Get Your Erasers Ready For 33 Hard Words To Spell

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As any participant in a spelling bee can tell you, correctly spelling words in the English language is not always easy. In most languages, the way words are spelled (graphemes) consistently relate to the way they sound (phonemes). But the English language uses a mix of spellings and pronunciations from Latin, Greek, French, German, and many others. To further confuse matters, words in English have different spellings in different countries. No wonder English is practically the only language spelling competitions are held in!

If you struggle spelling some of these challenging words, just know you are not alone. They are some of the trickiest words to spell in English.

1. necessary

One of the things that makes English hard to spell is that there are letters that can—but don’t always—make the same sounds, such as c and s. This, combined with the use of double consonants that don’t change how the word is pronounced, makes necessary tricky to spell. How do you remember where and how many or s letters you need? Well, take a look at the word. Do you “c” two ss? Ask yourself this to make sure there is first one c and then a double s in necessary.

2. narcissistic

Similar to necessary, narcissistic is challenging to spell because of the c and s letters that make the same sound. It can also be hard to remember where to place the double s. It might help you to know that the word narcissistic ultimately comes from the Greek nárkissos, a plant name associated with narcotics.

3. occasion

The word occasion also features the letters c and s, but here they are not making the same s sound. Part of what makes spelling this word challenging are the hard c (like a k) sounds, spelled with a double c. This double c comes from the Latin origin of the word, the equivalent of the prefix oc- combined with the verb cāsus, meaning roughly “to have befallen.” Also, you may be tempted to add another s, but there is only one in occasion.

⚡️What makes English a difficult language to spell?

Why exactly does English have so many different rules and variations when it comes to spelling? Learn a thing or two about its messy history here.

4. accommodate

The word accommodate also uses a double c … and throws in a double m for good measure. But what makes spelling this word tricky isn’t the consonants, but rather the vowels. The word accommodate [ uhkomuh-deyt ] sounds as if it could be spelled with three os, or maybe there is a u in there? But no, there are no us and the first letter is an a, of all things.

5. vacuum

Speaking of words with double c, one word you might expect to have such a spelling but does not is vacuum. Instead of a double c, vacuum features the rare double u (continuum and muumuu are others with this strange combination). The word comes from the Latin vacuus, meaning “empty.”

6. accessory

The word accessory breaks the pattern we have seen so far (remember what we said about the rules of English spelling being inconsistent?). Unlike accommodate, where the double c makes a single k sound, in accessory, the first c makes a k sound, and the second c makes an s sound. Throw in a double s, and accessory is a real challenge to spell correctly.

7. broccoli

Broccoli also features a double c to make a k sound. Besides this complication, you may be tempted to spell the ending with a y or ee to make the lee sound. However, broccoli is a word that comes from Italian, where the ee sound is represented with the letter i.

8. zucchini

Similar to broccoli, zucchini is a word from Italian that uses an i at the end to make an ee sound and has a double c that makes a k sound. If this spelling trips you up too much, you could try the British English word for zucchini instead, which comes from French: courgette [ koor-zhet ].

9. spaghetti

Another word with Italian origins that is a challenge to spell is spaghetti. The letter i at the end of a word in Italian indicates that it is plural. (Technically, a single spaghetti is a spaghetto.) The nearly-silent h might also throw you off when spelling this word.

Bite into more funny tidbits about words with uncommon singular forms here.

10. embarrass

Another word we aren’t embarrassed to admit can be hard to spell is, well, embarrass. One thing that might trip you up is the ending—it sounds like uhs, but is spelled, well, ass. Another thing that makes spelling embarrass difficult is the double r and double s. What explains both of these tricky elements is that embarrass was adopted into English from the Portuguese embaraçar via the French verb embarrasser.

11. bourbon

Speaking of words that come from French throwing us curveballs, another tricky one is bourbon. In English, we use an anglicized pronunciation of this word: [ bur-buhn ], but we have kept the French spelling. The difference between these two is what makes spelling this word hard—just try to remember there are two os, not just one.

12. charcuterie

The French have a very different system of spelling, which can make it confusing when we adopt their words into English. One example of this is charcuterie. In French, the letters char are pronounced  shahr. That’s why this fancy word for “cooked, processed, or cured cold meats” (like sausage and pâté) is spelled with a ch instead of the sh you might expect.

13. entrepreneur

Yet another word whose French spelling makes it a challenge for English speakers is entrepreneur [ ahn-truh-pruhnur ]. Because it starts with an ah sound, you may think it includes an a, but that’s not the case. Next time you write this word, remind yourself that most of the vowel sounds are es, except for the eu at the very end for the oor sound. 

14. liaison

The word liaison also has French origins. You may be tempted to spell it phonetically: lee-ay-zon. However, much like the i at the end of Italian words, the i in French can make an ee sound. That might help you remember that liaison has two i‘s.

15. Connecticut

Of course, French and Italian are not the only foreign languages whose words have been adopted into English. Many place names in the United States come from the Indigenous languages of those areas, and these spellings can be difficult. One example is Connecticut, which is pronounced [ kuhnet-i-kuht ], but is spelled “Connect I Cut.” The word comes from the Mohegan-Pequot language and means “upon the long river.”

16. Massachusetts

Another example of this is Massachusetts, named for the tribe of Algonquin people who lived there, whose name means “at the large hill.” This word is particularly challenging to spell because you may be tempted to double the second s … especially because there is a double t at the end.

Did you know Massachusetts is a commonwealth? Learn the difference between commonwealth and state here.

17. epitome

Words that come originally from Greek are also challenging to spell. One example is epitome [ ih-pituh-mee ]. The word sounds like it ends in a y or ee, but it doesn’t. One reason for this is because, similar to Italian, all of the vowels from Greek words are pronounced—no silent e here.

18. asthma

Speaking of silent letters, English has a remarkable number of them we use when spelling. There is no way to know these letters ought to be there unless you are familiar with the word. One example of this is asthma, which has a silent th. That’s right, English sometimes will throw in a silent th, just to keep you on your toes.

19. indict

Another word with a deceptive silent letter is indict [ in-dahyt ]. You don’t pronounce the letter c in this word, so you may forget to include it when spelling. The c is a holdover from its late Latin origins, indictāre, related to the English verb dictate.

20. gnaw

We have seen silent th and silent c, but we would be remiss not to mention the silent g that pops up from time-to-time in English. One example of a word with a silent g is gnaw [ naw ].

21. phlegm

Silent g‘s do not only appear at the beginning of words; they can show up in endings as well. One example of this is phlegm [ flem ]. This word is also tricky because it uses the letters ph to make a ff sound. This way of writing the ff sound can be found in words from Greek, such as phlegm and phone.

22. paradigm

Another example of a word from Greek with a silent g is paradigm, from the Greek parádeigma. Based on the way this word is pronounced, you would expect the ending to be spelled dime, not digm.

23. pneumonia

Another silent letter you may come across sometimes is a silent p, as in pneumonia [ noomohn-yuh ]. Even if you remember that silent p, the word pneumonia is still tricky because of the oo sound, spelled with an eu.

24. island

The letter s is also occasionally silent in English. One word you have likely come across that uses a silent s is island. The s was added to the word via isle, a word ultimately derived from Latin and meaning “a small island.”

25. rhythm

The word rhythm is particularly challenging to spell. It has two h‘s, but one is silent and the other is used in the diphthong th. It also sounds as if it should have a u [ rithuhm ], but it doesn’t. Rhythm comes from the Greek rhythmós, a clue that might help you remember its spelling in English.

26. Wednesday

The word Wednesday [ wenz-dey ] is particularly challenging to spell because the d is silent. Wednesday comes from the Old English for “Woden’s day”; Woden is what the pagan Anglo-Saxons called the Norse god Odin. Keeping Woden—or Odin—in mind is a good way to remember that pesky d.

27. eight

The word eight is a homophone of the past participle of “to eat,” ate. That’s not the only thing confusing about this old word. The ending is spelled ight which we associate with words like bright and tight. Here, however, this combination of letters is pronounced [ eyt ] instead.

English is full of homophones galore! Read about some of familiar pairs here.

28. acquiesce

Another word that contains some confusing letter combinations related to how it is pronounced is acquiesce [ ak-wee-es ], a verb meaning “to assent tacitly; agree.” The word comes from the Latin acquiēscere, meaning “to find rest in.” One thing to keep in mind when spelling this word is that ac- is a prefix meaning “toward” or “to.” That means the word breaks down as ac-qui-esce, which may help you spell it correctly.

29. nauseous

The word nauseous [ naw-shuhs ] appears to have just way too many vowels. Like the tricky acquiesce, nauseous comes from Latin. Nauseous means you suffer from nausea, a word that looks practically nautical (nau and sea). If you take the a off of nausea and add the common adjectival ending -ous, you have the correct spelling of nauseous.

30. conscious

A word with the same ending as nauseous that is also tricky to spell is conscious [ kon-shuhs ]. It may help you to spell it if you remember that it comes from the Latin conscius, meaning “sharing knowledge with,” equivalent to con-(with) + sci- (know) + -us (-ous, indicating an adjective).

31. grateful

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to spelling words in English are the number of homophones, or words that sound the same but are spelled differently. That’s why you may be tempted to spell the word grateful with an ea, as in great. However, grateful comes from the obsolete grate, meaning “pleasing,” not the word great, as in “large.”

32. separate

The word separate is tricky because the second vowel sound is spelled with an a and not a u or e, even though in many accents it sounds as if it should be.

33. lightning

Finally, there are some words in English that seem as if they should have more letters than they do. One example of this is lightning [ lahyt-ning ]. The unusual combination of tn may throw you off here. However, adding an e would make the word lightening, which has another meaning altogether.

If you ever get stuck on one of these words, or any others, you can always look up how to spell them here. Do your best to sound it out, and our algorithm will suggest the words you might be looking for. You can also use this handy word list to test yourself on these words. Whether you struggle to spell these words or others, keep in mind that the English language is a real challenge to spell!

What's harder for you: spelling or pronunciation? Check out our list of hard words to pronounce and see.

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