English spelling is infamous for its difficulty inconsistencies, and some hard words to spell can even trick fluent speakers.
“Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism,” for instance, is a tongue-twisting medical term that describes a rare genetic disorder. It’s a complex word that leaves many cracking their heads trying to spell it.
It says something when there is actually a word for the fear of long words: “Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia.”
This word was invented to describe the fear of words that are too long. Ironically, the word itself has 36 letters.
But words need not be long for it to be hard words to spell — in fact, it’s just five letters long.
The hardest word to spell in the English language
Well, not word exactly. Instead, it’s known as the “schwa.” This refers to the “uh”-like sound that can be made by any of the five vowels in the English alphabet.
While the most common vowel is “e,” the most common vowel sound in the sound “uh.”
Imagine what you’d say when you’re trying to think of a word. That’s the “uh” or — by its special name — schwa.
Simple words with schwa are:
- a: balloon
- e: problem
- i: family
- o: bottom
- u: support
- y: analysis
More complex ones can knock out many national spelling bee finalists. These hard words to spell include “pataca” and “pharetrone” — which were misspelt as “petaca” and “pharotrone.”
There are other reasons that explain why there are thousands of hard words to spell in English:
- There are always more ways than one to spell a word. Consider how “soup” could’ve been spelt as “soop” or “do” as “doo.”
- We don’t practise spelling enough. Most of our time is spent reading, which is just recognising words to find their meaning. Spelling requires to reproducing a word. How often do we do that?
- How words are said are not how their spelt.
- Most English alphabets have two or more sounds. Thus despite having just 26 alphabets, there are over 44 individual sounds and the rules on when to use these sounds change from one to another. “C” can sound like an “S” in “city.” Or it can sound like a “k” in “cat.”
- It’s estimated that 80% of English words are borrowed from other languages, which have their own rules on how to spell and pronounce.
10 hard words to spell in English that’ll baffle even English teachers
What it means: A small, usually square piece of fabric that is used to our nose and face, and sometimes used as a fashion accessory.
How to use it in a sentence: She reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to blow her nose.
From our ancestors to today’s Gen Zs, handkerchieves have been used for years, though in different ways.
The word “handkerchief” has its origins in Middle English, where it was known as “hankerchef.” Middle English borrowed this term from Old French, spelled as “hannekerchief” or “hancherchief.”
In Old French, “hanne” meant “hand,” and “chief” referred to a head covering or a cloth. So, “hannekerchief” originally meant a cloth for the hand.
If you’re one of those who think this isn’t one of the hard words to spell, you probably think the “d” in the middle isn’t silent.
To correctly say “handkerchief,” you musn’t pronounce the “d” as it’s silent.
Thus, spelling the word “handkerchief” can be quite challenging because its pronunciation does not align with its spelling in English.
What it means: Talkativeness that is fast-paced, excessive and uncontrollable. Long words may be included.
How to use it in a sentence: His logorrhea made it impossible for anyone else to get a word in during the meeting.
This term is used when an individual is incoherent yet talkative. It’s common in the medical world, but you can also use it in everyday language.
As it’s uncommon and not used often, it’ll baffle anyone who tries to spell it.
The spelling of “logorrhea” can be confusing due to its Greek origin. The word is derived from the Greek words “logos,” meaning “word,” and “rhoia,” meaning “flow” or “excessive discharge.”
Greek-derived words in English often have letter combinations and phonetic rules that differ from English.
What it means: Something that is open to more than one interpretation or has multiple possible meanings.
How to use it in a sentence: It was an ambiguous sentence that could be interpreted in multiple ways.
Ambiguous is used to define something unclear or confusing. It has no “e” in it, but just because it is pronounced as “am-be-guas” people often assume that it should be spelt as “ambeegous.”
The word has a silent letter, “b,” which only makes it tougher to spell or say. There’s no need to say it, yet it still needs to be included when written — making it one of the hard words to spell.
What it means: Used to describe an artist who specialises in the technique of chiaroscuro, which uses contrasts between light and dark in drawings and paintings.
How to use it in a sentence: The gallery displayed the portraits created by the talented chiaroscurist, whose use of light and shadow gave each painting life.
This unfamiliar word describes an artist who does chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro is an art form that shows light and dark and their impact on composition.
Just like the work, spelling the word is pretty hard , too. As we often use words like chair, fair, etc., spelling this word as “chaireoscurist” instead of “chiar-os-cu-rist” is common.
What it means: A person’s double or look-alike, closely resembling another person.
How to use it in a sentence: She thought she was looking at her own reflection when she saw her doppelganger.
Understanding the concept of doppelganger is difficult enough. Imagine trying to spell it.
Here’s an example of a loan word from the German language. Translated literally, it means double goer.
Many tend to misspell the word as “doppleganger” which seems more accurate when based on English spelling patterns.
What it means: Used to describe a child who asks too many questions
How to use it in a sentence: Maria is such a pochemuchka in the classroom always asking the teacher many questions.
“Pochemuchka” is a Russian term for a person who asks several questions. We all know someone who is a Pochemuchka. Someone who is a “how?-what?-why?-when?” person who keeps asking questions over questions.
“Pochemuchka” makes the list of hard words to spell due to its origin in the Russian language, which uses a Cyrillic alphabet. The Russian language has different phonetic and orthographic rules compared to English.
The challenge arises because the Cyrillic characters in “Pochemuchka” do not have direct one-to-one equivalents in the English alphabet.
What it means: A collection of items, equipment, or personal belongings that are often associated with a particular activity, hobby, or lifestyle.
How to use it in a sentence: Cathy is going to get plates, balloons, and other party paraphernalia at the drugstore.
“Paraphernalia” derives from a Latin root meaning “the bride’s possessions.”
The word “paraphernalia” has is said differently from how it’s spelt. The emphasis falls on the third syllable, which is not immediately evident from its written form.
What it means: Relates to a governor or a governor’s office.
How to use it in a sentence: The state is preparing for the upcoming gubernatorial election to determine the next governor.
The word comes from the Latin “gubernator,” meaning “governor.” Translating it from Latin to English spelling has resulted in a series of letters and syllables that can be difficult to for English speakers.
This word is not frequently encountered in everyday conversation, as it is used for discussions of political or administrative matters, particularly in the context of state-level government.
What it means: A medical condition of frequent and loose or watery bowel movements.
How to use it in a sentence: After eating at that street food vendor, I had a severe case of diarrhoea for two days.
“Diarrhoea” is one of the hard words to spell in English that confuses many. Greek in origin, its spelling retains some of the unique letter combinations and pronunciation rules in Greek.
Many struggle with the spelling of this word as it has two accepted spellings. In British English, it is spelt as “diarrhoea,” while in American English, it is spelt as “diarrhea.”
A study found that “diarrhoea” is the hardest word for British people to spell, with around 2,700 searches in the UK per month for “How to spell Diarrhoea.”
What it means: Someone or something that is very clever, creative, and innovative.
How to use it in a sentence: The engineer developed an ingenious device that changed communication as we know it.
Why does “ingenious” contain an “o” when “genius” doesn’t? There is a spelling confusion of the word “ingenious” because it’s similar to “genius.” A “genius” is simply a super-intelligent person, but it does not have a letter o like “ingenious.”
From genius comes ingenious. Both words refer to brilliance. However, their spellings are different but often confused with each other.
The word “ingenious” is also often confused with a similar-sounding word, “ingenuous,” which means “honest” or “sincere.” The two words share a similar pronunciation.