Eight Common Spelling Mistakes Even Smart People Make Them

English is a screwy language. There’s just no logic to it. Why is daughter pronounced daw-ter, but laughter not law-ter? How can though, through, and tough look so similar and yet sound so different? Why does I come before E except after C? What’s so effing SPECIAL about C?

This is the reason that people who speak more sensible languages approach English with stumbling trepidation. English is insane. It has the capacity to confuse even the smartest of its native speakers – including scientists, engineers and company presidents – especially when it has to be put down on paper.

This I know from experience. As a copywriter, a large part of my job is to translate pages upon pages of “writing written by non-writers” into copy that is short, persuasive, easy-to-read, and yes – perfectly spelt and grammatically (or at least colloquially) correct.

Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.

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For the most part, each person is unique in terms of writing disability (myself included). But there are some crimes of confusion – particularly when it comes to spelling – that I come across on an almost daily basis. And like overstaying guests, they’ve begun to grate on my nerves, becoming more and more unforgivable with each unwelcome appearance. Things like:

1. YOU’RE and YOUR

If you have no idea when to use which.… Well, you’re not on your own. This is perhaps the most common mistake of all. Heaven knows why. The distinction is really quite simple:

  • You’re is used to substitute the words “you are.”
  • Your is a word you use when referring to something that belongs to the person you’re speaking to. “Your purse,” “your coat,” and so on – and not “Your late!” or “Your wrong!”

2. IT’S and ITS

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Close cousins of you’re and your, it’s and its suffer about the same amount of misuse.

  • It’s (with an apostrophe) replaces “It is” or “It has.” (It’s easy to remember!)
  • Its (with no apostrophe) refers to something that belongs to “it.” (Its meaning is clear!)


Ah, the triple treat … or terror, as the case may be.

  • They’re is short for “They are.”
  • Their refers to something that belongs to “them.”
  • And there is simply “not here.”

“They’re going to their house, which is over there.”

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September 19, 2009