I understand the correct spelling is 'dilemma' but many people I've spoken with, including myself, were convinced the spelling was 'dilemna'.

A quick search on google shows this is not isolated to just America. Many people claim they were taught the incorrect spelling in school. I don't remember where I learned to spell the word but I've always spelled it with 'mn' not 'mm'.

Whats the cause of this? Is there some long forgotten etymology of dilemma that involves an 'n'?

  • 1
    GR. Google google.com/search?q=dilemma+dilemna
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 14:59
  • 1
    "The incorrect spelling dilemna is often seen in common usage. It appears to have been taught in many areas of the United States and all over the world, including (but not limited to) France, England, Jamaica and Australia.[1][2][3] There is no prima facie reason for this substitution error and there is no erroneous parallel to be found with the word lemma, from which dilemma derives." (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilemma)
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 15:00
  • Sounds like a hypercorrection
    – JAM
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 15:02
  • How long will it take for someone to come along and defend "dilemna" as a variation instead of a mistake? Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 15:24
  • Related: Is “volumn” a correct word?
    – herisson
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 20:00

2 Answers 2


As Barrie notes, dilemma is not only spelling truest to the etymology, it's the only one attested to in any major dictionary, and it is by far the most common.

As to the cause, the aberrant dilemna is almost certainly hypercorrection; if common words like solemn, hymn, or autumn brand a silent n, then surely this Greek philosophical term would as well. Like pluralizing octopus as octopi, saying between you and I, or pronouncing habanero with an ñ, the spelling is then perpetuated by well-meaning but mis-remembering teachers, editors, and so on.

  • Hypercorrection, perhaps; but fortified by compositors' errors occasioned by easily misread handwriting and passed over by those who should know better because they just don't notice it. It's not a new problem; here's an example from 1859. Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 16:24
  • "Octopi" not the plural of "octopus"? Does that mean that the plural of "hippopotamus" is not "hippopotami", and most importantly that of "wotaclotamus" is not "wot a clot am I"?
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 19:02

As far as I’m concerned it’s dilemma. The Oxford English Dictionary has just one citation for dilemna, and it’s from 1551. The double m spelling is consistent with the word’s etymology. It’s from Greek δίλημμα, by way of Latin dilemma.

  • 9
    The OP acknowledges this, and asks why then the incorrect spelling is taught in so many places.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 16:01

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