Common Spelling Mistakes in IELTS


Spelling is huge concern for my IELTS students. Writing scores are 25% determined by vocabulary, which includes spelling. Too many spelling mistakes can also seriously bring down your score in IELTS Listening.

Rather than try to cover all the most common spelling mistakes in English, I’ve focussed on words more likely to appear in an academic context to compile this list of common IELTS spelling mistakes:

Single and double consonants

Spelling mistakes are common when single or double consonants occur nearby in a word.

A single consonant is followed by a double consonant:
Across, Process, Harass, Disappoint, Recommend, Tomorrow, Professor, Necessary

A double consonant is followed by a single consonant:
Parallel, Apparent, Exaggerate, Occasion, Occur (but Occurred), Commit (but Committed)

Some common words with two pairs of consonants:
Success, Possess, Access, Assess, Address, Accommodation, Embarrass, Millennium

Weak vowel sounds

Some words are difficult to spell because they contain the schwa or [ə], a weak vowel sound. It is almost impossible to know how to spell such words from their sound alone.

Examples of words containing more than one schwa include:
Separate (adj.), Definite, Desperate, Temperature, Literature, General, Relevant, Category

Other problematic schwa words include:
Describe, Decline, Despite; but Dispute, Discrete, Display
Capable, Achievable, Understandable; but Possible, Visible, Accessible
Performance, Attendance, Ignorance; but Independence, Sentence, Existence

Sometimes the schwa sound conceals a barely-pronounced [r]:
Opportunity, Pursue, Persuade, Surprise

Changes of spelling when words change form

A consonant can change when a noun becomes an adjective:
Benefit > Beneficial; Influence > Influential; Circumstance > Circumstantial

A vowel can change or be lost when a verb becomes a noun:
Maintain > Maintenance; Pronounce > Pronunciation, Argue > Argument

A vowel may double when a noun becomes a verb:
Success > Succeed; Excess > Exceed; Process > Proceed

A final consonant is often doubled when a verb changes form:
Occur > Occurred; Refer > Referred; Begin > Beginning

Silent letters in consonant clusters

[nm] in Environment, Government
[nm] in Column, Autumn
[sc] in Science, Conscious, Discipline, Fascinate, Ascend, Descend
[xc] in Excite, Exceed, Exception, Excellent, Excited
[dg] in Knowledge, Acknowledge (but just [g] in Privilege, Oblige)
[th] clusters in ordinals: Eighth, Twelfth, Hundredth

Pairs of frequently confused spellings in IELTS

Till ≠ Until (not *untill)
Lose ≠ Loose (one is a verb; the other is an adjective)
Affect ≠ Effect (one is a common verb; the other is its noun form)
Forth ≠ Fourth (one means ‘forward’; the other means ‘number four’)
Fourth but Forty (not *fourty)
High but Height (not *hight)
Great but Grateful (not *greatful)
Precede ≠ Proceed (one means ‘go before’; the other means ‘go ahead’)
Principle ≠ Principal (one means ‘truth’; the other means ‘main’)
Site ≠ Sight (one is a place; the other is something to see, as in sightseeing not *siteseeing)
Copywriter ≠ Copyright (one writes advertising; the other means ‘intellectual property’)

Other difficult English words to spell

Finally, 10 English words of foreign origin that even native speakers have difficulty spelling: Amateur, Entrepreneur, Hierarchy, Liaison, Medieval, Miscellaneous, Queue, Questionnaire, Rhythm, Vacuum




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