How to Spell

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The English language is confusing, packed with inconsistencies and exceptions that anyone who's learning the language for the first time will be quick to point out. There are so many ways to write out a single sound that theoretically, you could pronounce the word "ghoti" as "fish" (if you pronounce the gh as in tough, the o as in women and the ti as in nation). If you're struggling to get a grasp on those silent vowels, confusing consonants, and crazy pronunciations, here's how you can improve.

Memorize the basic rules of spelling. There are some classic rhymes and rules to help children get the hang of spelling, but they do have exceptions, so use them in conjunction with the rest of the steps in this article. If you have no idea how to spell a word, they can certainly help you.

  • I before e, except after c, or when followed by g, or when sounding like "ay," as in "neighbor" and "weigh"

    • This rule does not apply to the word "weird" (Remember "we are not weird.")
    • Other exceptions: either, leisure, protein, their
    • "Cien" words don't follow this rule: ancient, efficient, science
    • "Eig" words that don't sound like "ay" also don't follow this rule: height, foreign
  • "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." When there are two vowels together, the first one in the word is a long vowel sound and the second one is silent. In the word "boat," for example, the letter "o" says its name and "a" is not pronounced. If you're not sure how to arrange the vowels, sound the word out-which long vowel do you hear? Put that one first. Examples: team, mean, wait. Exceptions: you, phoenix, great.
  • The spelling of a word doesn't change when you add a prefix, even if it means putting two of the same letter right next to each other. Examples: Misspell, misstep, preeminent, unnecessary.
  • Remember the rule for making singular nouns ending in y into plurals. If a word has a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) before the y, the plural is formed by adding s. Examples: toy becomes toys; buoy becomes buoys. A singular word with a consonant before the y at the end changes the word ending to -ies in the plural. Examples: lady becomes ladies in the plural, ferry becomes ferries. The rule also applies to present tense verbs ending in y in the third person singular - He/she carries, he/she marries, he/she worries.

Be on the Lookout For Inconsistencies and Exceptions

Watch out for homonyms and homophones. A homonym is one of two or more words that have the same sound and often the same spelling but differ in meaning, such as bank (embankment) and bank (place where money is kept). A homophone is one of two or more words, such as night and knight, that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning, origin, and sometimes spelling. Click on any of the following commonly mistaken homonyms/homophones for guidelines:

  • How to Use You're and Your
  • How to Use There, Their and They're
  • How to Use Than and Then
  • How to Use Affect and Effect Properly
  • How to Use Its and It's
  • Other common homonyms and homophones are "two," "to," and "too"; "and" and "end"; "here" and "hear"; "eight" and "ate"; "wear," "ware," and "where"; "lose" and "loose"; and "sent," "scent," and "cent."

Be aware that the pronunciation of a prefix can vary greatly from word to word. For example, the “meta-” in “metabolism” is pronounced much differently than the “meta-” in “metaphor” or even “metabolic.” Two words of the same derivation (such as “politics” and “political” or “metabolism” and “metabolic” in the last example) can have very different pronunciations. Even in proper names the accent can be altered.

Watch Out For Patterns

Be familiar with "piggyback pairs." It's not uncommon for pairs of consonants to be pronounced so that one is silent and figuratively "piggybacks" on the sound of the other. Make note of the following:

  • gm, pm, kn = n (e.g. gnome, pneumonia, knife)
  • hr, qr = r (e.g. rhyme, wrestle)
  • pt, gt = t (e.g. ptomaine, height)
  • PS, SC = s (e.g. psychic, science)
  • eh = h (e.g. whole)

Use mnemonics. For words that you keep spelling incorrectly, develop creative memory aids to help you remember how to spell them. Some examples:

  • Desert (arid land) or dessert (a sweet treat)? Remember that with dessert, there are two "s"s because you always want seconds.
  • Separate - Keep forgetting that "a" in the middle? Remember that there's a rat in separate, separating the first beginning of the word from the end.

Look at affixes and words within words. For example, “together” can be broken down into the words “to,” “get,” and “her.” You can remember a fourteen-letter word such as “hypothyroidism” by breaking it down. "Hypothyroidism" can be broken down into one prefix, one full word, and one suffix: “hypo-,” “thyroid,” and “-ism.” “Hypo-” and “-ism” are two very common affixes used in words ranging from “hypoglycemia,” “hypothermia,” and “hypoallergenic” to “vegetarianism,” “communism,” and “metabolism” itself. You can significantly improve your spelling by learning all the common prefixes and suffixes.

Pay Attention to Grammar

Watch out for the "grocer's apostrophe." This gets its name from a spelling error traditionally made by greengrocers on signs in produce sections. Unfortunately, this error is popping up in all sorts of places these days. Remember that an apostrophe with an "s" shows possession (or contraction, for example: "it is" becomes "it's"). Possessive apostrophe: "The banana's skin turned brown." Apostrophe in a contraction: "The banana's too mushy." You do not use an apostrophe to form the regular plural of a noun. Unnecessary apostrophe: "Special on banana's: 49 cents."

Develop a System That Works For You

Identify problematic words. Look back through previous writings and check the spelling. This will be easier to do if you have electronic files and run a spell check program but the very best way to get this done is to have an impeccable speller edit your work. Which are the words you tend to misspell the most often? Write down every word you misspell. Consult the list below for some commonly misspelled words, and pick out the ones you tend to confuse.

Practice. Make a list of the words that you frequently misspell and write out the correct spelling ten times (more if you're a fast type, fewer if you're writing by hand). Go through each word, sound it, "see" the syllables, and put them into your spelling rules. Do this every day or every other day. What you're essentially doing is "training" your mind and hand(s) to spell the word correctly. Eventually, you might want to quiz yourself by having someone read the words out loud (or making a recording of yourself) and writing out each word as you hear it. Then go back and see which ones you got wrong. Focus on practicing with those.

Copyedit someone else's work. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to try to teach it to someone else. Train yourself to pick out other people's spelling mistakes, even in books (it does happen). You can begin by copyediting wikiHow articles. Simply click the "edit" tab, and you can immediately start writing or editing. Consider creating an account later so that you can become a member of the wikiHow community.

Sound it out. Some words are spelled exactly as they sound, but the most problematic words are the ones with silent vowels or consonants. It may help to sound out the correct spelling in an exaggerated way. Take the word "beautiful" for example. When you see this word, say to yourself "Bobbee--a---ooooootiful". (The reason for the exception is because the beau prefix is French, not English.) Emphasize the "a" (pronouncing it like in "hay" or "hat") because it is normally not pronounced in the word, and is more likely to be left out. There may also be words in which you make a vowel silent when you really shouldn't, such as "interesting" instead of "interesting" or "comfortable" instead of "comoratable"). Make it a habit to pronounce words correctly (don't skip consonants or vowels that you're not supposed to) and you'll have a better chance of spelling them correctly.

Commonly Misspelled Words

From How to Spell Commonly Misspelled Words

MISSPELLING CORRECT SPELLING
acheive achieve
adress address
alot a lot
athiest atheist
beggining beginning
beleive believe
bisness business
catagory category
colledge college
committment commitment
concieve conceive
copywrite copyright
decaffinated decaffeinated
decathalon decathlon
definately definitely
desireable desirable
diety deity
dissapoint disappoint
dispell dispel
embarass embarrass
enviroment environment
expresso espresso
extremly extremely
facist fascist
Febuary February
flourescent fluorescent
fourty forty
freind friend
guage gauge
goverment government
grammer grammar
harrass harass
hemorage hemorrhage
heros heroes
hieght, heigth height
hygeine hygiene
independance independence
inate innate
innoculate inoculate
irregardless regardless (irregardless is not a word)
it's its (possessive pronoun)
judgement judgment
knowlege knowledge
lazer laser
libary library
lightening lightning
loose lose (misplaced something)
lose loose (untie something)
maintainance maintenance
managable manageable
midevil medieval
millenium millennium
mischievious mischievous
mispell misspell
mit mitt
monestary monastery
monkies monkeys
morgage mortgage
mountian mountain
neccessary necessary
neice niece
nickle nickel
nineth ninth
ninty ninety
noone no one or no-one
noticable noticeable
occured occurred
occurence occurrence
oppurtunity opportunity
origianal original
paralell parallel
pasttime pastime
pavillion pavilion
peice piece
percieve perceive
perserverance perseverance
persue pursue
pheonix phoenix
posession possession
pertend pretend
potatoe potato
preceeding preceding
pronounciation pronunciation
priviledge privilege
publically publicly
recieve receive
reccomend recommend
rediculous ridiculous
reguardless regardless
remeber remember
roomate roommate or room-mate
rythm rhythm
sacreligious sacrilegious
seige siege
sentance sentence
seperate separate
sieze seize
similiar similar
sincerly sincerely
speach speech
speek speak
Sponser Sponsor
stationary stationery (office supplies term. Stationary is a fixed position)
stragedy / stradegy strategy
suggestable suggestible
supercede supersede
supposively supposedly
suprise surprise
thier their
throughly thoroughly
tommorrow tomorrow
tounge tongue
triathalon triathlon
ukelele ukulele
vaccuum vacuum
vegeterian vegetarian
villian villain
Wendesday Wednesday
wierd weird (exception: Wierd programming language)
writting writing

Tips

  • Don't be afraid to use the dictionary. English words come from many different languages. The oldest English words were from either Anglo (Northern German), Saxon (Southern German), Norman or Bordeaux French settlers of England. Many other words are from Latin or Greek root words. A good dictionary can tell you where the word is from, and when you begin to learn them you will begin to recognize patterns.
  • Also use the dictionary to check the spellings of compound words. There is really no way to know whether to write "stomachache," "stomach-ache," or "stomach ache" unless you consult a dictionary.
  • Take the letters in the word and write a sentence with each of them. For example, you could learn to spell “arithmetic” with the sentence “A rat in the house might eat the ice cream."
  • Proofread your work. We all get busy at some point during writing, which makes it easy to toss in a sound alike word such as reef or wreath; and you can carry on that mistake unaware that a mistake has been made...until later and it jumps out at you...then you are like, "Wow, I wrote that?"
  • Reading books and newspapers, catalogues, billboard signs, posters in windows all aid in learning how to spell. If you find a word that is not familiar, write it down, even if all you have is a paper napkin. When you go home, look up the word or words in the dictionary. The more you reference, the more you read, the better you will be at spelling.
  • It can really help to be familiar with the spelling of a few other languages, and to know the language that the word comes from.
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