One of the English language’s most notoriously difficult words, separate has caused mistakes in spelling bees throughout the ages. It tends to trip up even native speakers more than most words do. The question usually lies in whether it is spelled with two e’s or two a’s: seperate or separate.
So which is it — and why is it so hard to tell?
A matter of sound
The primary reason it can be so dicey to try to spell this word when you visualize it in your head is the way English speakers typically pronounce it.
Because the second syllable of the word is not emphasized, there is not much difference between saying what sounds like “sep-er-ate” and what sounds like “sep-a-rate.” The way that these two sound is more or less identical, and in the context of casual conversation it’s essentially impossible to distinguish between them.
Bear in mind as well that the emphasis happens on different syllables depending on how the word is being used. As an adjective it emphasizes its first syllable (SEP-rate), while as a verb it gives distinction to the first and third syllables (SEP-a-RATE) A person can be forgiven for not understanding the seperate vs. separate debate, and/or choosing the incorrect spelling.
That said, the way to spell the word when writing it out is with the a—separate. Now you know!
It’s more efficient to drive together than separately.
The crowd was so big that my sister and I got separated almost immediately.
It can be hard for movie stars to lead lives that are separate from their public personas.