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Definitely seems to be one of the most frequently typoed words in written English on the Internet, enough to bring somebody to create d-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y.com.

Simon Google says, in a completely unscientific manner:

  1. defini tely ×105,000,000 (43.4%)
  2. defina tely ×  80,000,000 (33.0%)
  3. define t ly ×  21,900,000 (  9.0%)
  4. defina t ly ×  18,300,000 (  7.6%)
  5. defi ant ly ×  15,900,000 (  6.6%)¹
  6. definant ly ×       858,000 (    .4%)
  7. definent ly ×       217,000 (    .1%)

Why is this the case? What are the reasons behind these misspellings? Are those mistakes limited to the Internet, or are they also present in handwritten English as well?

1Defiantly actually is a word, so that obviously skews the numbers.

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Why the close vote? Question seems OK to me. –  delete Aug 28 '10 at 14:57
    
The question seems subjective and argumentative; it's not possible to know the reason why somebody doesn't correctly write a word, especially when it's not well identified the referenced group. The reported statistics don't identify who wrote each of the words (a person who speaks Chinese as first language, instead of any Romance language). –  kiamlaluno Aug 28 '10 at 15:59
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@kiamlaluno: actually, I think the most misspellings come from native speakers. PS: If you're positive there is no way to know, then "there is no way to know" is an answer. –  badp Aug 28 '10 at 17:08
    
I think that also non native speakers have the problem of misspelled words; the reason why a native speaker doesn't correctly write a word is different from the reason a non native speaker does the same mistake. For example, I noted that for three time in row I wrote backing when I meant baking; I would not have the problem with definitively because probably I am pronouncing it with an |æ| sound (as the first a in apple). –  kiamlaluno Aug 28 '10 at 17:55
    
This one has bothered me forever. It seems to percolate, uncorrected, among young tech types. –  jbelacqua Apr 3 '11 at 7:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Definitely is pronounced as [dɛfɪnətli], where the [ə] indicates a schwa sound. A schwa could easily be any vowel in English, so it’s easy to misspell it.

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I rarely have trouble with spelling, but one word which always makes me stop to think is parallelepiped. It’s that second e that does it: it’s pronounced as a schwa, and could reasonably be any vowel apart from u. And to top it off, the analogy with parallelogram misleadingly suggests o... –  PLL Jan 17 '11 at 5:19
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To spell parallelepiped, I use this analysis: parallel+epi+ped ... "epi" meaning "upon" and "ped" meaning "foot" –  GEdgar Jul 1 '11 at 15:57
    
Also, the final E is not pronounced, and “definantly” and “definently” arise because some accents have epenthetic [n] in -ately words (→ -antly). –  Jon Purdy Oct 31 '12 at 19:33

Can you think of any other words that end in -itely that are pronounced the same? I think the majority of them end in -ately, e.g. alternately, indiscriminately, fortunately, intimately. Therefore, people uninterested in spelling irregularity will intuitively spell it “definately” because it seems more plausible if you don’t know better.

Edit: Just thought of one: infinitely... but it’s definitely rarer!

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Infinitely is easier to spell because it isn't pronounced infinately, even though definitely is often pronounced definately. –  Umang Aug 28 '10 at 14:32
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@Umang: Evidence? As far as I know, "definitely" is pronounced with a schwa sound for its third vowel, it's never pronounced with a stressed vowel there of any kind. –  delete Aug 28 '10 at 14:59
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Infinitely is pronounced |ˈɪnfənətli|, at least in American English. –  kiamlaluno Aug 28 '10 at 20:53
    
No, I meant how it is usually pronounced, not how it should be pronounced. And I'm still probably maybe wrong. –  Umang Aug 29 '10 at 1:50
    
@Umang: In American English, infinitely can be pronounced either /ˈɪnfənətli/ or /ˈɪnfənɪtli/ (same for definitely). See the American Heritage Dictionary. It all depends on your exact dialect. If you have a schwa in definitely but not infinitely, that would definitely confuse you. –  Peter Shor Nov 19 '12 at 0:30

Believe it or not, the phenomenon you describe is as much a function of readership as of authorship. That means that its occurrence has mostly to do with where one finds the word definitely, however it happens to be spelled.

Furthermore, the OP’s mistaken use of typo as a verb — which it is not — is revealing of how the Internet has become a great leveller between more literacy and less literacy — that is, between advanced spellers and formative ones.

That, in a nutshell, answers the question.

Imagine that all “literate” grade levels, the ones after the first grade, could be lumped together and given the same spelling quiz. No matter whether the answers were oral, printed, cursive, or typed, would you expect any “better” (that is, more skewed) a distributrion of correct and incorrect spellings as is shown in the OP table? “Definitely” no? Or “defunutly” [sic] yes?

An interesting aspect of the table’s spellings of definitely is that they seem to reveal differences in hearing perceptions and hence pronunciations, which suggests a possibility that they might be influenced by ear-nose-and-throat (otorhinolaryngological) influences, especially otic and nasal.

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An ENT doc would probably find it interesting to compare such a misspelling distribution as in the OP, with a similar distribution of nasal and otic syndromes amoung an English speaking population sample –  lex Nov 17 '12 at 21:55
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I’ve tried to whip your posting into some vague semblance of readability. You use too many long sentences, too many parens, too many diversions and breaks, for it to make any sense. You also need more paragraphs. And ironically enough, a spellchecker: you got its, occurrence, and otorhinolaryngological all wrong. If you feel my copyedit has unravelled your post, please feel free to make amends. I’m only trying to help. Also, if you wish to comment on your own post instead of answering another commenter, often it is best to edit it and put the comment there, not in the comments field. –  tchrist Nov 18 '12 at 1:45
    
The edits and commentary are too unfocused for a practical reply addressing the proofs and points made, and what seems an inappopriate, non constructive tone taken. So, no offense intended--it is the only recourse provided--I am compelled to return an unconstructive flag. I will look for a way, for you and other's edification, to make responses and suggestons related to fine art of proofing/editing on meta. If it doesn't appear soon, its just that time comes at a premium for me. Understanding is appreciated. –  lex Nov 18 '12 at 19:34
    
the original post along with much of its meaning has been obliterated...to that a discussion on meta has been foreclosed to all practical purposes. Please return the original answer for me to copy, and publish for discussion on meta. Then once I have recovered my essay, if you like, I will request deletion of my entire answer. –  lex Nov 18 '12 at 19:42
    
Click the “18 hours ago” link: all previous versions are available. –  tchrist Nov 18 '12 at 19:46

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