10 most difficult words to spell that even professors fail at

difficult words to spell
There are some words so difficult to spell even professors get confused. Source: AFP

In a world with auto-correct, Google and apps like Grammarly, spelling is less emphasised. However, mastering the most difficult words to spell in English is still useful, especially for university students.

As a university student, you will spend much time writing papers, emailing professors, and applying to internships and jobs. As such, ensuring you are good at spelling is important.

When writing a resume, a proposal or a school assignment, a misspelt
word can be the difference between getting a job and missing out or getting the marks needed to pass an assignment.

Having good spelling and grammar skills will help you seem more professional.

When spelling words, most languages use the imitate-sounds-into-exact-letters formula.

With English, the case is a bit different!

It is common for words to change their spelling depending on the region in which they are used.

Navigating the spelling of the most difficult words in English can sometimes feel like driving without a map.

With a language that often has more exceptions than rules, spelling can be challenging.

Take the word “colonel”, for example.

You might expect it to sound as it looks, but no, it’s pronounced as “kernel.” With many silent letters, it feels as if the language is playing a game of hide and seek with its letters.

difficult words to spell

Did you know that the word “piano” is actually borrowed from Italian. Source: AFP

English is often described as a “borrowed” language because it has borrowed words from a wide variety of other languages over its history.

The English language comprises 80% borrowed words from as many as 350 languages around the world. As a result, a significant portion of English vocabulary comes from other languages.

Here are some borrowed words in English:

  • Latin: audio
  • French: restaurant
  • Spanish: siesta
  • Italian: piano
  • Arabic: algebra

Difficult words to spell in other languages

Difficult words to spell are not limited to just the English language. Every language has its own. Here are some examples:

  • French: “hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobie” which means the fear of long words
  • German: “rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz” which is a law related to the labelling of beef
  • Spanish: “esternocleidomastoideo” which refers to a muscle in the neck
  • Italian: “precipitevolissimevolmente” which means “very rapidly”

Many of the most difficult words to spell in English can be so confusing that even professors struggle with them due to their irregularities, complex origins, or infrequent usage.

10 most difficult words to spell in English

difficult words to spell

An otorhinolaryngologist is a doctor that deals with disorders related to the ears, nose and throat. Source: AFP

1. Otorhinolaryngologist

There is no denying that medical terms are not only the most challenging words to pronounce but also some of the most difficult words to spell.

The words can be extremely long, even for doctors who have been using the words for years.

One word that is commonly misspelt is “otorhinolaryngologist.” The only way to pronounce this word correctly is by breaking it down.

An otorhinolaryngologist is a medical specialist who focuses on diagnosing and treating disorders related to the ears, nose, and throat (ENT).

Otorhinolaryngologists are crucial in managing common ear infections to complex throat disorders.

Just as these professionals navigate intricate anatomical systems, accurately spelling the term showcases an individual’s attention to detail and linguistic skills.

What adds to its complexity? Apart from the silent “h” and the unconventional use of the consonant “y,” the word has 21 letters and nine syllables.

difficult words to spell

The word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was coined by the famous children’s show Mary Poppins. Source: AFP

2. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

This whimsical and nonsensical word gained fame from the movie “Mary Poppins.” The song uses the word to describe something extraordinary, remarkable, or even indescribable.

The complexity of spelling “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” comes from its length and the combination of letters that don’t typically appear together.

Despite its challenging spelling, the word is a testament to the joy of language play and creativity.

3. Conscientious

Conscientious has two meanings. Its first meaning refers to someone who works thoroughly, and the second relates to someone’s conscience.

The challenging aspect of spelling this word arises from the arrangement of vowels in the middle and at the end of the word.

“Conscientious” is difficult to spell due to its combination of letters and sounds. It has an uncommon sequence of syllables and a variety of consonant combinations that are not often seen in English.

The silent “i” in the middle, sandwiched between two syllables with distinct vowel sounds, adds complexity.

The length and infrequent use of the word also contributes to the challenge of spelling it.

4. Manoeuvre

Manoeuvre refers to a movement that needs skill and care. Reversing around a corner is a manoeuvre required to pass a driving test.

People often confuse this word because it is spelt differently in different countries. The spelling manoeuvre is used in Canada and UK, while “maneuver” is used in the US.

“Manoeuvre” is often considered one of the most difficult words to spell in English. The presence of silent letters, like the ‘e’ after ‘u’ and the ‘v’ in the middle, can confuse spellers.

The word sounds different from spelt, making it harder to remember the correct arrangement of letters.

The French origins of this word make it hard to spell accurately. French words often have unique spelling patterns and letters that don’t correspond to their English pronunciation.

difficult words to spell

Bouillabaisse is a fish stew that originates from France. Source: AFP

5. Bouillabaisse

“Bouillabaisse” is a traditional fish stew from the port city of Marseille in France. This flavourful dish combines fish, shellfish, and aromatic herbs with a tomato-based broth.

This results in a rich and aromatic culinary dish.

Many, however, avoid ordering it as pronouncing “bouillabaisse” is challenging.

Much of this has to do with its unique combination of letters and its French origin. Since the pronunciation does not align with its spelling, it make things complicated.

difficult words to spell

The spelling of the word “playwright” is often confused with “playwrite.” Source: AFP

6. Playwright

It is no surprise that “playwright” is one of the most difficult words to spell, especially since its pronunciation does not follow its spelling.

A playwright is an artist who creates written works for the theatre, including plays and scripts.

Playwrights can uniquely capture human emotions and societal themes, making them essential contributors to dramatic arts.

When pronounced, the word sounds like “playwrite” and many tend to spell it as “write” instead of “wright.”

“Wright” is defined as a maker or builder.

However, the word is more commonly used as a second element, for example, in playwright, shipwright or wheelwright.

7. Bureaucracy

The term “bureaucracy” refers to an administrative system characterised by hierarchical structures, rules, and regulations that govern the functioning of organisations or government entities.

The pronunciation of “bureaucracy” doesn’t align with its spelling, leading to confusion. Its difficulty in spelling, and many turn to Google to search for the spelling.

This word contains letter combinations not commonly found in other English words. While the “eau” sound is unusual, it’s also found in the word “beauty.”

8. Connoisseur

A connoisseur refers to someone knowledgeable and with expert taste in many areas, including fine arts, food, or other cultural pursuits.

Connoisseurs have honed their skills through years of study and experience, allowing them to distinguish and evaluate the highest quality within their chosen domain.

However, before you can call yourself a connoisseur, ensure you spell the word correctly.

It comes from the French word “connaitre,” meaning “to know,” emphasising the knowledgeable aspect of the word.

The word contains silent letters, which can be confusing for English speakers. In “connoisseur,” the “n” and “s” are silent, which can make it challenging to spell.

difficult words to spell

Bill Gates is one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the world. Source: AFP

9. Entrepreneur

While “entrepreneur” is such a common word, many still struggle to spell it. 

According to data collected based on Google searches, it was found that 1,600 Americans search the spelling of “entrepreneur” each month — making this is one of the most difficult words to spell. 

An entrepreneur operates and manages a business, often taking on financial risks in the process. 

Entrepreneurs are characterised by their willingness to embrace uncertainty, identify opportunities, and convert them into viable enterprises. They exhibit creativity, resilience, and a strong drive to bring their ideas to fruition.

Originally a French word, the spelling can challenge even the most experienced English speakers. 

Since it starts with an ah sound, you may think it includes an “a” and confuse the spelling. While this word does have many vowels, “a” is not one of them. 

10. Gobbledygook

“Gobbledygook” is a term used to describe meaningless or nonsensical language that often consists of long, complex, or confusing words and phrases that are difficult to understand.

Usually, it’s used to criticise writing or speech that is convoluted, unclear, or intentionally written to sound impressive without conveying any real meaning.

That said, the word “gobbledygook” is long and difficult to spell.

Breaking down the word into smaller chunks like “go-bble-dee-gook” to learn the right spellings might make it easier to spell.