5 English Phrases Even Native Speakers Get Wrong

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If a word or phrase is spoken more than it is written, the correct spelling can be difficult to remember. This is a common problem with exclamations, e.g., whoa, aw, whoops, etc.

As you might imagine, these exclamations don’t find their way into written prose all that often, and when they do, writers forget how to spell them. Whoa, for example, has at least two misspellings that pop up in printed works: whoah and woah.

In this post, however, I want to cover five English phrases that suffer from the same phenomenon. While these phrases are common in spoken English, when it’s time to write them down, misspellings abound.

If you want your writing to stand out and exceed that of a native speaker, here are five commonly misspelled phrases with which you can start.

1. Free Rein

  • free rein meaningCorrect Spelling: Free rein.
  • Common Misspelling: Free reign.

To give someone free rein is to give that person significant leeway to act as he or she pleases.

  • At present, they have free rein to operate in the area, slowing the flow of pedestrian traffic and annoying many of those who pass through Times Square. –Business Insider

The reason for the misspelling relates to a homophone of rein: reign.

The word reign has to do with kings and other rulers, and it is commonly used to describe how a king treats his subjects.

  • He reigned over them with an iron fist.

The phrase free rein, however, alludes to horses, not kings. The phrase originates from freeing the reins of a horse to allow it to move more freely while riding.

2. Beck and Call

  • Correct Spelling: Beck and call.
  • Common Misspelling: Beckon call.

To be at someone’s beck and call is to be readily available at a moment’s notice.

  • In order to please your customers, you need to be at their beck and call.

It’s easy to see why this phrase gets occasionally misspelled. Beck and sounds a lot like beckon, which itself has a related meaning to beck.

Nevertheless, beck and call is the correct phrase and modern usage patterns bear this fact out.

3. Bear With Me

  • bear with meaningCorrect Spelling: Bear with me.
  • Common Misspelling: Bare with me.

If you ask someone to bear with you, you are asking for patience from that person.

  • Please bear with me as I explain how to use this phrase.

Misspelling bear with me can turn a work-appropriate email into something inappropriate in no time flat, so it’s important to keep this one straight.

While it’s not really an English phrase, the spelling bare with me would be an invitation to undress or get naked, so it’s definitely not a spelling you want to use by accident.

The correct spelling in all work-related contexts is bear with me.

4. All of a Sudden

  • Correct Spelling: All of a sudden.
  • Common Misspelling: All of the sudden.

This phrase is a popular English idiom, and it functions as an adverb, similar to the word suddenly.

  • We agreed on a price for the car, but, all of a sudden, the buyer backed out.

In all senses, all of a sudden is the correct spelling.

5. Make Do

  • make do phraseCorrect Spelling: Make do.
  • Common Misspelling: Make due.

To make something do is to manage with limited or inadequate means.

  • We don’t have any milk for dinner, so you will have to make do with water.

It is tempting to think of make due as its own phrase.

  • Make rent due on the first of each month.

While make due might be appropriate in a contrived example such as this, it is entirely unrelated to the phrase make do, which usually includes the preposition with, i.e., make do with.