What is the most misspelled word in the English language?

It is an interesting question, and one that is harder to answer than it might appear at first glance. We should be able to use the all-knowing Internet to search for instances of misspellings, and compare the number of instances of the correct spelling. But it is not always easy to isolate the misspelling.

Dr. Boli has often suggested that the most misspelled word in the English language is led, the simple past and past participle of the verb “to lead.” It is very often spelled “lead,” by confusion with the identically pronounced metal, and by analogy with “read,” another strong verb whose change in pronunciation from present to past is exactly the same as the change from “lead” to “led.”

But how do we isolate the misspelling “lead” for the past tense from the perfectly correct spelling of the present tense? Dr. Boli has hit on one method: he searched on the phrase “has lead to,” in which “lead” is very unlikely to be meant for the present tense or (for that matter) the metal. We can probably assume that the ratio of misspelling to correct spelling in this unambiguous phrase will be just about the same as the ratio in other uses of the word. These are the results from Google:

“has lead to”: About 45,500,000 results

“has led to”: About 491,000,000 results

Can we find any other word where the ratio of misspelling to correct spelling is higher?

Here is one very unscientific “study” that picks “separate” (often spelled “seperate”) as the most misspelled word. But here are the results from Google:

“seperate”: About 37,000,000 results

“separate”: About 465,000,000 results

Close, but not as often misspelled as “led.”

How about “definitely”?

“definately”: About 34,600,000 results

“definitely”: About 432,000,000 results

So far, “definitely” is running behind. But if we add some other common misspellings of the word, it begins to pick up speed:

“definatly”: About 4,680,000 results

“definitly”: About 4,440,000 results

Adding up those three common misspellings, we come up with 43,720,000 misspelled instances against 432,000,000 correctly spelled instances—a ratio of almost exactly 1 to 10. “Definitely” wins by a nose—which is especially impressive considering that misspellings of “definitely” will trip a spelling-checker, whereas the common misspelling of “led” will not.

Provisionally, then, we may regard “definitely” as the most misspelled word in the English language. But we simply cannot leave it at that. Dr. Boli calls on all the pedants out there (and surely there must be a few pedants in Dr. Boli’s audience) to contribute to this important research project. By combining the power of our brains and our endless hours of idle leisure, we can establish once and for all which word in English is the most misspelled. Then we can take corrective action.

(A helpful searching hint: if you use Google to search for misspelled words, remember to put them in quotation marks.)


  1. If you use various misspellings of “definitely,” you need to apply the same principle to “led.”

    For instance:

    “have lede to” = 10 times on the Internet

    “have laed to” = 127 times on the Internet

    “have leed to” = 11,000 times on the Internet

    At this point, I am working above my pay scale, for I can’t undo the Google search engine’s conflation of the misspelling “leed” from the acronym “LEED,” so the 11,000 number inflates the instances of misspelling.

    But the principle is correct.

    (And what about the mistakes associated with “lie lay lain” and “lay laid laid” or “sit sat sat” and “set set set”? Any way of searching these?)

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  2. Dr. Boli says:

    Mr. Hodges brings up a useful question: how far do we search for possible misspellings? There is no clear limit to the number of ways “definitely” can be misspelled, for example. For “defanatly,” Google finds 588,000 or so results. There is also the question of distinguishing mistyping from misspelling.

    Let us say, then, that we shall limit ourselves to common misspellings, and let us say, arbitrarily, that a “common” misspelling is one with more than a million results in a Google search.

  3. antiplanner says:

    I’ve seen led spelled lead many times, but another common misspelling is lose/loser (meaning the opposite of win/winner) which is often misspelled “loose/looser.” Using your method, Google found “he’s a loser” about 2 million times and “he’s a looser” about 284,000 times, which is a higher ratio than led/lead.

  4. Dr. Boli says:

    Another common error, if we admit contractions as single words: “your” for “you’re.” “When your done”: About 21,100,000 results. “When you’re done”: About 124,000,000 results. So far, this is the champion.

    A suggestion for a strong contender to beat that record: “it’s” for “its.” Dr. Boli will leave that fun to someone else. Other suggestions: “their” and “there” for “they’re,” and all the other ways around; “where” for “were” and vice versa; “stationary” for “stationery,” and vice versa.

  5. Clay Potts says:

    you lost me at “pedants”, or is that “pedents”, or perhaps “”padents”?

  6. One might want to distinguish between misspellings, where someone uses a spelling because they honestly think it’s correct or don’t know any better, and wouldn’t/couldn’t correct it even if given the chance; and mere typos, where someone merely fails to spell-check something before hitting “enter” and submitting it online. The nature of online communication lends itself to rapid submission of contributions, particularly in online chat environments, with little or no proofreading, and typographical errors are bound to creep in at an alarming rate, even for typists who otherwise are perfectly aware of the correct spelling of a word.

    Confusions of Their/They’re/There and Your/You’re can go either way, and are probably too difficult to separate out via a mere Google search, but my own personal bugbear of The/Teh is almost always a typo rather than an actual misspelling (outside of certain geek circles where intentional misspellings are used for humorous effect).

    I have a friend who fairly consistently uses “emporer” rather than “emperor”, to the extent that I have been tempted to try and create the neologism Emporer to mean “proprietor of an Emporium” just to mess with him.

  7. Martha says:

    I must agree with Martin the Mess; the countless number of times I’ve seen “rogue” rendered as “rouge” has resulted in my mis-reading the correct spelling when I do encounter it.

    My new top annoyance is the prevalence of “per say” for per se, but that is obviously due to people spelling the word as they hear it, not having seen it in print before using it.

  8. RKae says:

    I would’ve guessed “its.”

    (Or should I say, “would of” guessed…?)

  9. creeper says:

    “cancelled” Hands down.

  10. Beth says:

    Most irritating lately: choose/chose and lose/loose.

  11. Bridge Guy says:

    I keep Duck tape handy for all those time I see “prolly” used in lieu of “probably”. The tape doesn’t prevent my head from exploding, but it keeps the contents pretty well contained…

  12. I’m worried about the possibility of one intending “has lead, too” writing instead “has lead to” or “has, lead to”. But that’s merely because I am a too-imaginative curmudgeon. Search engines tend to overlook punctuation, which, given its rather noisy character, in internet usage, may well be for the best.

  13. Martha, I have that “per se/per say” problem in reverse. Being basically antisocial from a young age, and a voracious reader, I often ran into words that I’d see many times in print before ever hearing them spoken aloud. A typical example would be “Epitome”, which I could properly spell, define, and use correctly in a sentence from an early age, but couldn’t for the life of me seem to pronounce as anything but “EH-pee-toam”, which is how I first heard it in my head while reading it, rather than the correct “Eh-PIH-tow-mee”.

    Another “hear before see written” word I’ve seen others get wrong fairly often is “for all intents and purposes”, which often gets mangled into “for all intensive purposes”.

    I doubt this is a common one, but another friend of mine went decades mis-reading and mis-pronouncing “Charybdis” as “Charbydis”, to be pronounced “Shar-Bee-Dee” as if it was French and not Greek or something. Thanks to Battlestar Galactica, I knew the right pronunciation since before I could read, but he had the misfortune to first encounter it while reading. We even named a planet after mythological monster in a science fiction novel we co-wrote, but since we were doing so via online emails, and the planet was a minor one story-wise mostly appearing on star maps, my eyes slid right over his misspelled map legend literally hundreds of times before I noticed his transposed letters. It wasn’t until he recorded an in-story audio news report mentioning the world that his misconception came to my attention, and by then the book had already been sent to the vanity press for publishing.

    But Et Cetera is a particular pet peeve of mine. Thanks to taking Latin in junior high, I haven’t misspelled or mis-pronounced it in ages (aside from my innate refusal to abbreviate it in mid-sentence or especially at the end of a sentence when writing, lest I have to bother with confusing punctuation). But my teeth grind whenever I hear it as Ex Cetera or Ex Cedra, especially as “Exedra” is one of my favorite obscure greco-latinate words, one that I’ve used in a variety of fictional contexts whenever I needed an impressive-sounding name for something in a sci-fi context. Even if for the first few years of this I was embarrassingly consistently misspelling it as “Excedra”.

  14. SteveColby says:

    ““has lead to”: About 45,500,000 results”
    This could relate to a firearms enthusiast who has lead to spare, or to an old-fashioned typesetter. Subtract those four instances and you definitely have a clear winner in definitely. (but not indefinitely)

  15. Michelle R says:

    I vote for “than” when it should be “then”, and vice versa, most of those aren’t usually even caught. “Its” is close behind.

  16. Clay Potts says:

    I am ready for Excedrin….

  17. G Moore says:

    not only in writing, but in saying, irregardless for regardless. Makes me cringe.

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