Language Tips

Spelling tip of the week – pursue

© 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.

When people search for the verb pursue in Macmillan Dictionary, they often type *persue instead.

I wondered at first why this should be, and then I had a little dig around in the Macmillan Dictionary headword list and wondered no longer. As with ‘address’, which we looked at in an earlier post in this series, pursue starts with a combination of letters that is uncommon  in English. Indeed, if you exclude purse and purser, the only words in Macmillan Dictionary that start in this way are pursue and its derivatives: pursuit, pursuance and the like. Pers-, on the other hand, comes at the start of lots of words: 63, against 8 for purs-. So, as with ‘address’, if you’re guessing what the spelling is, and with no difference in sound to guide you, then pers– is a sensible, if mistaken choice.

Like many of the words that start with per-, pursue comes ultimately from Latin (via French). However, the pur- part is an alteration of the Latin ‘pro’, whereas for many per- words the Latin word of origin is ‘per’. One way to remember how to spell pursue could be to remember the related noun ‘pursuit’, since both have two ‘u’s.

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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