is a forgotten “e” dropped from an older English that formed them like German by adding “-es” (you can still see this in some old place names and in certain words like “Wednesday”). Plural genitives have simply simplified older plural genitives by using the singular and adopting a convention to indicate that by moving the apostrophe, but that’s another story.

    What all that means is that words in which the plural is formed by adding “-es”, like “potatoes” or “tomatoes” – or “Live Bait and Sandwiches For Sale” – you can, technically, drop the “e” as long as you indicate its place with an apostrophe, as in “Live Bait and Sandwich’s For Sale”. The only reason not to do that is the same as the one for not forming your own compound words: in English, unlike German, new words made that way are unexpected and can cause confusion, and the same applies to rolling your own elisions. In any case, “Live Bait and Sandwichs For Sale” is definitely wrong – particularly since the “e” sound has not been dropped in this case – so if you thought the apostrophe there was merely superfluous, you were mistaken.


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