Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – forty

© 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.

This week’s tip looks at a frequently misspelled number word: forty.

Several number words in English change their spelling when they change from units to tens: so two -> twenty, three-> thirty, four -> forty, five-> fifty. The others stay the same: six and sixty, seven/seventy, eight/eighty, nine and ninety. The only one that causes significant spelling problems, however, is forty, which is often misspelled *fourty.

The reason for this error, which also applies to the related words forties and fortieth, is probably that while the others that change their spelling also change their sound, forty sounds the same whether you spell it four- or for-. So while people very rarely write *twoty or *fivety (though I have seen ninety spelled as *ninty), *fourty seems rather plausible, especially since fourteen unhelpfully retains the ‘u’.

There doesn’t seem to be any logical reason for this variation, though phonologists would undoubtedly have some interesting observations to make. And the only solution to the problem that I can see is to learn these words by heart. At least there aren’t many of them.

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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