Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – exercise

© Macmillan
Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

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.

When people want to look up the word exercise in Macmillan Dictionary, they often pop in an extra ‘c’:  *excercise. This is a really common error: there are over 7,000 instances of the different forms of *excercise in the corpus used by Macmillan Dictionary, while other misspellings such as *exersise are very infrequent.

What seems to be happening here is that people are adding a silent ‘c’ to a word that doesn’t need it. This makes sense in a way. Of the 32 entries in Macmillan Dictionary that start with the letter combination exe-, only exercise starts with the sounds /ˈeksə/: all the rest start with some other combination of sounds such as /ˈeksɪ/ (execute) or /ɪɡˈze/ (executive).

Conversely there are 28 entries in Macmillan Dictionary that start either exce- or exci-, such as excellent and excise, and in all cases the ‘c’ is silent. (In words starting exca-, exco- and excu- like excavate and excuse the ‘c’ is sounded.) So if you’re trying to work out how to spell a word like exercise that starts with the sounds /ˈeksə/ then you might well guess that there’s a silent ‘c’ in there. The thing to remember is that exercise has one ‘c’ and one ‘s’, and that they come in the same order as in the alphabet.

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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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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