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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.”

Example:

  • 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.”

Example:

  • 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.

Example:

  • 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.”

Example:

  • 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.”

Example:

  • 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.

Example:

  • 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."

Example:

  • 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.

Example:

  • 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.”

Example:

  • 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.

Example:

  • 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

© 2011 kerlynb

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Comments 20 comments

aspiretoinspire profile image

aspiretoinspire 4 years ago from Sydney

I like this. Great hub, thanks.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@thougtforce and @MonetteforJack Many thanks :) Really appreciate the time and effort you guys put in to drop by and comment :)


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 5 years ago from Sweden

Thank you for this very useful hub! It is so much fun to write in a second language but it is a bit of a challenge to get everything right:) You explain this in a way that makes it easy to understand why and how it should be done! Voted up and useful!

Tina


MonetteforJack profile image

MonetteforJack 5 years ago from Tuckerton, NJ

With number 3, when I used Microsoft Word, alright is now accepted. The thing is, like you, I prefer the formal and more correct form of English grammar. However, I relax my stance a bit when talking :) I do prefer to use conversational english rather than colloquial. I've been told many times over the years that Filipinos are more fluent in English (grammatically correct) than the American people.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@shafiqahmed Thanks dear :) Glad you stopped by my hub!


shafiqahmed profile image

shafiqahmed 5 years ago

Great hub for many non English speaking people. Very good!


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@peanutroaster Oh, but I'm sure you can! :) You're a native English speaker, aren't you?


peanutroaster profile image

peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

I'm in my mid forties and I still can't spell.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@Kawaljit kaur Thanks dear. Glad you learned a thing from this hub :)


Kawaljit kaur profile image

Kawaljit kaur 5 years ago from JALANDHAR, Punjab (India)

voted up, awesome. you are really doing a wonderful job.Even I am learning from it. Hats off.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@cristina327 Thanks kababayan! I'm happy that this hub helped you even in a little way.


cristina327 profile image

cristina327 5 years ago from Manila

Great hub voted up and useful. Thank you for sharing this great wealth of information.I admit I also make mistake in spelling "all right", many times I used "alright" for it. Thank you for this helpful instruction and reminder. Remain blessed always. I wish you a great day today. Best regards.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@felicitylovespari Always a pleasure reading your comments :) Thanks for your time. I'm just glad you found my hub useful.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@ChristinS Wow, I'm so happy you dropped by! :D I was just reading your hub "How To Digitally Restore an old Photo in Photoshop." Thank you!


felicitylovespari profile image

felicitylovespari 5 years ago

up and useful. You're exactly right. Those are words people really need to make sure to get right and are very common.


ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 5 years ago from Midwest

voted up and useful. These are very common mistakes I see a lot and you explained them very clearly and concisely. Great hub


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@asmaiftikhar Very happy you found it useful. Will try to come up with similar hubs in the near future :) Thanks for your comments!


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^ Author

@suzettenaples Thank you so much :) Always a pleasure reading your comments.


asmaiftikhar profile image

asmaiftikhar 5 years ago from Pakistan

a very very useful hub and that matters a lot for the students of english language.keep benefiting the people kind lady.thanks a lot sharing this useful hub.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 years ago from Taos, NM

Another very good hub. Good examples and well thought out. These are difficult for some Americans, too.

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