Many highly intelligent people who have a lot of good things to say get overlooked because he or she spells badly. A few mistakes, no matter how small, can make readers think the writer isn’t competent. Here are a few tips about the most common mistakes in English spelling…and how to get them right.

“There”, “their” and “they’re” all sound alike, but each one means something different from the others. These three words are a good place to start.

  • “There” indicates a place. You can tell because it contains the word “here”: another place. Here and there are a pair of words that both indicate places.
  • “Their” means “something that belongs to them”. It contains “heir”. An heir is someone who has inherited something, so an heir is someone who owns something. T plus heir equals their.
  • “They’re” means the same as “they are”. In fact, it is just a one-word version of the two-word phrase. The apostrophe (‘) shows that a letter (the letter “a”) has been removed.

“Two”, “to” and “too” are also three different words that sound alike.

  • First is “to”. It usually indicates going somewhere, so “go” and “to” each have just one “o” and one other letter.
  • “Too” means an excessive amount of something, such as “It’s too hard to learn all the rules of English spelling.” You can tell it’s the right “too” for this job, because it has too many “o’s” in it. The “to” with the extra “o” means “excessive”.
  • “Two” is the number 2. I don’t have a way to help you remember why the “w” is in there, except that you can always think “Why am I spelling this Word out instead of just using the numeral?” Um…in good English, we spell out the names of numbers when they’re used as quantities in prose writing. So “tWo” is 2 in W-riting.

Here’s the hardest one: Which “its” gets an apostrophe? By the standard rules of English spelling, a possessive verb is formed by adding an apostrophe and an “s”.(A possessive verb shows ownership, such as “That is Jack’s book!”) When a contraction is formed (merging two words and leaving some letters out) an apostrophe takes the place of the omitted letters. BOTH kinds of “its” are technically supposed to get an apostrophe in the exact same place. But then you couldn’t tell which is which–and they mean different things! That problem was solved by a somewhat arbitrary linguistic agreement: the contraction needs the apostrophe more than the possessive does.

  • When the word is supposed to mean “it is”, but you want to write “it’s”, use the apostrophe. When something belongs to “it”, leave the apostrophe out.
  • Now, look at this long, complicated paragraph explaining the difference between “its” and “it’s”. Have a good laugh about it. That will help you remember. Using “its” and “it’s” properly will make your writing look smarter and keep people’s attention better.

“Write”/ “right” and “tried”/”tired” are two more pairs of words that sound the same but have different spellings for different meanings. These are homophones.

  • “Write” means to inscribe or pencil in, or to write with a pencil. “Right” mean correct, and can also be the opposite of left.
  • “Tried” means to have made an effort, and “tired” means being exhausted or fatigued.
  • Also, “Loose” means the opposite of tight, and “Lose” is the opposite of win.
  • “One” is the number 1 and “won” is the opposite of lost, meaning victory.

Consult an English professor, or an adult with a good education, about other spelling questions. Dictionaries are valuable things: Invest in one! Happy spelling!