Anatomy of Misspellings

Some words in the English language allow multiple spellings, especially when the difference between British and American English comes into play (but this is a topic for another day). However, those spellings of a word that are not considered standard are called misspellings and marked as wrong or as making no sense.

Image by

There are two main types of misspelling regarding the resulting word. One is a change, insertion, or loss of letters in a word so it results in a word that does not exist in the language, e.g. “teh” instead of “the”. The other type creates a word that is not correct in the context but otherwise a valid word in the dictionary of the target language. The latter one is very problematic since most spell checking programs do not detect such errors. Only few spellcheckers look at the word in context as well and thus find such misspelled words.

There are several causes that can lead to the incorrect spelling of words. Some may be based on the pure lack of knowledge, some on the different pronunciation of a word in different dialects or regions. Typos and slips of the pen happen especially to fast writers (or typers) as well.

Here are some of the most common reasons for misspelling. Can your mistakes be categorized into one of them as well? Then you now know what to work on!


One of the, if not the, most common cause of misspelling is the mispronunciation of a word. The phonetics, aka the sounds, in the word are oftentimes essential for our knowledge of spelling. If a word is mispronounced, it is quite common that it’s spelled in the same way it has been uttered, resulting in numerous spelling mistakes.


Misspellings caused by typos do often times not say anything about the knowledge of the person typing. Typing errors often occur if the writer is typing especially fast. The most common mistakes produced this way are:

  • doubled or even tripled letters – “weeek”
  • singled letters – “betwen”
  • mixing up keys – “teh”

In handwritten texts, these typos are far less common.


If you recall our article on There, Their, and They’re, you’ll remember that homophones are words that are spelled differently but sound the same. It is not uncommon, that the wrong words are used in a context, where another word with the same pronunciation would have been correct. Other examples would be “no” and “know”, or “right”, “rite”, and “write”.


The correct usage apostrophes is also a cause of very common misspellings. They can either result in some form of typo as well (e.g. “does’nt” instead of “doesn’t”), or be due to the wrong usage in the plural possessive form (e.g. “the book’s title” vs. “the books’ title”).

Foreign Words

Some words in the English language are quite similar in pronunciation, meaning, or even spelling to words in different languages. Speakers (and writers) of a foreign language may thus adapt the native spelling of their language to the English words. A popular example would be the word “address” which is spelled slightly differently, namely “adress”, in French and German.