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Mischievous vs. mischievious

Mischievous is the standard spelling of the adjective meaning causing mischief. Mischievious is a misspelling, but it is so common that it may someday gain acceptance. For now, it doesn’t regularly appear in edited writing, and dictionaries and spell check have yet to accept it, for what that’s worth.

The misspelling is not new. The OED lists instances of mischievious going back to the 17th century, and a Google Books search reveals a few thousand instances from before 1920. So while mischievous is certainly the standard spelling and is safer in formal writing and school papers, using mischievious is not a grievous error in informal contexts. 

Examples


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The misspelled form is rare in 21st-century published writing because spell check catches it, but it does appear from time to time, even in edited publications—for example:

We were good friends, and I will always remember him for the warm, sincere and yet mischievious grin. [Morning Sentinel]

She remembered his mischievious side. [The Star Ledger]

But mischievous is far more common in editorially scrupulous publications—for example:

It is Dionysus, the mischievous god of revelry. [Financial Times]

My guess is Ms. Shemy will find some mischievous ways to make it work. [New York Times]

Tongue-in-bearded-cheek, Ben Hudson has a typically mischievous take on where his retirement will leave the Western Bulldogs. [Sydney Morning Herald]

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Comments

  1. I always thought it was  “mischievious”, until I started reading my business English book, I found it was “mischievous”.  It is so sad that I spent so many years misspelling and mispronouncing this word.

  2. Velvet Android says:

    I assume the misspelling comes from the frequent mispronunciation (miss-CHEEV-ee-us, rather than MISS-chiv-us), would that be fair to say?

  3. I often prefer “MISCHIEVIOUS”, especially to describe a grin or smile or mind.
    Honestly, which sounds better – “MISCHIEVIOUS GRIN” or “MISCHIEVOUS GRIN” ?

  4. It’s not just the print media — I just heard “mischievious” on CNN. I hear it frequently in conversation. I have always considered this form incorrect, although the incorrect usage is annoyingly common.

  5. Quo Vadis Quo Vadis says:

    What I’d be interested to know is the etymology of the misspelled / pronounced “mischievious”. WHY do we so commonly pronounce / spell it like this and who started it? I for one know that the correct spelling and pronunciation of the word is without the extra “i”, but I actually prefer it with it. It sounds so much better.

  6. Lapis Safeiros says:

    I somehow typed it with the extra I, but I pronounce it the correct way, with the I.

  7. Eric Burgeson says:

    If “mischievious” is considered to be a different word, i.e. a combination of the words “mischievous” and “devious”, then it might make sense to allow that spelling and pronunciation.

  8. I got in trouble for correcting my second-grade teacher who insisted on pronouncing the word with four syllables. That was an error in judgement for which I was nicely whacked.

  9. Heard a competitor on Face Off use the incorrect word and my pricklers went up (my mother is an English teacher — I know “pricklers” is not a word :) I have corrected people my entire life that it is mischievous and not mischievious. In addition to countless other ignorant pronunciations…

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