It doesn’t matter whether English is your first language or your fifth – the fact remains that it can be difficult to spell English words. In particular, there are 20 frustrating English words (or combos) that we’ll tackle here today, along with some tips and tricks to remember for future use. As always, I love to hear your tips and tricks (my students are constantly teaching me new ones!) or any English words that make you say “dangnabbit!” each time you try to write them.

1/2 – Effect vs. Affect

I might as well start by tackling the word duo that plagued me for so long. If I’m honest, I still have to stop and think about which one to use from time to time. The difference between “effect” and “affect” is a wee bit of a fine line.

Typically the rule goes:

  • Effect = noun
  • Affect = verb

If you’re like a lot of language users and forget what a noun or a verb is, never fear – I’ve got a post in the works for you!

Back to “effect” and “affect” though… since the rule isn’t hard and fast, I would suggest trying them both out in the sentence to see what makes sense when you’re stuck. For example:

  • The heat affects my ability to enjoy this pizza.
    (Then, replace “affects” with another verb to see if the sentence works.)
    The heat magnifies my ability to enjoy this pizza.
  • The effect of the heat destroys my ability to enjoy this pizza.
    (Then, replace “the effect” with another noun to see if the sentence works.)
    The intensity of the heat destroys my ability to enjoy this pizza.

But Tara, you say with frustration, this rule doesn’t always work!!! What about when “affect” is a noun and “effect” is a verb?! My trick for this is a little less orthodox but, I like to think, just as effective (eh! eh!). “Affect” as a noun means emotion or feeling. What sound does the letter “a” make? “Aaaahhh” (*think of the sound you make as a kid sticking your tongue out at the doctor or dentist) What sound do you make when the light bulb goes on in your head for figuring something out or when “ooo”ing and “aaah”ing at something? You’re expressing emotion when you say “AH HA!” or “oooo aaaah”, therefore the way to remember when to use “affect” as a noun is to ask yourself if you are describing emotion in the sentence. For example:

  • His affect was very clear to everyone.
  • His happiness was very clear to everyone!

And what about when “effect” is a verb? Process of elimination, my friends!

3/4 – Your vs. You’re

This is going to be easy peasy for you from here on out.

  • Your = possession
  • You’re = You are

When writing your sentence, ask yourself if you can replace the word with “you are”. If not, use “your”. For example:

  • Your new puppy is adorable!
    (Substitute “You are” to see if the sentence still makes sense.)
    You are new puppy is adorable! (Annnnd this sentence definitely doesn’t work!)
You're vs Your from 20 Frustrating English Words

5 – Definitely

People often replace the second “i” with an “a” when spelling “definitely”, however this is incorrect. I have a couple of tricks for this one. The first trick is by “looking at” the word, specifically its shape. The letters on either side of the “i”s are tall. Once could argue a lowercase “i” is tall too since it’s dot lengthens the stick. If you replace the second “i” with an “a” then you lose the symmetry. A second trick is to make up a story, like the “i”s have egos and they’re trying to be as tall as “f” and “t” so there’s no way an “a” could fit in. A third trick is that “finite” is a word but “finate” is not.

6,7,8 – Their vs. They’re vs. There

I love this trio. Yes, that may be weird to say, but I just love it when a student masters these three tricksters. Here’s the breakdown of each one, along with some memory tips:

  • There = location
    You’ll probably hear me say again and again on this website, but if you “look at” the word, you’ll see that “Here” is located inside of “There”. Therefore, remembering that “there” means a location is easy when you know “here” is hanging out there too!
  • They’re = they are
    Just like the your/you’re debacle above, see if you can replace “there/they’re/their” with “they are” in your sentence for a fool-proof way to select the proper word.
  • Their = possession
    I have 2 tips for this one. The first is process of elimination, assuming the first 2 tips are remembered. The second is to remember that “the” is already a word, but “thi” isn’t, and so therefore “i” has to come after the “e”. If you want to get creative you can make up a story to remember both the meaning and spelling.
Here is in There, not They're or Their

9/10 – Here vs. Hear

A student pointed out the most obvious and wonderful tip to me this year that I had never realized before. “Ear” is in the “hear” that you use your “ear” to listen or hear! Gotta love kids. They see what the adults miss, every time.

11/12 – Whether vs. Weather

In order to remember that weather is the stuff outside, is to take the “eath” and rearrange it to make “heat”. “Whether” that helps or not, I don’t know – but give it a try and let me know below!

13/14 – Then vs. Than

“Then” is a synonym of “next” and both of those words have an “e” in them. “Than” is a comparison to “an”other. Ask yourself the question “What’s next?” before your sentence to verify it makes sense to use “then”. For example.

  • They just finished high school. What’s next? They’ll have their graduation and “then” they will go on to do great things in life!
What's next? Then or than? Read on to learn how to tackle these frustrating English words!

15/16 – Lose vs. Loose

If something is “loose” that means there is too much slack and room. “Too” and “room” both have double “oo”s just like “loose”. Alternatively, with the word “lose”, if you replace the last letter you get the word “lost”. I hope I didn’t lose you with these tips. (I know, that one was really corny…)

17 – Weird

Life is more fun when we are weirdos together, right? Well, when trying to memorize the “e” coming before the “i”, remember that the word “we” is at the beginning of this “weird” word!

Life is more fun when we are weird together

18/19 – Its vs. It’s

Similar to “you are/you’re”, replace “its” and “it’s” with “it is” in your sentence. If it makes sense with “it is”, then use the contraction (word with the apostrophe). Or, go by the rule: “Its” = possession, and It’s = “It is”.

  • It’s funny to see people hug and go into stores without masks in the movies. (It is funny to see…. YUP!)

20 – A lot vs. Alot

“A lot” of you might have mixed this one up before so keep this handy trick in your back pocket. When talking about “a lot” of things, you’re talking about more than one – so you need 2 words to describe all of them! For example, there are a lot of lanterns in this photo!

There are a lot of lanterns in this photo!

Frustrating English Words – Be Gone!

I hope that this list of 20 pesky words is helpful to you the next time you sit down to write out your thoughts. If you’ve got any other frustrating English words to spell, drop them in the comments below!

About TMc


Me having a seat in front of one of the famous Brighton Bathing Boxes in Australia!

Heya! I’m Tara (Tar-ah)! Welcome to Travel with TMc where you’ll find quirky language tidbits, travel hacks for Canadians, and stories from the road. I hope you enjoy!
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