M1: Mastering Commonly Misspelled Words

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Recognize ways to become a better speller.
  2. Implement methods of monitoring your common spelling problems.

Regardless of your spelling ability, 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

Correct Spelling

Some words do not follow common spelling rules.

i before e except after c, so is it height or heIght?

Know the rules, know some of the exceptions, and use a dictionary or spell checker if you have the slightest hesitation.

height

You interchange homophones without realizing it.

I want to go to.

Be extra careful with each homophone you use; learn the commonly confused pairs of homophones.

I want to go, too.

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.

The cat chased its tail for an hour.

You misspell some words almost every time you use them.

I defiantly want to attend the concert.

Keep a list of your problem words where you can easily glance at them.

Unless you like going to concerts feeling angry, use the word definitely.

“I definitely want to attend the concert”.

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.

I’m going to make an hors d’oeuvres for the party.

Spell Check

The combination of extensive computer use and spell checkers 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 underlines 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.”

Make sure you don’t rely too heavily on spell check. 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  common proper nouns are part of spell checking dictionaries. 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.

Common Spelling Rules

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.

Common Spelling 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
    • Exceptions: skiing
  • 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

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 mnemonics (memory clues) to use with words that are a problem for you. The following video from Khan Academy helps to clear up the confusion between eight frequently-confused words:

Frequently Confused Words.” Published by Khan Academy.

Here’s a small sampling of the thousand or more homophones in the English language:

And there’s still more. For a discussion of the difference between compliment and complement and desert and dessert, check out this video from Khan Academy:

“Frequently Confused Words.” Published by Khan Academy.

Commonly Misspelled Words

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 (a tool you can use to help you remember the correct spelling) such as those shown for the words in bold italics on this list:

Selected Mnemonics

  • calendar: Remember that a calendar is made up of many days.
  • conscience: If you con people about your science work, your conscience should bother you.
  • forty: Forty people are hiding in the fort.
  • gauge: You use a gas gauge.
  • judgment: The general manager might pass judgment, but the lowly employee won’t even be there.
  • ninth: Nineth…Take the e out so you can use it for the tenth.
  • quiet: You need to be qui(end)(talking).
  • scissors: She used some sharp s(cut)iss(off)rs.
  • tomorrow: There’s only one morning, but every day there are two red skies (sunrise and sunset).
  • weird: Halloween last year was wild and eerie.

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.

Words from Other Languages

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 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

armadillo

Spanish

faux pas

French

art deco

French

fiancé

French

attaché

French

frankfurter

German

ballet

French

garbanzo

Spanish

bon appétit

French

gourmet

French

bratwurst

German

homo sapiens

Latin

burrito

Spanish

hors d’oeuvre

French

café

French

incommunicado

Latin

chauffeur

French

jalapeño

Spanish

Chihuahua

Spanish

kaput

German

concierge

French

kindergarten

German

cul-de-sac

French

margarita

Spanish

curriculum vitae

Latin

megahertz

German

Dachshund

German

née

French

déjà vu

French

per capita

Latin

diesel

German

résumé

French

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

anemia

anaemia

fetus

foetus

analyze

analyse

humor

humour

anesthetic

anaesthetic

judgment

judgement

apologize

apologise

inflection

inflexion

canceled

cancelled

labor

labour

center

centre

licorice

liquorice

check

cheque

mold

mould

civilization

civilisation

mustache

moustache

color

colour

pajamas

pyjamas

connection

connexion

realize

realise

cozy

cosy

smolder

smoulder

criticize

criticise

theater

theatre

defense

defence

traveled

travelled

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

alumnus

alumni

datum

data

analysis

analyses

medium

media

antenna

antennae

memorandum

memoranda

appendix

appendices

phenomenon

phenomena

basis

bases

radius

radii

chateau

chateaux

stimulus

stimuli

criterion

criteria

syllabus

syllabi (Americanized: syllabuses)

crisis

crises

thesis

theses

 


Adapted from Chapter 19 “Mechanics” in Writer’s Handbook v 1.0 used according to Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Back to: Grammar and Sentence Construction Handbook > Unit 5: Mechanics