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20 most commonly misspelt words in English

Dictionary focussed on 'separate'Based on recent research into the most commonly misspelt words in the English language, Kieran McGovern considers why some words are just difficult to spell correctly.

Which words do you think are most commonly misspelt in English? Write down five words you expect to be on the list at the end of this post.

What makes some English words difficult to spell? One source of difficulty is inconsistent pronunciation; many sound out ‘definately’ when they mean definitely (2). And comparatively few outside the Royal Shakespeare Company clearly enunciate separate (1) – more typically the ‘A’ becomes an ‘E’. This problem is most glaring when (many) young people transcribe ‘could have’ as ‘could of’ or a lot (14) as ‘alot’.

In some cases it is an unexpected combination of letters containing few phonetic clues – bureaucracy (11) and manoeuvre (3) are examples here. In both these cases the spelling pattern is literally foreign; French, to be precise. Until comparatively recently a basic knowledge of French was assumed of every ‘educated’ English reader but most now would recognise the word entrepreneur (16) from business rather than the language from which it originates. The same applies to those other providers of hidden spelling rules: Latin and Greek.

An understandable uncertainty as to when ‘C’ rather than ‘S’ applies lies behind consensus (6) supersede (12) conscience (19) and unnecessary (7). There’s a similar confusion over what creates the ‘CK’ sound in liquefy (18), added to the confusion of an ‘E’ in place of the usual ‘I’.

By far the most difficult hurdle for any speller, however, is the dreaded ‘double letter’ dilemma. Two ‘N’s or one? Does two ‘C’s look right? Unnecessary causes double-trouble here to add to its ‘C’ or ‘S’ issues.

Spell-check/Spellcheck (?) will help, of course, which is why many young people delegate the job entirely to that marvellous (two ‘L’s in British English) programme (one ‘M’ and drop the ‘E’ in the US or amongst techies).

Sadly, technology has not yet produced a spell-checking pen for that handwritten application form.

1. Separate 2. Definitely 3. Manoeuvre 4. Embarrass 5. Occurrence 6. Consensus 7. Unnecessary 8. Acceptable 9. Broccoli 10. Referred 11. Bureaucracy 12. Supersede 13. Questionnaire 14. Connoisseur 15. A lot 16. Entrepreneur 17. Particularly 18. Liquefy 19. Conscience 20. Parallel

Source: poll from OnePoll quoted in Daily Telegraph 06 August 2010

Which words do you or your students have most trouble spelling?

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Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Classroom

Pencil writing on paper - why?In our next installment of articles about English for Academic Purposes, Ann Snow, a series consultant for Q Skills for Success, explores the levels of critical thinking in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive objectives has been around for a long time. Since 1956, it has served as a guide for teachers to think about how they can design lessons that will help their students to think critically. Basically, the taxonomy designed by Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues provides a way to describe levels of thinking. The taxonomy is essentially a hierarchy, with knowledge as the first level and evaluation as the sixth level. I’ve listed the six levels below and included an example of each in parentheses.

  • Knowledge – recalling information (e.g. answering comprehension questions from a reading)
  • Comprehension – interpreting information (e.g. discussing why a character behaved in a particular way)
  • Application – using knowledge gained to solve problems (e.g. applying information from one situation to a different situation in a debate activity)
  • Analysis – breaking down concepts or ideas to understand the relationship of the parts to the whole (e.g. analyzing prefixes to see how word meanings change)
  • Synthesis – putting together something original from learned information (e.g. writing an essay; making an oral presentation)
  • Evaluation – judging something against specific criteria (e.g. peer editing using a checklist or rubric)

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What makes a family business successful?

Antique cashier till on shop counterAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Wayne Rivers, President of the Family Business Institute, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

As the co-founder and President of the Family Business Institute, I have written extensively on what makes family businesses successful.

For first generation family businesses, I believe the primary ingredients for success are a focused vision and finding a viable economic niche.

The typical founder of a family business understands the technical skills of his or her industry. These ambitious individuals take their technical experience, say “I can do this better,” and, with a great burst of energy and courage, start their own enterprises.

First generation entrepreneurs are strong personalities, optimistic in outlook, and – even though faced with crisis after crisis – are never deterred in the pursuit of their visions.

But what about the sons and daughters, wives or husbands, who take the business forward? Transitioning and subsequent generation family business leaders require more and varied skills to be successful.

They must develop their capabilities in communication, business finance and planning, and leadership development and training.  Starting a successful family business is one of the most difficult things a person can do.  Keeping that business successful over the generations is even more challenging.

In the US, family businesses account for over half of employment and almost two-thirds of gross domestic product.  Family business, in short, is BIG BUSINESS.  The same is true the world over.

The people who achieve successful family businesses combine these different skill sets and invest plenty of hard work, determination, thrift, and perseverance.


Wayne Rivers is the President of The Family Business Institute, Inc.  FBI’s mission is to deliver interpersonal, operational and financial solutions to help family and closely-held businesses achieve breakthrough success.

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What was the question?

Female doctor with patient in backgroundIn this article and video, Sam McCarter, author of Medicine 1 and 2, considers the importance of clinical communication skills.

When doctors or nurses are non-native speakers of English, which basic skills do they need for effective communication with their English-speaking patients?

A basic skill for medical personnel, which is often not completely mastered, is asking questions.

A skilful doctor can balance closed questions (‘Does the pain spread anywhere else?’) with open questions (‘Can you tell me a little more about the pain?’) and then cope with a large amount of information in the answer. A doctor who cannot do this risks losing the patient’s confidence.

Yet the very simplicity of the questions may lead students not to take this language seriously enough. This means such questions are often not mastered, because students focus on the more medical doctor-to-doctor communication.

The same applies to counselling a patient, using a very small bank of words to explain a vast array of medical information, while at the same time being able to talk appropriately to other health professionals.

Cue recognition and response are other essential techniques which students need to learn. A patient may hint at something indirectly through stress:

Patient: ‘I don’t take any prescribed drugs’
Doctor: ‘Do you take any other drugs? Like recreational drugs?’

The ‘cue’ may be in the sound of the voice: the patient sounds hesitant. But it may also be non-verbal.

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Why does something become popular?

Stack of different denim jeansAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Douglas Holt, co-author of Cultural Strategy: How Innovative Ideologies Build Breakthrough Brands, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

As a Professor of Marketing at Oxford University, I am very interested in how icons and brands become popular.

I believe that popularity works through two very different processes. The most intuitive for most of us is the ‘fads and fashions’ process.

People, brands, and styles become popular because the right people have adopted it — rich people, celebrities, opinion leaders, hipsters in subcultures — and we copy them in the eternal human quest to be fashionable and admired.

My work examines the second popularity process — the emergence of cultural icons — a far more durable and powerful form of popularity, and much less well understood.

Icons emerge because they express a particular ideology that society demands at a particular historical moment.

Consider Gloria Steinhem or Ann Coulter, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, John Wayne or Bono, Ronald Reagan or Hugo Chavez, Greenpeace or Focus on the Family.

These individuals and groups became immensely influential by advancing innovative ideology, and thereby developing intensely loyal followers.

Or consider farmer/cookbook author/television host Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, author Michael Pollan, the international Slow Food movement, and the American grocery retailer Whole Foods Market, amongst others, which have transformed food consumption for the upper middle class.

These cultural innovators have championed an alternative approach to agriculture and food. They have made an ideological challenge to the dominant scientific–industrial food ideology. They have brought to life the value, even necessity, of winding the clock back to some sort of pre-industrial food culture in such a way that it is irresistible for the upper middle class in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries.

We call this phenomenon “Cultural Innovation”. It is something that can be thoughtfully researched and planned, unlike the seemingly random birth of fads and fashions.


Douglas Holt is L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, UK, and previously a professor at the Harvard Business School, USA. He is the co-author of Cultural Strategy: How Innovative Ideologies Build Breakthrough Brands (OUP).

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