Top 10 Most Difficult Words for ESL Students to Spell
ESL or English as a Second Language students often commit mistakes in spelling English words.
These spelling mistakes may be caused by confusion, as some ESL students learn that many English words have similar pronunciations but different spellings and meanings.
They may also be due to carelessness. Some ESL students do not bother to check their writing for errors.
Whatever the reason might be, ESL students must avoid misspellings in their writing as much as possible.
Misspellings, to put it bluntly, can make ESL students appear dim-witted or thoughtless.
This is especially true if the correct spelling of the misspelled word is actually very simple.
Below are 10 common spelling errors that ESL students must learn to stop misspelling beginning today.
1. Accept / Except
I accept the blame for the troubles that happened during the picnic, except for one thing. I did not bring home the lobsters!
Simply put, accept means “receive willingly.” It is a verb and therefore shows action.
Except is a preposition that has a different meaning from accept. It means “exclude” or “leave out.”
- Wrong: Please accept my apologies. I really thought you placed the live lobsters in your shorts.
- Right: Please accept my apologies. I really thought you placed the live lobsters in your shorts.
2. Advice / Advise
He advised me to use mouthwash so my officemates would speak with me more often. Amazingly, his advice worked!
Advice is a noun. It is used either as a subject or an object in a sentence. It means “recommendation” or “instruction.”
Advise, on the other hand, is a verb. As an action word, advise means “recommend” or “instruct.”
- Wrong: He gave you a bad advise. He should have told you to visit the dentist instead.
- Right: He gave you a bad advice. He should have told you to visit the dentist instead.
3. All Right / Alright
“It’s not all right. Do not write ‘alright’ ever again,” my ESL teacher unsmilingly told me.
All right has many uses in English.
It can be an interjection that means “no problem” or “so.”
It can be an adjective that means “good enough” or “feeling okay.”
It can also be an adverb that means “satisfactorily.”
No matter how it is used, all right must always be spelled with two words – “all” and “right.”
Alright, on the other hand, is a figment of people who casually misspell words and prefer to use informal language in their writing.
Thus, ESL students must never write alright and should just stick with all right in formal writing.
- Wrong: I hope you now feel alright. You should not take your teacher’s comments personally.
- Right: I hope you now feel all right. You should not take your teacher’s comments personally.
4. Effect / Affect
To effect change in others, she must first positively affect her own ways.
Effect in English can be used either as a noun or as a verb.
As a noun, effect can mean “result” or “appearance.”
As a verb, effect can mean “achieve” or “cause”
Affect, for its part, is a verb.
It means “to have an effect on” or “disturb.”
- Wrong: Her personal victory had a positive effect on women’s rights.
- Right: Her personal victory had a positive effect on women’s rights.
5. Every Day / Everyday
It happens everyday. Every day, he’d raid the refrigerator for my black chocolates!
Confusing as they may seem, every day and everyday have two very similar but still different uses.
Everyday can either be an adverb or an adjective that means “daily” or “on a daily basis”
Every day refers to “each day.”
- Wrong: Everyday is an opportunity for him to stop pocketing my chocolates.
- Right: Every day is an opportunity for him to stop pocketing my chocolates.
6. Its / It’s
It’s not fair that I should eat fish each day. Its taste is nothing like popcorn’s!
It’s is a contraction for two words, which are either “It is” or “It has.”
Its is a pronoun that shows possession. It means “belonging to it” or “of it.”
To know when to use It’s in a sentence, check if you can replace it with either It is or It has and still keep the sentence grammatically correct.
If the sentence would be incorrect, then probably the correct word to use is Its.
- Wrong: Its strange that you should be complaining about eating fish, which is very healthy.
- Right: It’s strange that you should be complaining about eating fish, which is very healthy.
7. Lose / Loose
Will there ever be a time when she can lose weight and stop wearing loose shirts?
Lose is a verb that can have several definitions.
It can mean “misplace” as in "She will lose her luggage if she leaves it unattended."
It can mean “be defeated” as in "She will lose the bet if she does not get to the airport early."
It can also mean “leave behind” as in "Lose the extra baggage so you can travel comfortably."
Finally, it can mean “waste” as in "She loses a lot of money when she plays in the casino."
Loose, in contrast, is an adjective.
It can mean “baggy” as in "She wore loose pants so she could feel comfy."
It can mean “unfastened” as in "Her shoe buckle went loose as she walked the ramp."
It can also mean “lax” as in "She is loose and will not scold you for misplacing her shoe."
Finally, it can also mean “assorted” as in "Her shoe is now a loose item and does not have a match."
- Wrong: Loose the big bag. You won’t need it for short travels.
- Right: Lose the big bag. You won’t need it for short travels.
8. Their / They’re
They’re packing but cannot fit their belongings for the 2-day vacation in 15 trunks!
There is an adjective that shows possession. It shows that a particular noun belongs to “them.”
They’re is a contraction of the words “they” and “are.” It is used as a subject with verb in a sentence.
To check whether or not these words are correctly used in a sentence, it helps to do the following:
- Try replacing the word their with our. If the sentence still makes sense, then they’re is the correct word to use.
- Try replacing the word they’re with they are. If the sentence still makes sense, then there is indeed the correct word to use.
- Wrong: Their traveling light.
- Right: They’re traveling light.
9. Who’s / Whose
Who’s footing the bill? Whose credit card debt is the smallest?
Who’s is a contraction of the two words “who” and “is.” It is used as a subject with a verb in a sentence.
Whose, for its part, is used as an adjective that shows the possessive form of the word “who.”
- Wrong: Whose willing to pick up the tab? I’m afraid I lost my purse.
- Right: Who’s willing to pick up the tab? I’m afraid I lost my purse.
10. Your / You’re
You’re doing the laundry today. Your soiled clothes stink!
Your is an adjective that shows possession of the word “you.”
You’re is the contraction of the words “you” and “are.” This word is often used as a subject with a verb in a sentence.
- Wrong: I don’t feel like doing the laundry today. Your not mad, are you?
- Right: I don’t feel like doing the laundry today. You’re not mad, are you?
English Spelling Tips
Questions & Answers
© 2011 kerlynb