'Desert' Versus 'Dessert'

Every teacher and editor will tell you they've seen people misspell "desert" and "dessert." Let's make sure you're not one of those people.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
The Quick And Dirty

A desert is a dry region, and a dessert is yummy treat.

It’s the time of year when I eat a lot more dessert than I usually do—the pies, the cookies, the cakes—and then take extra long walks trying to work it all off.

And as a word person, it reminds me of two commonly confused words: “dessert” and “desert.” Ask any teacher or editor, and they’ll tell you they see these words misspelled a lot.

The meanings and origins of 'desert' and 'dessert'

Let’s get them right:

A dessert is something you eat ― usually sweet and usually at the end of a meal. It comes from a French word that means “to clear the table.” The dessert comes out after the main meal is cleared from the table.

A desert is a dry region with hardly any plants. In the movies, people cross the desert on camels and are rescued just before they die of dehydration. 

“Desert” comes from a Latin word that means “abandon.” That’s why the adjective “deserted,” as in “The mall was deserted,” is spelled like “desert,” with just one S. People abandoned the mall, and you can think of a desert as something that all but the heartiest of life has abandoned.

How to remember the spelling of 'desert' and 'dessert'

Here’s how you can get the spelling right: 

Since there’s almost no water in a desert, think of the lone S in desert” as having been abandoned—the other S has fled on a camel—just like all the people in the movies trying to get to water.

And since you often have dessert when you’re eating a big meal, think of the extra S in dessert” as representing the abundance of food during a meal with dessert. More food, more S’s. “Dessert.”

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.