Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – disease

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 noun disease in Macmillan Dictionary often spell it *desease by mistake.

This is the other side of the coin from despair, which we looked at several months ago. People often mistakenly spell it *dispair, partly because the initial vowel is a short ‘i’ sound /ɪ/, rather than the /e/ suggested by the spelling. The same applies to disease: from the sound that first vowel could be either /ɪ/ or /e/ and some people plump for /e/, spelling it like despair and deserve rather than dismay and disaster.

As we noted in the post on despair, there are far fewer English words starting des- than dis-, which means that those spelling it *desease are not doing so for reasons of probability. Disease originally meant ‘lack of ease’ and so the first syllable is the common prefix dis-, meaning ‘lack or absence of’ (whatever forms the second part of the word). Remembering this could be helpful in remembering the correct spelling.

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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