English Majors Should Pass This Spelling Test With Flying Colors. Can You?

Zoe Samuel

Which of these spells a word that means to mortify or humiliate?

The correct spelling is "embarrass." It means "to be mortified, to feel shame or public awkwardness."

Which of these means a way of memorizing words by using their initials?

A mnemonic is a way of remembering something by using a pattern of letters. For example, you might remember the order of the planets from the sun with a sentence that starts with their initials.

Which of the below means someone who is grossly unqualified?

"Amateur" is a French loan word. It means a person who does something for fun or as a hobby, instead of doing it professionally for money!

Which of these means keeping something in good condition on an ongoing basis?

"Maintenance" is a word with a French background. That's why even though "maintain" is spelled with an A, "maintenance" has an E.

Which of these means a timed agenda or a calendar?

Schedule is pronounced with a hard C sound in the U.S. In the UK it sounds more French, with a "sh" sound at the beginning.

Which of the below is the correct spelling of the word meaning "odd" or "strange," not the word referring to circuitry?

You know how they say "I before E except after C"? Well, in this case, it's wrong. That is because weird is... weird.

Which one is a word that is the opposite of "give," but doesn't mean "take"?

You know how they say "I before E except after C"? That's why there's a C, and then an EI. Sometimes the rules are the rules.

Which of these is a doorway or a life milestone?

Threshold seems like it comes from thresh+hold. Actually, it's from an Old English word "threscold," which is why there is only the one H.

Which of the below is the correct spelling for the thing that turns into popcorn (not the military rank)?

A kernel and a colonel are pronounced the same way! However, one is a little piece of corn, and the other is a fairly senior military rank.

Which one describes a thing or person that is hot, passionate, or simply rather flame-y?

"I before E except after C" strikes again! It may be "fire" but it's still "fiery" when describing a thing that is like fire.

Which means a meter, or a verb meaning "to evaluate"?

It's pronounced "gage," but it has a U left over from its French progenitor. That makes it unlike "color" or "honor," which lost theirs in the Atlantic.

Which means to harry, bother, or pester?

Harass is not like embarrass (though the two experiences are sadly linked). That's why the emphasis in harass is on the "rass" and in embarrass, it's on the "barr."

Which means to surpass expectations?

"Exceed" is a word that does actually require both consonants to be pronounced separately. It has this in common with "succeed."

Which of these means not knowing something?

"Ignorance" is a word that you really want to get right! The -ance or -ence ending of words like this is all about their Latin roots. Sadly, it can feel pretty arbitrary otherwise.

Which of these means decorative precious stones or accessories?

"Jewelry" is correct in the U.S. In the U.K., however, the correct spelling is "jewellery."

Which one means a person who connects two offices or organizations, or an affair?

This is another French one! The "li" makes one syllable, while the "ai" makes another.

Which of these means a place that is full of books?

Library is often abused in the pronunication, as "libary." That's why so many people forget the first R in spelling it. However, it is not a tricky word; it is said the same way that it is spelled.

Which of the below is the correct spelling for the teacher or team member in a leadership position (as opposed to the guiding axiom)?

A principal should have principles, but they are not spelled the same way. One means the head of a school or a featured player in a group. The other means a guiding moral tenet.

Which of these means germane or pertinent?

This is one you really just have to learn. It sounds like it has a double letter L and could end -ent. However, it hasn't, and it doesn't!

Which one means passionate to the point of violence?

"Vehement" is a French word with a heavily Anglicized pronunciation. There aren't really any rules to help on this one; it just has to be learned by rote.

Which of these spells a Hoover or floor cleaning device, or a void?

It would suck not to spell this one right! Vacuum's Latin root has three syllables which is where it gets the double U. It's a relation of "vacuous," meaning empty, which is rather apt!

Which of the below means to be agreeable to someone's needs or preferences?

Accommodate this word by using two Cs and two Ms. "Commode" also has two Ms.

Which means a corporation?

Business literally comes from "busy-ness." However, it is pronounced BIZ-ness. The origin is a useful way to think of the word, though.

Which of these means a quandary or conundrum, especially a moral one?

This word is spelled as it is said. This is not an American simplification. There was never an N. People who remember one had a teacher who got it wrong!

Which of these means not native, or indigenous from abroad?

It rhymes with "sporran" but it looks so... foreign. That's because it is! This word is so French, it's riding a bike and carrying a string of garlic. That's why there is a silent G, a common feature of French. If you have a glass of champagne and put your hair in a chignon, it'll all make more sense.

Which of these means euphoria, a feeling of intense joy or pleasure?

If you are a huge nerd, remember this one by thinking of CSS, the HTML language. If you are not, just try to memorize it.

Which one means the thrust, implication or underlying idea?

The G here is not hard. G is usually soft, and thus pronounced like a J, when it is followed by an E or an I. It's hard with the other vowels.

Which of the below is the correct spelling - for the bone, not the funny situation?

A humerus is also called a funny bone. This is entirely because of the name. It's actually incredibly unfunny when you hit yours.

Which one means to encircle, as in a war when an army surrounds a city?

"Siege" is taken directly from French. It's not quite a typical soft G, though, as it is more like the G in "aubergine."

Which of these means correct word order and punctuation?

"Grammar" is a bad word to spell incorrectly, as it is intimately bound up with spelling. It means the rules of word order, punctuation use and sentence structure.

Which one correctly spells a number that is one higher than 89?

Ninety has an E. Indeed, numbers tend not to mess around in their full pronunciations; if there is an E, we should hear it and see it!

Which spelling means something that is up to par, just good enough, but not necessarily better?

This word has two hard sounds where the double C appears: ack-sep-tah-bull It's more confusing, though, as it looks like a double letter, but it's not operating like one.

Which one means side by side and always equidistant, or happening in two places at the same time?

The double L in parallel is often mistakenly put at the end. The trick to putting it where it belongs is to remember that in this case the parallel lines are in the middle. As for the number of Rs, that's just the prefix "par" showing up, as it often does!

Which of these means to back off, like a wave going down the beach after crashing?

Recede, exceed, accede, etc., are all difference prefixes on the same word: cede. It's pronounced the same as "seed" but comes from the Latin "cedere," meaning to yield.

Which of the below is the correct spelling for the word meaning "smallest or slightest"?

A meer is a body of water in German. Mere is what you call something that only just meets requirements.

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About This Quiz

English is a language with a storied history. It has been around in a recognizable form for about 1,600 years, since the fall of the Roman Empire. It started out as Anglo-Saxon, which was itself a mishmash of dialects within England's various warring kingdoms. Once the kingdom was united, the language began to coalesce. Regular infusions of Norse and Germanic words came from raiders, expanding the vocabulary. Then came the Norman invasion, with a whole lot of Gallic words. English remained the language of the people, but French was the language of court for several centuries. Eventually that passed away and the French melted into the English, adding yet more words, rules and structures.

This marked the arrival of Middle English into the Medieval period, which you'd probably be able to read relatively easily, even if you never studied it. As the Renaissance got underway, Middle English became more standardized, even though the idea of standardization was not yet popular. People wrote dictionaries more to record what they heard around them than to be prescriptive. Even in Shakespeare's day, there was no such thing as "bad" spelling. After all, hardly anyone could read and the printing press was pretty nascent, so you didn't need to agree on a system that worked for everyone.

Then came Dr. Johnson's dictionary, the invention of proper spelling and the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly literacy was a big deal, and it started to really matter that everyone was on the same page - literally. Over the next 100 years, proper spelling became a sign of intelligence and education. It's not an exact science, as language changes and even some very smart people just can't come to grips with spelling. However, it's a great skill to have. 

Are you a top-notch speller? Let's find out!

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