Rogue Words from A to Z: Don’t Be Defiant, It’s Definitely Limiting

A to Z 2015 Letter DDid you know that definitely is the most misspelled word in the English language?

One of the most common ways to misspell definitely is to use an “a” where there should be an “i” and write the word as definately. This is an easy mistake to make. When we pronounce the word definitely out loud, we make an “uh” sound on the third syllable (called a schwa): def-in-uht-ly.  Since the “uh” sound is often spelled with an “a,” it makes sense that definitely should have an “a.” It doesn’t. But then, when has the English language ever made sense?

When people are really confused, they write the word defiantly, which won’t get flagged in your spellcheck because it’s a real word. It comes from the verb “to defy.”

Definitely, on the other hand, comes from the word “finite,” which means to be bound by something or to have limits.

And this is the key thing for you to remember if you want to spell definitely correctly: it comes from the word “finite.” De-finite-ly.

To help you remember this, I have written a very short story.

The Tale of the Defiant Jerk, Whose Time On This Earth Was Limited

Pie_eating_contest_1923Once upon a time, there was a guy who decided that this was the day he was going to win the nuclear pie-eating contest. His girlfriend told him he was being foolish.

He said to her defiantly, “I can break the record. Those other people have limited willpower, and I am the king of contests.”

“No, you can’t,” she said. “It’s no good trying to defy nature. The size of your stomach is finite. It’s been proven definitively. It’s de-finite-ly true.”

But he ate the pie anyway, because he knew he was defin-ate-ly right.

And exploded.

He destroyed an infinite number of planets. What a jerk.

I guess his intelligence was finite, too.



This post is dedicated to Pat Sponaugle and Nicole Roder. Thanks for reading!

Image from Wikimedia Commons

For further reading on definitely, please check out these links:

Common Errors in English Usage: Definate

Time For A New Year’s Resolution? Definately? Defiantly? Definitely!

Stay tuned for Monday’s post, where I will endeavour to entrap the elusive letter E…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

81 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: Don’t Be Defiant, It’s Definitely Limiting

  1. Haha! Nuclear pie sounds like it’d wreak havoc with ones’ digestion.

    I misspelled definitely for *years*. Even now, I have to tell myself, “it’s with an “i” numbskull.” 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sometimes there are mistakes to be made that I wish I hadn’t heard of. I’ll be paranoid about spelling definitely forever now, and I’m sure I’ve always had it right. Separately, however… well I guess that’ll come with S 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure you have had it right! 🙂 Thanks for commenting, Jemima. As far as S goes…the rogue word for that day is still a Secret, but…shhh…you could very well be on to something! 😉


  3. For the longest time, I would spell “definitely” as “definately” and rely on spellcheck to correct it for me. Not proud of that, but I eventually saw the light. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That was a great story. Definitely!!!! My word I always have to look up is occasion (here I go to Google to check the spelling). I always want to put an extra ‘i’ into it. Your story makes me think of the pie-eating contest in the movie “Stand By Me” where the kid regurgitates everything he has eaten all over the audience of people that have been mean to him. I once used that scene as an introduction video on a presentation I did in a Nursing Management class. Great post!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, SD. 🙂 I had forgotten all about that scene from Stand by Me! That must have been some Nursing Management class, I’ll bet your students had a lot of fun with it. (And I’ll tell you now, I think you are going to like my post for O. So stay tuned.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I wasn’t the teacher, I was the student – it was in Grad school. They talked about that presentation for a long time after that. Post for O. Can’t wait!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh, cappuccino. Nope, not off the top of my head. I’m having so much fun with this series, though, I may need to make this a regular blog feature in future. If I do, I will make sure your word is on the list. Adding it to my notebook now!


  5. The schwa is to blame for lots of common misspellings. (Yay — someone else who knows what a schwa is!) Most people spell words the way they hear those words pronounced, and if they hear every short vowel as a generic “uh”…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love that suggestion to look at the word differently. I’ve never thought of it as including “finite” before, but I’m happy for the new outlook. That’s my favorite thing about words–there’s so much more to them than just what we perceive!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome, Cortney! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s great, isn’t it, when we suddenly see why a word is constructed a certain way. I love that sense of discovery, too. 🙂


  7. That difference between pronunciation and spelling in the english language is really tricky. Definitely is a great example of that, the pronunciation doesn’t help with figuring out the spelling at all.
    Another one that can be super confusing for foreigners is though vs tough. Spelled exactly the same save for the h at the start, yet the ‘gh’ at the end is pronounced completely differently!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t run across that difficulty, Celine, but that makes a lot of sense. Have you found there are challenges in pronouncing though and tough, or just spelling them? I’m curious, because this might be a good contender for the letter T!


      1. Well I’m a bit of an unusual case because I learned English at such a young age, so I never had any more trouble than an English kid — at least not that I remember — but I know people who struggled to pronounce it when reading aloud at first. Likewise with spelling it – there’s no rule to explain why gh suddenly sounds like ‘f’.
        Actually, another one that I know people have struggled with is where the i goes when next to an e. We had a little song growing up: “i before e, except after c’.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Personally, I have never had trouble with this particular one, so I was surprised to find this out as well. Based on the comments today, this word is pronounced in many different ways depending on the region. With my “flat” Canadian accent, where I say it more like an ih than an uh, it isn’t too much trouble for me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a lovely theme for the A-Z challenge! I used to struggle with Definitely vs defiantly all the time … I actually tried to do definately, and autocorrect would change it to defiantly. I fixed it using the ‘finite’ trick too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Liza! It’s great to meet you. Thank you for commenting – I’m glad you like my theme. That autocorrect function can get us into so much trouble! Happy to hear that “finite” has worked for you. 🙂


  9. Oh, I’ll remember that. ‘Definitely’ is a word that I do get wrong and have to spell check on, although it’s usually because I put the ‘e’ on the wrong side of the ‘l’. Now I feel better knowing that I’m not the only one who keeps slipping up with this. Just checking to make sure I definitely spelt it right in this comment.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Same here. When I’m writing to people in chat I make tonnes of mistakes. Sometimes I’ll even write a combination of two words, like my mind has already jumped ahead in the sentence but my fingers haven’t caught up.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I used to misspelled “definitely” all the time. And this wasn’t such a long time ago. 😉 I always had to rely on spell check to fix it for me. It took a while for me to get the hang of spelling it correctly. I didn’t use an “a” but I’d forget the second “e.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. A winner of an explanation, Sue, and a perfect little ditty to help me remember the spelling. I’m fairly certain you’ve cured me of making that mistake from here on out.
    And also, I’m hungry for pie.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. When I was younger I could spell definite but got tripped up when it became definitely and also tried to insert an a. When I finally looked at it one rag and realized the root word, I never misspelled it again. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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