15 Words you need to stop misspelling

Mar 27, 2014 at 10:06 a.m. ET
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Whether you're firing off an e-mail to a potential client or just writing your next social media post, misspelling these 15 words will lower your perceived intelligence — and you'd be surprised how often people notice.

Think it's OK to make these errors? After all, only English nerds notice, right? Not in our experience. Just because people don't say anything doesn't mean they don't lose a little respect for you each time they see them. Let's find out what they are.

1. Affect vs. Effect

In general, "affect" is a verb; "effect" is a noun. Grammar Girl has a device to make it easier to remember.

The arrow affected the aardvark. [verb]

The effect was eye-popping. [noun]

But there are rarer uses of these words you should keep in the back of your head. "Affect" can be used as a noun in the context of psychology to imply an apparent mood. (The patient displayed a distressed affect.) "Effect" can also be a verb when used to imply the accomplishment of a task or goal. (The doctor hoped to effect a change in the patient's mood.)

2. Then vs. Than

"Then" implies that time is a factor. (First I picked up Molly, then I picked up Dave. Her then-boyfriend was just leaving.) It's also used in "if... then" constructions. (If Molly had been ready on time, then we wouldn't be late.)

"Than" is used to compare things. (Molly was better dressed than Dave.)

A quick trick to remember is that there are no (zero, nada, nothin') words that mean the same thing as "than." If you can substitute another word or phrase, it's probably "then." (I picked up Molly before I picked up Dave. Her now ex-boyfriend was just leaving.)

3. A lot

This is two words. It's never "alot." Nor is it "abit" or "amonkey." A what? A monkey. A what? A lot.

4. Government

"Government" has an N. The primary duty of a government is to govern, not gover.

5. Conscience vs. Conscious

"Conscience" is your moral understanding, an inner feeling of what's right and wrong. Unfortunately, it's commonly confused with "conscious," which means aware or awake. To remember, think of Albert Einstein. He regretted his involvement in the creation of the atom bomb. It weighed on his conscience. You can't spell the word that means your moral understanding without the word "science."

6. Cologne

That silent G will get you every time, huh? The problem is, people aren't spelling this one "colone," which while wrong, at least makes sense. We're seeing "colon", which is either a punctuation mark or the part of your digestive tract that filters out waste before it's eliminated. Ew.

7. License

To remember that tricky S-sounding C, remember that in order to get a driver's license, you have to be able to see.

8. Nuclear

Because of a common mispronunciation in the U.S., this one gets misspelled a lot. A NOO-klee-er bomb (aka "atomic bomb") gets its destructive force from a reaction that involves the nucleus of an atom.

9. Misspell

Ah! The irony. Remember that "mis" is a prefix meaning wrong or incorrectly. "Spell" is the root word, so to make it make sense, you need both S's.

10. Miscellaneous

This one stumps a lot of people because you can't hear that C, and you have to remember one L or two. Think of it this way. If you have miscellaneous beads, the best way to store them is in a box that has individual compartments, or cells. Cell is always in the middle of miscellaneous.

11. Ecstasy

Several things can cause ecstasy — really amazing food, an exciting roller coaster, a really great first kiss. To remember how to spell this word, remember that not all ecstasy is X-rated.

12. Miniature

To avoid leaving out a key vowel in this one, think of it as being short for mini-stature. Just don't type the consonants you don't hear when you say miniature.

13. Lose vs. Loose

"Lose" means to come in last; not to win."Loose" means not tight. To remember which one gets the extra O, remember that shoestrings require two sets of eyelets to thread (the eyelets are the Os). Without them, your shoes might be loose.

14. Restaurant

A lot of people say "restrant," so it's not a surprise people misspell it, given the way we say it. The only tip I've ever found for getting this one right is to sound it out in your head as you type: RES-ta-u-rahnt.

15. Principle vs. Principal

Principle has a number of meanings. It can be a basic truth, a moral belief or even just refer to the first or primary of something. Principal, on the other hand, refers to a person. For example, the person who's in charge of a school. To remember, just keep in mind that a princi-pal is your friend.

Handy tip:Need to learn how to spell a word? Make it the password on something you log into frequently.

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