This is “Mastering Commonly Misspelled Words”, section 19.1 from the book Writers' Handbook (v. 1.0).
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Regardless of how good a speller you are, knowing the type of spelling errors you are likely to make can help you correct the errors.
|Common Causes of Spelling Errors||Examples||Ways to Deal with the Problems|
|Some words do not follow common spelling rules.||i before e except after c, so is it height or hieght?||Know the rules, know some of the exceptions, and use a dictionary or spell checker (see Section 19.1.1 "Spell Check") if you have the slightest hesitation.|
You interchange homophonesWords that sound alike but have different spellings and different meanings. without realizing it.
|I want to go to.||Be extra careful with each homophone you use; learn the commonly confused pairs of homophones.|
|You often do not recognize that a word has a homophone or you do not know which homophone to use.||The cat chased its tale for an hour.||Read through your work once (preferably aloud) looking (and listening) only for homophone issues. Ask someone to proofread your work.|
|You misspell some words almost every time you use them.||I can’t make a comittment today.||Keep a list of your problem words where you can easily glance at them.|
|You find words from other languages confusing since they do not follow standard English spellings.||I’m going to make an orderve for the party.||Add foreign words you often use to your list of problem words. Look the others up each time you use them.|
The combination of extensive computer use and spell checkersA software program tool that identifies spelling errors. have changed the way we look at spelling. Today’s software programs often provide both manual and automatic spell checking. Manual spell checking lets you go through the entire document or selected text from it and checks for spellings not present in the dictionary of reference. Automatic spell checking underlinines spelling errors for you (usually in red). By right-clicking on the misspelled word, you’ll be given one or more correctly spelled alternatives. When you find the spelling you think is correct, clicking on that word will change the text automatically. Sometimes automatic spell checking underlines words that aren’t misspelled, but it rarely misses words that are. So if you check all the marked words, you can “spell check as you write.”
Just make sure you don’t rely on spell check to have a human eye. Consider the following sentence: “It was sunny win I drove of this mourning, so I lift my umbrela in the car port.” If you use a spell checker on this sentence, you will be alerted to fix the problem with “umbrela.” You won’t, however, be given any indication that “win,” “mourning,” “of,” “lift,” and “car port” are problems. Spell checkers have no way to tag misspelled words if the misspelling forms another word, incorrectly used homophones, or compound words that are presented as two words. So even though spell checkers are great tools, do not give them the sole responsibility of making sure your spelling is accurate.
Spell checkers can also suggest the wrong first choice to replace a misspelled word. Consider the following sentence: “My shert was wet cleer thrugh to my skin, and my shos sloshed with every step.” A spell checker might list “though” as a first-choice for “thrugh” and “through” as the second choice, thus forcing you to know that “though” is not right and to look on down the list and choose “through.”
As a rule, only very common proper nouns are part of the dictionaries on which a spell checker is based. Consequently, you are left to check your spelling of those words. Many software programs allow users to add words to the dictionary. This permission lets you incorporate proper nouns you use often into the dictionary so you will not have to address them during a spell check. You might, for example, add your name or your workplace to the dictionary. Besides adding proper nouns, you can also add your list of other words you’ve commonly misspelled in the past.
Although they all have exceptions, common spelling rules exist and have become known as common rules because they are true most of the time. It is in your best interest to know both the rules and the common exceptions to the rules.
Rule: i before e
Examples: belief, chief, friend, field, fiend, niece
Exceptions: either, foreign, height, leisure
Rule: …except after c
Examples: receive, ceiling
Exceptions: conscience, financier, science, species
Rule: …and in long-a words like neighbor and weigh
Examples: eight, feint, their, vein
Rule: In short-vowel accented syllables that end in a single consonant, double the consonant before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel.
Examples: beginning, mopped, runner, sitting, submitting
Exceptions: boxing, buses (“busses” is also acceptable), circuses, taxes
Rule: There is no doubling if the syllable ends in two consonants, the last syllable is not accented, or the syllable does not have a short vowel.
Examples: asking, curling; focused, opening; seated, waited
Rule: With words or syllables that end in a silent e, drop the e before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel.
Examples: achieving, baking, exciting, riding, surprising
Rule: If the suffix doesn’t start with a vowel, keep the silent e.
Examples: achievement, lately
Exceptions: hoeing, mileage, noticeable, judgment, ninth, truly
Rule: With syllables that end in y, change the y to i before adding a suffix (including the plural -es).
Examples: carries, cities, dries, enviable, ladies, luckiest, beautiful, bountiful
Exceptions: annoyance, babyish
Rule: Keep the final y when it is preceded by a vowel.
Examples: keys, monkeys, plays
Rule: …and when the suffix begins with i, since English words do not typically have two i’s in a row.
Examples: babyish, carrying, marrying
Rule: When forming the plural of a proper noun, just add -s unless the proper noun ends in ch, s, sh, x, or z.
Examples: Bartons, Blairs, Hubbards, Murphys, Bushes, Collinses, Lynches, Martinezes, Wilcoxes
Rule: When forming plurals of hyphenated nouns, use the plural form of the main word, regardless of where it falls within the word.
Examples: brothers-in-law, clearing-houses, ex-wives, not-for-profits, runners-up, T-shirts
Rule: Add -es to words ending in s, sh, ch, x, or z.
Examples: classes, dishes, couches, quizzes, taxes
Exceptions: epochs, monarchs (ch spelling makes k sound)
Rule: For words ending in a consonant and an o, add -es.
Examples: heroes, potatoes, tomatoes, zeroes
Exceptions: memos, photos, zeros (also acceptable)
Rule: For words ending in a vowel and an o, add -s.
Examples: patios, radios, zoos
Rule: For words ending in f or fe, either change the f to v and add -s or -es or just add -s with no changes.
Examples: knives, leaves OR cuffs, roofs
Rule: Some words have whole word changes for the plural forms.
Examples: children, feet, geese, mice, women
Rule: Some words have the same spellings for singular and plural forms.
Examples: deer, fish, sheep
Homophones are words that sound alike but have different spellings and different meanings. The best way to handle these words is to view them as completely separate words by connecting the spellings and the meanings rather than relying totally on the sounds. You can make mnemonicsA memory assistance technique (e.g., a word or picture clue). (memory clues) to use with words that are a problem for you. Here’s a small sampling of the thousand or more homophones in the English language:
The following list includes some English words that are commonly used and often misspelled. You, personally, might or might not have problems with many of the words in the list. The important issue is for you to identify your problem words and negate the problems. You can handle your spelling problems by keeping a list of those words handy. Another way to deal with spellings that puzzle you is to use mnemonics such as those shown for the words in bold italics on this list:
Of course, these mnemonics are not universal. Some of the suggestions on this list might seem corny or even incomprehensible to you. The point is to find some that work for you.
English is an ever-evolving language. Part of this ongoing evolution is the incorporation of words from other languages. These words often do not follow typical English spelling rules, and thus require extra attention. This chart shows a very small portion of such words that are used in English.
|Borrowed Word||Source||Borrowed Word||Source|
|ad hoc||Latin||en route||French|
|adios||Spanish||et cetera (etc.)||Latin|
|déjà vu||French||per capita||Latin|
Many common words in British and American English are spelled differently. For example, American English words ending in -er are often spelled with -re in British English. American English tends to use -yze or -ize while British English prefers -yse or -ise. Words that include the letter o in American English are often spelled with an ou in British English. American English uses -ck or -tion as word endings, whereas British English often uses -que or -xion.
|American English||British English||American English||British English|
Some words from other languages have plural formations that appear unusual within the English language. A good approach is to simply memorize these plural formations. If you don’t want to memorize them, remember that they are unusual and that you will need to look them up.
|Singular Spelling||Plural Spelling||Singular Spelling||Plural Spelling|
|criterion||criteria||syllabus||syllabi (Americanized: syllabuses)|