Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – betrothed


In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this series of spelling tips we will be looking at some of the most commonly misspelled words in English and suggesting ways to improve your spelling.

A common misspelling in searches of Macmillan Dictionary is people typing *bethroted instead of betrothed.

Betrothed is an old-fashioned word that functions both as a noun meaning ‘the person you are engaged to’ and an adjective, usually in the phrase ‘be betrothed to someone’. It is not in everyday use: if someone told you they were betrothed, or introduced another person as ‘my betrothed‘ you would probably think they were being funny.

Betrothed is not only old-fashioned, it is also pretty infrequent: there are only five-and-a-half thousand citations of it in the huge enTenTen15 corpus, meaning it is far less frequent than other rare words like beholden and behemoth. This raises the question of why it is so frequently looked up in Macmillan Dictionary. Its very unfamiliarity may be the reason: it is likely that people come across it in old texts or in the Bible and wonder what exactly it means, and because it is so unfamiliar they struggle with the spelling.

Betrothed is one of the words Stan Carey wrote about recently that start with the prefix be-, while troth is an old word meaning faith, loyalty or truth. Troth mainly occurs these days in the phrase plight or pledge your troth which is found in the wedding service in the Book of Common Prayer, and it may help to remember this origin when spelling this tricky and unusual word.

You can find some information on why English spelling is so difficult, as well as helpful tips on mastering it here. You can search for other posts in this series using the tag ‘spelling tips’.

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