Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – possess

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.

People looking up the verb possess in Macmillan Dictionary sometimes spell it *posess by mistake.

There are only four words in Macmillan Dictionary that end with -ssess and three of them are closely related: possess, dispossess and repossess. The other is assess. There are no words that end in *-osess and only one, obsess, that ends in -sess preceded by a letter that is not ‘s’.

There are probably two factors leading people to spell possess with a single ‘s’ in the middle. One is our old friend, ‘too many of the same letter’: even while typing this post I had to stop and check that I was spelling the words correctly. The other is the sound: the consonant in the middle of these words is /z/, which is often realized by a spelling with a single ‘s’: think of rose, and ease, and loser. So you could be forgiven for thinking that, unlike ‘assess’, possess and its relatives have a single ‘s’ in the middle. They don’t, though, and since they are such a small group it should be relatively easy to learn 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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