Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – length/strength

© 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 couple of frequently misspelled words: length and strength.

Although they are not among the top failed searches in lookups of Macmillan Dictionary, length is often misspelled as *lenght and strength as *strenght. There are thousands of instances of these misspellings in our corpus and I actually saw an example ‘in the wild’ today, in an email from someone whose first language is not English. Why should this be?

Length and strength are formed in the same way, from the adjectives long and strong: they change the vowel from ‘o’ to ‘e’ and add ‘th’ on the end. So far so simple. Other similar nouns are formed in a similar way, so wide ->width and broad -> breadth. There is, however, another pair of words that forms nouns in a different way, just adding a ‘t’ so they end in -ght not -gth: so high becomes height and weigh, weight. So it is possible that the misspellings of length and strength are caused by confusion with this other pattern. Another possibility is that the unusually large cluster of four consonants is just confusing and so people put them in the wrong order.

There is a further possibility, however. I’m not a very accurate typist and while typing this post I have repeatedly typed – you guessed it – *lenght and *strenght, and had to go back and correct them. So this may often be a case not of misspellings but of simple typos. If that is the case, then a spellchecker is your best friend.

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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