Letters and words

Word watch – how to beat the spelling police

posted in: writing | 3

Your personal word list

When I was training to become a proofreader one particularly useful piece of advice I received was to compile a personal word list – all those words that are tricky to spell or have special rules – and keep it handy. Even the most experienced editor occasionally has a mental spelling block. You know the feeling – you’ve been staring at the screen for so long that you’ve no longer got any idea what is right and what is wrong.

When I’m proofreading I see the same errors and typos every day. So, I thought it might be helpful to list some of the frequently misspelled words and those that are sometimes mixed up, together with some prompts to help check whether you are using them correctly. Some of these words are my own particular bugbears, others I see in clients’ writing. Of course, there is nothing to stop you making your own list and adding your favourite spelling nightmares. Keep your list handy as you write.

Words where the letters are easily switched around

A simple slip of the fingers and you may have typed a correctly spelt word, but it’s not the word you intended to use, and what’s more, now your sentence doesn’t make sense. It’s very easy to miss these type of words when you are reading back through your work , and as they are spelt correctly the computer spellchecker won’t catch them either.

These are just a few examples of words that have different meanings just by switching round the letters in the middle. Also watch out for fundamental differences of meaning caused by one single missing or extra letter, such as morality and mortality.

Letter switches
Words with letters that can easily be switched around

The grammar pedants’ favourites

These mix-ups always get the grammar pedants going. Just check the prompt – it often helps if you can read your sentence out loud using the prompt words to check which spelling is correct for the meaning you intend.

Spellings that are just damn difficult to remember

Tricky spellng
The grammar pedants’ favourites


I often post #wordwatch tips on Facebook and Twitter, so follow me to get tips like these every week. If you’d like some more resources I suggest the fascinating Bill Bryson book ‘Troublesome Words’. It’s very difficult to proofread your own work. If you’d like a second pair of eyes to carefully check your writing for typos like these – and lots more things besides – then get in touch and let’s discuss how I can help you.

Letters and words
Words words words

3 Responses

  1. Elaine Rogers

    These mix-ups and spelling confusions still get me at times. I think reading this post has helped concrete the differences in my mind.
    Thanks Liz!

    • Liz Brown

      Thanks! Affect v. effect is my personal nemesis – still have to look it up sometimes.

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