Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – weather/whether

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 two of the most frequently misspelled words in searches of Macmillan Dictionary: weather and whether.

One of the most common failed searches in lookups of Macmillan Dictionary is the word wether. This is a real word – it refers to a male sheep that has been castrated – but it’s not in our dictionary as it is rather rare. It’s a pretty good guess, though, that people are not looking for wether at all, but for one of two very common words: the noun weather or the conjunction whether. So what we have here is a three-way confusion. (Some people even search for *wheather, a combination of the two that is not a word).

It’s a confusion with no simple remedies. In most people’s accents these words are pronounced exactly the same, and there is no way of telling from the sound if we are dealing with we-, wea- or whe-. Some people have suggested that a helpful way of remembering the difference is to associate weather with the sea, which also contains the combination ea: so by remembering the weather on the sea you will remember which is which. Otherwise I think this is a distinction that just has to be learned.

One helpful feature of Macmillan Dictionary is that if you type in wether you will be presented with a list of possible alternatives, the first two of which are weather and whether. This is one of many ways in which an online dictionary outperforms the print version, since if you looked up wether in a print dictionary you would possibly find the ‘sheep’ meaning but otherwise reach a dead end.

You can find some information on why English spelling is so difficult, as well as helpful tips on mastering it here.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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