How to Spell

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This article on how to spell will help you with the daunting task of spelling English words. Spelling the English language can be a challenge.

It typically, however, involves nothing more complicated than memorization. You can be a successful speller if you’re willing to study and practice the art and science of spelling. Reading, using a dictionary and playing online word games are all helpful.

Sounding out words and breaking them into parts are good skills to develop. Learning spelling rules is important, too, but the many exceptions to those rules can be rather frustrating. In the end it comes down mainly to memorization.

Spelling Help

Spelling Rules Cheat Sheet

ConceptRuleExamples
Vowel sounds– Use one vowel to make a short vowel sound. – Use two vowels together, or separated by one consonant, to make a long vowel sound.– cat, dog, pet, sit, chart   – weak, coat, race, more
“ie” and “ei”– Use “i” before “e” except after “c.”   – Use “ei” to form a long “a” sound.   – Understand the weirder formations.– believe, grief, receive   – weigh, sleigh, neighbor   – either, neither, weird, foreign
Forming plurals– Add “s” to most words.   – Add “es” to words ending in the following: s, x, z, ch, sh, or o preceded by a consonant.   – When “y” is preceded by a consonant, change it to “i” and add “es.”   – Understand the exceptions– keys, socks, bananas   – churches, foxes, classes, potatoes     – parties, stories, tries     – women (woman), geese (goose), nuclei (nucleus)
Adding prefixes– Add the prefix without changing the spelling of the root word, even if it creates double letters.misunderstood, misspell, unrelated, unnecessary
Adding suffixes– Drop the final “e” from the root word only if the suffix begins with a vowel.   – Change a final “y” to an “i” unless the suffix begins with “i.”   – When a consonant (preceded by a single vowel) ends a one-syllable word or an accented syllable, double it before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel.   – Exceptions still exist to all the above.-riding, guidance; securely, advancement   -emptiness, cozier; trying, carrying   -dipping, spotted, admitted       -memorize, volleying, manageable, truly

Common Misspellings

Common MisspellingCorrect Spelling
acheiveachieve
accidentlyaccidentally
adrenalinadrenaline
adressaddress
alota lot
athiestatheist
begginingbeginning
bereubureau
beleivebelieve
beleifbelief
bisnessbusiness
breathbreathe
catagorycategory
committmentcommitment
concieveconceive
copywritecopyright
decaffinateddecaffeinated
decathalondecathlon
definatelydefinitely
desireabledesirable
diarreadiarrhea
dietydeity
dissappointdisappoint
dispelldispel
exstacyecstasy
embarassembarrass
enviromentenvironment
expressoespresso
extremlyextremely
facistfascist
FebuaryFebruary
flourescentfluorescent
foutyforty
freindfriend
guagegauge
govermentgovernment
grammergrammar
grieviousgrievous
harrassharass
hemoragehemorrhage
herosheroes
hieghtheight
hymhymn
independanceindependence
inateinnate
innoculateinoculate
knowlegeknowledge
lazerlaser
leprecanleprechaun
libarylibrary
lighteninglightning
maintainnancemaintenance
managablemanageable
milleniummillennium
mischieviousmischievous
mispellmisspell
mitmitt
monestarymonastery
monkiesmonkeys
morgagemortgage
mountianmountain
neccessarynecessary
neiceniece
nicklenickel
ninethninth
nintyninety
nooneno one
noticablenoticeable
nuptualsnuptuals
occuredoccurred
ocuranceoccurrence
oppurtunityopportunity
paralellparallel
pasttimepastime
pavillionpavilion
peicepiece
perserveranceperceive
persueperseverance
pinociopinocchio
posessionpossession
pertendpretend
potatoepotato
preceedingpreceding
pronounciationpronunciation
priviledgeprivilege
recievereceive
reccomendrecommend
rediculousridiculous
reguardlessregardless
remeberremember
restrantrestraint
roomateroommate
rythmrhythm
sacreligioussacrilegious
seiegesiege
sentancesentence
seperateseparate
siezeseize
similiarsimilar
sincerlysincerely
sooveneersouvenir
speachspeech
stationarystationary
stragedystrategy
suggestablesuggestible
supercedesupersede
supposivelysupposedly
suprisesurprise
thiertheir
throughlythoroughly
tommorrowtomorrow
toungetongue
triathalontriathlon
ukeleleukulele
vaccuumvacuum
vegeterianvegetarian
villanvillain
WendesdayWednesday
wierdweird
writtingwriting

How to Spell Small Words

1. Learn the letters and sounds of the alphabet. 

This will allow you to recognize them when you hear them within words. Use flashcards or ask a tutor to help you connect letters to their sounds. Practice making those connections in your mind. This will help you recognize the appropriate letters when you sound out words. [1]

  • Ask a family member or friend to help you learn the letter sounds.
  • As an alternative you can watch videos online that show you how to say each letter. Here’s one to get you started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyKdUpJQBTY

2. Identify the sounds as you slowly say a word you want to spell. 

It helps to say the word more than once. [2] Stretch out the word to help you identify each sound in it. If you say the word too quickly, you may miss a letter sound. [3]

  • If the word has more than one syllable, separate them mentally or in writing. Pronounce each syllable individually.
  • For example, the word “probably” is very easy to misspell if you pronounce it “probly.” Saying it slowly — “prob-ab-ly” — can help you hear the sounds in each syllable.

3. Split up each letter sound in the word to help you hear them. 

It’s helpful to draw an underline on your paper for each sound that you hear. Don’t worry about what the word is supposed to look like. Just focus on the sounds you hear when you say the word. Then think about which letter or letters might make each sound. [4]

  • It helps to count out the number of sounds in the word. For example, let’s say you want to spell the word “tiger.” You might hear four sounds: t-i-g-er.

4. Spell out each sound. 

Write out the letter sounds you hear for each sound in the word. Then put the sounds together to form the word. Check your work by sounding out the word again while you look at your spelling, letter by letter. [5]

  • For a harder word you may need to refer to the spelling rules instead of just sounding the word out.

How to Spell Big Words

1. Divide a big word into smaller words, syllables or parts. 

Say the word slowly, looking for smaller words within it, such as “grand” and “father” in “grandfather.” If you can’t find smaller words, focus on the syllables or patterns within the word.

This makes it easier to spell the word, because you can more easily sound it out. You may already know how to spell the smaller words. [6] Here are some ways to break down big words:

  • Break larger words into smaller words. For example, “baseball” is an example of what’s known as a “compound” word: it can be broken into smaller words, in this case “base” and “ball.”
  • Break up non-compound words into syllables. For example, you would break up “hospital” into three syllables this way: hos-pi-tal.
  • Break the word into convenient parts. For instance, “impossible” can be broken into im/poss/ible. Here you’re not breaking the word into syllables, just artificial segments. The idea is to consider a longer word in shorter sections just so the task of spelling it becomes a bit easier.

2. Look for a prefix to make spelling easier. 

A prefix is a short series of letters that can be added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning. The spelling of a prefix never changes, so just memorize its spelling.[7] Here are the most common prefixes: [8]

  • Mis, as in “misspell”
  • Dis, as in “disagree”
  • Un, as in “unlikely”
  • Re, as in “rewrite”
  • Anti, as in “antifreeze”
  • De, as in “dehydrate”
  • Non, as in “nonsense”
  • Fore, as in “forecast”
  • In, as in “injustice”
  • Im, as in “impossible”
  • Note that most of these prefixes mean “not.”

3. Notice whether the word has a suffix. 

A suffix appears at the end of a word and changes its meaning. The spelling of a suffix never changes, so memorize it. [9] Here are the most common suffixes: [10]

  • Ed, as in “spelled”
  • Ing, as in “spelling”
  • Ly, as in “likely”
  • Ful, as in “beautiful”
  • Able, as in “comfortable”
  • Ible, as in “possible”
  • Er, as in “higher”
  • Ment, as in “enjoyment”
  • Ness, as in “happiness”
  • Est, as in “biggest”

4. Spell out each part of the word, and then put them all together. 

If you know how to spell smaller words or segments within the word, such as a prefix, spell those first. Then look for common letter patterns, and sound out each segment to help you spell them. Write out the letters you hear.[11]

  • Check your spelling by sounding out the word. Would the spelling you’ve used sound right?
  • For example, when spelling “remind,” you could break it down into “re” and “mind.” If you know how the prefix “re” is spelled, write that first. Then you just need to spell “mind.” If you aren’t sure how to spell it, you could sound out “mind” as “m” and “ind.” Then select the letters as you hear them.

Spelling Rules

1. Recognize that some spelling rules have exceptions. 

English is a tricky language, because many of the rules have exceptions. Certain spellings simply don’t follow the rules. However, knowing the rules will help you most of the time. [12]

  • While it helps to know the exceptions, don’t try to learn them all at once. If you absorb them gradually, they won’t seem so frustrating.
  • Your best bet is simply to memorize the spellings that don’t conform to the rules.

2. Remember the general rule that “i” precedes “e” much of the time except when they follow the letter “c.” 

This well-known rule pertains to words such as die, friend, yield, patient, convenience, piece and receive (where “ei” follows “c.”) Unfortunately, there are many words that disobey this rule, such as weight, height, sleigh and reins. When the rules fail, you’re left with memorization. [13]

  • If the i/e combination is followed immediately by a “gh” (as in weight or height), the “e” precedes the “i.” It’s another exception you simply have to memorize.
  • A few other words to memorize (that don’t follow the “i before e” rule) include “either,” “neither,” “leisure,” “protein,” “their,” and “weird.”

3. Pay attention to other double vowels. 

Remember the rhyme, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.” When two vowels are next to each other, often you pronounce only the first vowel. This makes it easier to place two vowels in the right order. (Of course, you have to remember that two vowels are called for in this case.) [14]

  • For example, you hear the “o” sound in the word “coat,” so you know the “o” comes first. You hear the “e” sound in “mean,” so you put the “e” first.
  • Once again there are exceptions to this rule that you will need to memorize, such as “you,” “great,” and “phoenix.”

4.Learn the “c” sound patterns. 

The letter “c” can be pronounced hard, as in “cat,” or soft, as in “cell.” Usually if the letter following the “c” is “a,” “o,” “u” or a consonant, the “c” is hard. Examples include cat, cot, cut, cute and clue. If the following letter is “e,” “i” or “y,” the “c” is usually soft. Examples include celery, citation and cycle. [15]

5.Look for consonant letter combinations where one letter is silent. 

English words sometimes have a letter that is silent, typically a consonant next to another consonant at the beginning of a word. Here are common letter combinations where one letter is silent: [16]

  • Gn, pn, and kn: These letter combinations all have an “n” sound. The other letter is silent. Examples are “gnaw,” “pneumonia” and “knock.”
  • Rh and wr: Both of these combinations have an “r” sound. For example, rhyme and “write.
  • Ps and sc: These combinations both make an “s” sound, as in psychic and science.
  • Wh: Sometimes “wh” sounds like “h,” as in “whole.”
  • “Gh” is often silent, especially if it comes after “i.” This happens in words like “right” and weight.” Sometimes “gh” makes an “f” sound, as in “cough” or “tough.”

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