Common Spelling Rules
The best way to master new words is to understand the key spelling rules. Keep in mind, however, that some spelling rules carry exceptions. A spell checker may catch these exceptions, but knowing them yourself will prepare you to spell accurately on the first try. You may want to try memorizing each rule and its exception like you would memorize a rhyme or lyrics to a song.
Write i before e except after c, or when pronounced ay like “neighbor” or “weigh.”
Example: achieve, niece, alien,receive, deceive
When words end in a consonant plus y, drop the y and add an i before adding another ending.
Example: happy + er = happier, cry + ed = cried
When words end in a vowel plus y, keep the y and add the ending.
Example: delay + ed = delayed
Memorize the following exceptions to this rule: day, lay, say, pay = daily, laid, said, paid
When adding an ending that begins with a vowel, such as -able, -ence, -ing, or -ity, drop the last e in a word.
Example: write + ing = writing, pure + ity = purity
When adding an ending that begins with a consonant, such as -less, -ment, or -ly, keep the last e in a word.
Example: hope + less = hopeless, advertise + ment = advertisement
For many words ending in a consonant and an o, add -s when using the plural form.
Example: photo + s = photos, soprano + s = sopranos
Add -es to words that end in s, ch, sh, and x.
Example: church + es = churches, fax + es = faxes
Tips to Improve Spelling Skills
- Read the words in your assignment carefully, and avoid skimming over the page. Focusing on your written assignment word by word will help you pay close attention to each word’s spelling. Skimming quickly, you may overlook misspelled words.
- Use mnemonic devices to remember the correct spelling of words. Mnemonic devices, or memory techniques and learning aids, include inventive sayings or practices that help you remember. For example, the saying “It is important to be a beautiful person inside and out” may help you remember that beautiful begins with “be a.” The practice of pronouncing the word Wednesday Wed-nes-day may help you remember how to spell the word correctly.
- Use a dictionary. Many professional writers rely on the dictionary—either in print or online. If you find it difficult to use a regular dictionary, ask your instructor to help you find a “poor speller’s dictionary.”
- Use your computer’s spell checker. The spell checker will not solve all your spelling problems, but it is a useful tool. See the introduction to this section for cautions about spell checkers.
- Keep a list of frequently misspelled words. You will often misspell the same words again and again, but do not let this discourage you. All writers struggle with the spellings of certain words; they become aware of their spelling weaknesses and work to improve. Be aware of which words you commonly misspell, and you can add them to a list to learn to spell them correctly.
- Look over corrected papers for misspelled words. Add these words to your list and practice writing each word four to five times each. Writing teachers will especially notice which words you frequently misspell, and it will help you excel in your classes if they see your spelling improve.
- Test yourself with flashcards. Sometimes the old-fashioned methods are best, and for spelling, this tried and true technique has worked for many students. You can work with a peer or alone.
- Review the common spelling rules explained in this chapter. Take the necessary time to master the material; you may return to the rules in this chapter again and again, as needed.
Remember to focus on spelling during the editing and revising step of the writing process. Start with the big ideas such as organizing your piece of writing and developing effective paragraphs, and then work your way down toward the smaller—but equally important—details like spelling and punctuation.