High School Spelling Words Research

The K12reader high school spelling words activities program is based on original, comprehensive research by Thomas Clark Pollock into spelling errors commonly made by high school students. The findings were printed in The English Record (see citation below). Usage of words identified in the study was granted to K12reader by permission of the New York State English Council. . Here is a link to the full 36 week high school spelling program.

Following is excerpted from The English Record, which form the basis for the K12reader high school spelling words activity program:

Research Title: Misspelling in Grades 9-12.
Journal Citation: English Record; v22 n1 p46-53 Fall 1971
Research Author: Thomas Clark Pollock


This document is a report on a study of errors in spelling which high school students in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada have made in their writing, with special reference to the words most frequently misspelled, their relative frequency, and the kinds of spelling errors which the student made. An analysis of the different words misspelled and the number of times each word was misspelled shows that most of the words were misspelled only rarely, while a comparatively few words were misspelled much more frequently. Five major groups of errors were noted: (1) misspelling of endings of words, (2) misspelling of vowels, (3) misspelling of homonyms or near homonyms, (4) misspelling of consonants and (5) misspelling of prefixes and combining forms. An outline of the kinds of spelling errors made in grades 9-12 is included for reference.

Outline of Research Printed in The English Record

In addition to finding what different words were misspelled by students in grades 9-12 and the frequency of the misspellings of different words, the study analyzed the misspellings to find the kinds of spelling errors which the students had made in their writing and the frequency of different kinds of errors. 54,173 spellings errors were found in the 49,259 misspellings of 6,556 different words. Note that the number of spelling errors is higher than the number of misspellings. The reason, is, of course. that 50 THE ENGLISH RECORD one misspelled word may include two or more spelling errors. For example, the word immediately was misspelled “imedeat ly” by one student – three spelling errors in one misspelled word.

The largest group of spelling errors, 21,029 or 38.8% of the total, was made in the endings of words. This group of errors can be classified into three sub-groups.

  1. 4,438 or 8.2% of the errors were made in the spelling of a suffix. For example, one student wrote the suffix -ance in appearance as “appearence.”
  2. 8,295 or 15.3% of the errors were made not in the spelling of the suffix itself, but in adding the suffix to the base word or root. For example, one student, in adding the suffix -ly to true, wrote “truely.” Frequently this error consisted in incorrectly doubling or not doubling a consonant before a suffix, as in “comming.” stoped,” and writting.”
  3. 8,296 or 15.3% of the errors were made in the spelling of a word-ending in which no suffix was involved. Examples are the mis- spellings “grammer” for grammar, “artical” for article, and “similar” for similar.

The second largest group of errors, 10,742 or 20%, was made in the misspelling of vowels, that is vowel sounds plus the number 10,742, is in addition to any misspellings of vowels which were incidental to the misspellings of suffixes, prefixes. combining forms, homonyms, and near homonyms. This group of errors also can be classified into three sub-groups.

  1. 2,653 or 5% of the errors were made in the spelling of standard two-letter vowel graphemes, such as ai and ea. Examples are “afriad” for afraid, “jelous” for jealous, and “speaeh” for speech.
  2. Confusion between ei and ie led to 2,023 or 4% of the errors. as in “beleive” for believe, “recieve” for receive, and “theft’ for thief. It may be worth noting that an unusually large proportion of these ie- ei errors (77% of the total) came in the 388 words which were misspelled 25 times or more.
  3. An additional 6,066 or 11% of the errors arose from more varied difficulties with the spelling of vowels, as in “seperate” for separate, “piolet for pilot, and magizine” for magazine.

The third largest group of errors, 7,331 or 13.5%, was made in the misspelling of homonyms or near homonyms, such as to-too-two and weather-whether.

The fourth largest group of errors, 6,503 or 12%, came in the misspelling of consonants. These errors may be classified into four sub-groups.

  1. 1,096 or 2% came hi the misspelling of two-letter consonant graphemes, such as gh and sc. Examples are “enoughe for enough, “concious” for conscious, and “profecy” for prophecy.
  2. 1,761 or 33% came from problems of doubling or not dou- bling consonants, as in “embarass” for embarrass, and “posess” for possess.
  3. 819 or 1.5% of the errors came from the omission of a silent letter, as in “climed” for climbed, “morgage” for mortgage, and “rythm” for rhythm.
  4. 2,827 or 5.2% were other kinds of errors in spelling individual consonant sounds. Examples are “deside” for decide and “tradgedy” for tragedy. A number of these errors, such as “inenity” for indentity, “libary” for library, and reconize”, for recognize are presumably related to mistaken pronunciation or hearing of the word.

The fifth largest group of errors, 5,024 or 9%, came from the misspelling of prefixes and combining forms, as in “biblography” for bibliography, “discribe” for describe, and “preform” for perform.