How To Improve Your English Spelling

by Craig Shrives

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Five Ways To Improve Your Spelling

English spelling is hard because the sounds of the letters are so inconsistent. Here are five ways to improve your spelling:

(1) Use mnemonics devices.

A mnemonic device, or a memory device, is any technique that helps you to remember something. For example:
  • "Richard of York gave battle in vain."
  • (This is a mnemonic device for remembering the colors small American flag / colours small British flag of the rainbow, which are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.)
Here are three mnemonics devices to help with spelling:

(1) Tell a story.

  • Will your conscience let you con science?
  • There's a rat in separate.
  • That tattoo is tat too.
  • ("Tat" is a slang word for something that looks low-quality.)

(2) Use an abbreviation.

  • weird = when everything is really dark
  • rhythm = r + helps your two hips move

(2) Use a rhyme.

Here is a well-known example:
  • "i before e except after c, but if you hear an A, it's the other way."
This rhyme helps with deciding between "ie" or "ei." For example:
  • believe (i before e) correct tick, brief (i before e) correct tick, eighth (sounds like A) correct tick, weigh (sounds like A) correct tick, receive (comes after c) correct tick

(2) Tackle the main culprits first.

Here are the 10 most commonly misspelled words in English:
  • separate, calendar, unnecessary, questionnaire, accidentally, necessary, surprise, embarrass, accommodation, and receive.
Tackle these first by creating a mnemonic device for each one. Here are some examples of mnemonic devices:
  • Our accommodation can house two Cs and two Ms.
  • What? There are two Rs in surprise.
  • Calendar should be calenday.
  • Spell embarrass with "emb" + two of everything else.
Once you have tackled the top 10, move onto the next 10, and so on.

Read more about the most misspelled words in English.

(3) Study the spelling rules

If you're studying or teaching English, learning the spelling rules is essential. If you're a native speaker, you probably apply these rules without much thought, but learning them is still useful to fine-tune your spelling and improve writing confidence.

Here is an example of a common spelling rule:

Adding a suffix to word that ends -y

If the suffix starts with e (-ed, -er, -est), change the y to an i.
word ending -ysuffixCorrect Spelling
cry
-ed
cried
ugly
-est
ugliest
family
-es
families
If the suffix is -ing, leave the y.
word ending -ysuffixCorrect Spelling
cry
-ing
crying
try
-ing
trying
tidy
-ing
tidying
If suffix is -ly and the word ends [two consonants] + y, change the y to an i.
word ending [two consonants] + ysuffixCorrect Spelling
happy
-ly
happily
funny
-ly
funnily
jolly
-ly
jollily
As with most rules, there are always exceptions (e.g., sly > slyly correct tick not slyily wrong cross), and these must be learned as part of the rule-learning process.

(4) Break the Word Down

To help with spelling, break the word down into prefixes, root words, and suffixes.
PrefixRoot WordSuffixCorrect Spelling
mis-spell-ingmisspelling
dis-respect-ful -lydisrespectfully
un- ful-fill-mentunfulfillment
Prefixes and suffixes are called "affixes." There is a list of common prefixes and suffixes on our affixes page.

Studying affixes is useful not only to improve your spelling but also to help you decipher the meanings of unfamiliar words. It is worth noting that many affixes and the roots of words originate from Greek and Latin, so as part of your mission to become an expert speller and word decipherer, you should learn these too.

(5) Play spelling games

Spelling games like Scrabble are an excellent way to improve spelling. This is why we wrote a Scrabble-themed spelling game called WordUp, which you can find on our sister site www.youAgainst.me.

(WordUp can be played as an individual or as a group challenge. It is free, and there are no logins.)

Here is a short video explaining how to play WordUp:

Why Is Spelling So Hard in English?

There are five common causes of misspellings.

(1) Inconsistency with Vowels

The sounds of the vowels are inconsistent. For example:
inconsistent vowels
lead
dead
creed
puree
said
braid

(2) Lack of Clarity with Vowels

In some English words, the vowel is pronounced like a short "uh" sound (called a schwa), which means writers don't know which vowel to choose. For example:
vowelvowel as a schwa
a
salad
e
elephant
i
cousin
o
dinosaur
u
upon

(3) Spelling Inconsistency with Consonants

The sounds of consonants can be inconsistent too. For example:
inconsistent consonants
lose
loose
guest
gentle
actor
action
Also, in some words the consonants are silent. For example:
silent consonants
pneumatic
knave
gnome

(4) Typing Errors

Typically, with typing errors, the letters are transposed (e.g., "teh" instead of "the").

(5) Homophones and Near Homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings. For example:
homophones
descent
dissent
dual
duel
flair
flare
If you use the wrong homophone, your computer's spellchecker probably won't spot it because a wrong homophone could feasibly be correct. See more homophones and near homophones that regularly confuse writers.
top 10 misspelled words in English

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See Also

What is a diphthong? What is a schwa vowel? Top 10 spelling rules in English Misspelled or misspelt? Are collective nouns (e.g., "team," "group") singular or plural? Is "agenda" singular or plural? Is "data" singular or plural Word Builder Game Hangman Game Countdown Game Wordle ("Word Mastermind")

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