THE TOP 10 INCONSISTENT SPELLINGS
Some words have more than one correct spelling. American, British, Australian and Canadian
English all have their own preferences. Even within those, there can be multiple spellings. For
example, in the UK 'realise' is often preferred. However, 'realize' has been used in
British-English for centuries and is preferred in the Oxford English Dictionary.
However, no matter which spelling is preferred, one thing is always wrong: you mustn't
use two different spellings in the same document.
The Top 10
We used PerfectIt, Intelligent Editing's
add-in for MS Word that finds inconsistencies, to check 1200 randomly selected documents. Each
document was 1500 words or more and was downloaded from the internet. The results were
staggering. Everyone knows not to use two different spellings for the same word, but we found
that more than a quarter of documents published online did exactly that.
The worst offender was 'organise' and 'organize', which came up in more than 10% of all
documents (including all the sub-variations, such as 'organization' and 'organizes'). But it
was far from the only one. Here's the full top 10.
Table 1: The 10 most inconsistently spelled words
||FREQUENCY (% OF DOCUMENTS)
||organise / organize
||centre / center
||focussed / focused
||recognise / recognize
||analyse / analyze
||advisor / adviser
||learnt / learned
||finalise / finalize
||emphasise / emphasize
||labour / labor
Beware the False Positives
PerfectIt clearly found mistakes that
spelling and grammar checkers were missing. However, like any software, you can't just
assume that every result means the document is wrong. For example, names can be intentionally
inconsistent. In the UK, 'centre' may be preferred, but you'd still use 'center' in the name
'Centers for Disease Control and Prevention'. The same is true for 'organisation'.
It's less common, but 'learned' and 'learnt' can also be used in the same document. They can
even both be used in the same sentence: 'he learnt from the learned professor' where (unless
your name is Homer Simpson)
'learned' is pronounced with two syllables.
For this reason, a number of words weren't included in our analysis. These include
'programme' and 'program', because in the UK both are used but 'program' is reserved for
software. Similarly, 'cheque' and 'check' may be an inconsistent spelling. However, since
'check' is also a verb, consideration of context makes it inappropriate for review with software.
Other examples are tire/tyre, license/licence, curb/kerb, metre/meter, and practice/practise.
What to Look For
Inconsistent spellings don't just happen, they happen a lot. Our finding that more than a
quarter of documents over 1500 words contain an inconsistent spelling is staggering. The worst
document we found had 17 different words spelled inconsistently. When you're writing, you need
to choose one style and stick to it. When you're editing, watch for inconsistent spellings,
especially if more than one author has helped to put a document together.
The Top 10 gives you a starting point for words to keep your eye on. However, there were 100
more words that came up in our research and when you're going through text, you need to consider
all of them. PerfectIt can help you present
your documents at their best by automatically locating inconsistencies that would otherwise pass
you by. However, it's important to keep your eyes peeled and pay close attention to an error
that's surprisingly frequent.