Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – separate

© 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.

A very common error in searches of Macmillan Dictionary is spelling separate with three e’s: *seperate. Indeed, separate is one of the most commonly misspelled words in English, the most common according to some.

Separate is pronounced differently when it is an adjective and when it is a verb. The adjective’s pronunciation may be more likely to miselad people into thinking that the second consonant is an ‘e’, especially in British English where it is often elided. But in neither case does the pronunciation give you a clue to the spelling. There are no words starting with seper- in Macmillan Dictionary, but only a few starting separ- and they are all linked to separate, so frequency is not much help here either.

As so often, etymology is the key to the word’s spelling. Separate comes from the Latin ‘se-‘ meaning ‘apart’ and ‘parare’ meaning ‘to prepare’, but as we have noted before this is not much help to the vast majority who don’t know Latin. Some people have suggested mnemonics to help remember the spelling, such as ‘There’s a rat in separate‘, but on the whole I think this is one of those tricky spellings that just have to be learned.

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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