Note that this is not the same as What is it called when words are deliberately spelled incorrectly but pronunciation is kept unchanged? because that question is about deliberate misspellings, whereas this one is about unwitting misspellings.

Many people unknowingly spell an English word exactly as they would pronounce it, which can lead to a misspelling.


1.Elifant or Elifent for elephant.

"She ran away on seeing the elifant."

2.Shiwawa for Chihuahua.

"Their dog is a Shiwawa."

This is related to not knowing the correct spelling of the word, and is a common type of mistake made even by native speakers of English, though probably not with 'elephant'; for instance I remember a native speaker cuttingly reject some good advice from a moderator at a car audio forum with the sentence:

You need not lekcher me about the rules of this forum. I am no neofite here.

Sample sentence for SWR:

Writing 'elifent' for 'elephant' unwittingly, based on its pronunciation would be an example of ______________.

The correct term is not transliteration, and google search did not prominently turn up a pointer to such a word:


So what is the English word for "misspelling words based on their pronunciation?"

A very good option already suggested kindly by @Lawrence is "phonetic spelling" (or phonetic misspelling) but can someone find a single word to express the same meaning?

  • 4
    Phoenetic spelling, perhaps?
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 10:33
  • No problem :) . I put it up as a comment because I wasn't sure whether the term referred more to IPA spelling than to the hear-and-write spelling that uses the usual 26-letter alphabet.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 10:49
  • 2
    @Lawrence I am not so sure about the technical definition but the phrase 'phonetic spelling' or 'phonetic misspelling' instantly conveys my meaning of "spelling a word as it would be pronounced." Now i have edited it into the question. Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 10:52
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA I disagreed with the duplicate, because this question is about unknowingly (possibly even daftly) misspelling something because the correct spelling is not known, whereas the other one is about a deliberate misspelling even though the correct way is known. It's possible that something like "phonetic spelling" is the answer to both questions, but the questions are distinctly different.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 14:44
  • 5
    Maybe a quibble, but Shiwawa or Shihuahua wouldn't be a phonetic spelling of Chihuahua (because Chi and Shi are not at all alike), but rather a made-up name for a cross between a Shi Tsu and a Chihuahua, in the a Labradoodle is a cross between Labrador and Poodle.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 16:46

4 Answers 4


Consider phonetic spelling.

Phonetic spelling constitutes an alteration of ordinary spelling that better represents the spoken language, that employs only characters of the regular alphabet, and that is used in a context of conventional spelling. - dictionary.com

The above article calls IPA an example of phonetic orthography, with the label phonetic spelling retained for the case where the ordinary alphabet is used. The following quote is consistent with this usage:

  • Start with words you already know. This will allow you come up with your own phonetic spellings. "Dog - Dahg" would be a very simple entry. Notice how "ah" makes the long "a" sound. Another example of a phonetic spelling would be "facade - fuh-sahd." - Phonetics Spelling Dictionary

Here's an article that uses the term phonetic misspelling in the sense you're looking for, courtesy of ... :) yourself:

Let's Teach Spelling - Not Phonetic Misspelling - Robert L Hillerich

The inverse (forming sounds from letters) is called phonics:

The goal of phonics is to enable beginning readers to decode new written words by sounding them out, or, in phonics terms, blending the sound-spelling patterns. Since it focuses on the spoken and written units within words, phonics is a sublexical approach and, as a result, is often contrasted with whole language, a word-level-up philosophy for teaching reading. - wikipedia

  • 2
    +1 Though do you Americans seriously say "dahg"? I know that short and long "oh" sounds in American English generally have a hint of long "ah", but I didn't think it was that much.
    – Dog Lover
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 11:15
  • 2
    @DogLover Haha, I'm not American. I favour BrE, except for spellings like "centre/center", where the 'tre' spelling just doesn't look as 'nice'. TV shows indicate that there are at least some dialects of AmE that use that long "ah" pronunciation for dog.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 11:20
  • 1
    To generalize, @Dog Lover and Lawrence, it is simply our error insisting on pronouncing an unknown word by its spelling, which is the inverse of misspelling a word of unknown spelling by its sound. We could find out how it is actually pronounced, and be proud to pronounce it right. Although this particular example became famous for certain reasons of media coverage. Remember covfefe. [If I add another comment this whole section will be moved to chat.] Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 11:47
  • 2
    If you want a single-word version to add to your answer, phoneticism might suit. It's generally synonymous with phonetic spelling, which I take to be ordinarily intentional, but one of the attestations from the OED uses it for exactly what the OP wants.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 22:12
  • 2
    Yes, I just thought it was worth including somewhere, but probably not its own answer. @DogLover, please feel free to adopt, as well. The full relevant example: 1977 Daily Tel. 24 Feb. 18 Probably the most bizarre example of phoneticism I have ever come across was an 11-year-old's spelling of the word ‘usual’—‘yousyouall’.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 1:21

I'm not sure if it will work perfectly, but you might be able to use phoneticise.

phoneticize verb

  1. to represent speech in writing using a system in which individual symbols reflect speech sounds in a regular manner
  2. to increase the representation of written language using symbols or letters that correspond more closely or regularly to the sounds of the spoken language

Source: Collins

To expand on that, you could say:

Writing 'elifent' for 'elephant' would be an example of phoneticization - the word was misspelt because of how it sounds.

Another Word

1006a shared in the comments another good word that may work: phoneticism.

phoneticism noun

  1. a phonetic scheme of writing
  2. a form of spelling in which the spoken sound accords with a written symbol
  3. a way of working out the phonemes in a particular language due to phonetic resemblances

Source: Collins

  • Yes, this is another good option that nicely conveys the meaning! 'Phonetic spelling' suggested by Lawrence works for the same reason: because 'phonetic' so strongly connotes pronunciation. Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 11:14

The word is "mistake."

There isn't going to be an entirely different word for every single kind of mistake. And not every idea has some obscure word to explain it. It was a "misspelling." Anything beyond that is over thinking it.

  • 1
    Thank you. The thing is that if there is some linguistic term that covers this situation, the people most likely to know it are the members at ELU. Hence this question. If there is no such term, then 'spelling mistake' is just fine! Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 15:28

Either mondegreen (from a mishearing of a line in an old ballad, "They have slain the Earl of Moray, and laid him on the green", which was then transcribed as "...and Lady Mondegreen"), or eggcorn (from a mishearing of acorn and the assumption that the fruit is the egg of an oak) might be useful.

  • Many thanks @TimLymington for introducing me to 2 words that expressively convey my meaning! Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 7:00
  • 2
    Those seem to be (related but) different phenomena: In the misheard lyrics case, a totally different meaning is (mis-)understood (whereas the OP case certainly is about someone knowing that an "elifent" is a big grey animal). The second example might match a lot better, but instead of different phonetics it is based on misinterpreted etymology ... Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 10:02

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