Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – definitely

© 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.

The adverb definitely is frequently misspelled in searches of Macmillan Dictionary, and I frequently see it misspelled ‘in the wild’ as well, usually as *definately but also *definitly, *definatly and several other variations. Even good spellers seem to have problems with this one and it has been claimed that it is the most frequently misspelled word in English, though I’d take that claim with a large pinch of salt.

The misspelling *definately is undoubtedly frequent, though: there are almost 68,000 instances of it in our huge corpus of current English, over ten times more than for either of the other forms. The correct spelling dwarfs all of them, however, with over 2.5 million instances, so we’re talking about a pretty small proportion of misspellings overall.

It’s not entirely clear why definitely should pose such problems: perhaps there is confusion with other adverbs such as ultimately and immediately, or maybe it’s because, in British English at least, we tend to pronounce both definite and definitely with the schwa sound /ə/ which we are perhaps more likely to interpret as an ‘a’ than an ‘i’. As for how to remember the correct spelling, one way might be to remember that it is connected to a dictionary-related word definition, both of them coming from the same Latin root ‘definire’.

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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