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9.11: Diction and Spelling (Part 1)

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    The English language contains an enormous and ever-growing number of words. Enhancing your vocabulary by learning new words can seem overwhelming, but if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words. Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words.

    Prefixes and Suffixes

    A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning.

    Table of Prefixes
    Prefix Meaning Example
    dis not, opposite of dis + satisfied = dissatisfied
    mis wrongly mis + spell = misspell
    un un un + acceptable = unacceptable
    re again re + election = reelection
    inter between inter + related = interrelated
    pre before pre + pay = prepay
    non not non + sense = nonsense
    super above super + script = superscript
    sub under sub + merge = submerge
    anti against, opposing anti + bacterial = antibacterial
    Exercise 39

    Add the correct prefix to the word to complete each sentence.

    1. I wanted to ease my stomach ________comfort, so I drank some ginger root tea.
    2. Lenny looked funny in his ________matched shirt and pants.
    3. Penelope felt ________glamorous at the party because she was the only one not wearing a dress.
    4. My mother said those ________aging creams do not work, so I should not waste my money on them.
    5. The child’s ________standard performance on the test alarmed his parents.
    6. When my sister first saw the meteor, she thought it was a ________natural phenomenon.
    7. Even though she got an excellent job offer, Cherie did not want to ________locate to a different country.
    8. With a small class size, the students get to ________act with the teacher more frequently.
    9. I slipped on the ice because I did not heed the ________cautions about watching my step.
    10. A ________combatant is another word for civilian.

    A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. Study the suffix rules in the following boxes.

    Rules for Prefixes

    The main rule to remember when adding a prefix to a word is not to add letters or leave out any letters.

    Rule 1

    When adding the suffixes -ness and -ly to a word, the spelling of the word does not change.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):

    dark + ness = darkness

    scholar + ly = scholarly

    Exceptions to Rule 1

    When the word ends in y, change the y to i before adding -ness and -ly.

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\):

    ready + ly = readily

    happy + ness = happiness

    Rule 2

    When the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the silent e in the root word.

    Example \(\PageIndex{3}\):

    care + ing = caring

    use + able = usable

    Exceptions to Rule 2

    When the word ends in ce or ge, keep the silent e if the suffix begins with a or o.

    Example \(\PageIndex{4}\):

    replace + able = replaceable

    courage + ous = courageous

    Rule 3

    When the suffix begins with a consonant, keep the silent e in the original word.

    Example \(\PageIndex{5}\):

    care + ful = careful

    care + less = careless

    true + ly = truly

    argue + ment = argument

    Rule 4

    When the word ends in a consonant plus y, change the y to i before any suffix not beginning with i.

    Example \(\PageIndex{6}\):

    sunny + er = sunnier

    hurry + ing = hurrying

    Rule 5

    When the suffix begins with a vowel, double the final consonant only if (1) the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and (2) the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.

    Example \(\PageIndex{7}\):

    tan + ing = tanning (one syllable word)

    regret + ing = regretting (The accent is on the last syllable; the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.)

    cancel + ed = canceled (The accent is not on the last syllable.)

    prefer + ed = preferred

    Exercise 40

    Write the correct forms of the words with their suffixes.

    1. refer + ed
    2. refer + ence
    3. mope + ing
    4. approve + al
    5. green + ness
    6. benefit + ed
    7. resubmit + ing
    8. use + age
    9. greedy + ly
    10. excite + ment
    key takeaways
    • A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
    • A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
    • Learning the meanings of prefixes and suffixes will help expand your vocabulary, which will help improve your writing.

    Commonly Confused Words

    Some words in English cause trouble for speakers and writers because these words share a similar pronunciation, meaning, or spelling with another word. These words are called commonly confused words. For example, read aloud the following sentences containing the commonly confused words new and knew:

    Example \(\PageIndex{8}\):

    I liked her new sweater.

    I knew she would wear that sweater today.

    These words may sound alike when spoken, but they carry entirely different usages and meanings. New is an adjective that describes the sweater, and knew is the past tense of the verb to know.

    Recognizing Commonly Confused Words

    New and knew are just two of the words that can be confusing because of their similarities. Familiarize yourself with the following list of commonly confused words. Recognizing these words in your own writing and in other pieces of writing can help you choose the correct word.

    List of Commonly Confused Words

    • a, an, and
      • a (article). Used before a word that begins with a consonant.
        a key, a mouse, a screen
      • an (article). Used before a word that begins with a vowel.
        an airplane, an ocean, an igloo
      • and (conjunction). Connects two or more words together.
        peanut butter and jelly, pen and pencil, jump and shout
    • accept, except
      • accept (verb). Means to take or agree to something offered.
        They accepted our proposal for the conference.
      • except (conjunction). Means only or but.
        We could fly there except the tickets cost too much.
      • affect, effect
      • affect (verb). Means to create a change.
        Hurricane winds affect the amount of rainfall.
      • effect (noun). Means an outcome or result.
        The heavy rains will have an effect on the crop growth.
    • are, our
      • are (verb). A conjugated form of the verb to be.
        My cousins are all tall and blonde.
      • our (pronoun). Indicates possession, usually follows the pronoun we.
        We will bring our cameras to take pictures.
    • by, buy
      • by (preposition). Means next to.
        My glasses are by the bed.
      • buy (verb). Means to purchase.
        I will buy new glasses after the doctor’s appointment.
    • its, it’s
      • its (pronoun). A form of it that shows possession.
        The butterfly flapped its wings.
      • it’s (contraction). Joins the words it and is.
        It’s the most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen.
    • know, no
      • know (verb). Means to understand or possess knowledge.
        I know the male peacock sports the brilliant feathers.
      • no. Used to make a negative.
        I have no time to visit the zoo this weekend.
    • loose, lose
      • loose (adjective). Describes something that is not tight or is detached.
        Without a belt, her pants are loose on her waist.
      • lose (verb). Means to forget, to give up, or to fail to earn something.
        She will lose even more weight after finishing the marathon training.
    • of, have
      • of (preposition). Means from or about.
        I studied maps of the city to know where to rent a new apartment.
      • have (verb). Means to possess something.
        I have many friends to help me move.
      • have (linking verb). Used to connect verbs.
        I should have helped her with that heavy box.
    • quite, quiet, quit
      • quite (adverb). Means really or truly.
        My work will require quite a lot of concentration.
      • quiet (adjective). Means not loud.
        I need a quiet room to complete the assignments.
      • quit (verb). Means to stop or to end.
        I will quit when I am hungry for dinner.
    • right, write
      • right (adjective). Means proper or correct.
        When bowling, she practices the right form.
      • right (adjective). Also means the opposite of left.
        The ball curved to the right and hit the last pin.
      • write (verb). Means to communicate on paper.
        After the team members bowl, I will write down their scores.
    • set, sit
      • set (verb). Means to put an item down.
        She set the mug on the saucer.
      • set (noun). Means a group of similar objects.
        All the mugs and saucers belonged in a set.
      • sit (verb). Means to lower oneself down on a chair or another place.
        I’ll sit on the sofa while she brews the tea.
    • suppose, supposed
      • suppose (verb). Means to think or to consider.
        I suppose I will bake the bread, because no one else has the recipe.
      • suppose (verb). Means to suggest.
        Suppose we all split the cost of the dinner.
      • supposed (verb). The past tense form of the verb suppose, meaning required or allowed.
        She was supposed to create the menu.
    • than, then
      • than (conjunction). Used to connect two or more items when comparing
        Registered nurses require less schooling than doctors.
      • then (adverb). Means next or at a specific time.
        Doctors first complete medical school and then obtain a residency.
    • their, they’re, there
      • their (pronoun). A form of they that shows possession.
        The dog walker feeds their dogs everyday at two o’clock.
      • they’re (contraction). Joins the words they and are.
        They’re the sweetest dogs in the neighborhood.
      • there (adverb). Indicates a particular place.
        The dogs’ bowls are over there, next to the pantry.
      • there (pronoun). Indicates the presence of something
        There are more treats if the dogs behave.
    • to, two, too
      • to (preposition). Indicates movement.
        Let’s go to the circus.
      • to. A word that completes an infinitive verb.
        to play, to ride, to watch.
      • two. The number after one. It describes how many.
        Two clowns squirted the elephants with water.
      • Too (adverb). Means also or very.
        The tents were too loud, and we left.
    • use, used
      • use (verb). Means to apply for some purpose.
        We use a weed whacker to trim the hedges.
      • used. The past tense form of the verb to use
        He used the lawnmower last night before it rained.
      • used to. Indicates something done in the past but not in the present
        He used to hire a team to landscape, but now he landscapes alone.
    • who’s, whose
      • who’s (contraction). Joins the words who and either is or has.
        Who’s the new student? Who’s met him?
      • whose (pronoun). A form of who that shows possession.
        Whose schedule allows them to take the new student on a campus tour?
    • your, you’re
      • your (pronoun). A form of you that shows possession.
        Your book bag is unzipped.
      • you’re (contraction). Joins the words you and are.
        You’re the girl with the unzipped book bag.

    The English language contains so many words; no one can say for certain how many words exist. In fact, many words in English are borrowed from other languages. Many words have multiple meanings and forms, further expanding the immeasurable number of English words. Although the list of commonly confused words serves as a helpful guide, even these words may have more meanings than shown here. When in doubt, consult an expert: the dictionary!

    Strategies to Avoid Commonly Confused Words

    When writing, you need to choose the correct word according to its spelling and meaning in the context. Not only does selecting the correct word improve your vocabulary and your writing, but it also makes a good impression on your readers. It also helps reduce confusion and improve clarity. The following strategies can help you avoid misusing confusing words.

    Use a dictionary. Keep a dictionary at your desk while you write. Look up words when you are uncertain of their meanings or spellings. Many dictionaries are also available online, and the Internet’s easy access will not slow you down. Check out your cell phone or smartphone to see if a dictionary app is available.

    Keep a list of words you commonly confuse. Be aware of the words that often confuse you. When you notice a pattern of confusing words, keep a list nearby, and consult the list as you write. Check the list again before you submit an assignment to your instructor.

    Study the list of commonly confused words. You may not yet know which words confuse you, but before you sit down to write, study the words on the list. Prepare your mind for working with words by reviewing the commonly confused words identified in this chapter.

    key takeaways
    • In order to write accurately, it is important for writers to be aware of commonly confused words.
    • Although commonly confused words may look alike or sound alike, their meanings are very different.
    • Consulting the dictionary is one way to make sure you are using the correct word in your writing. You may also keep a list of commonly confused words nearby when you write, and you may study the list of commonly confused words in this chapter.
    • Choosing the proper words leaves a positive impression on your readers.

    This page titled 9.11: Diction and Spelling (Part 1) is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kathryn Crowther, Lauren Curtright, Nancy Gilbert, Barbara Hall, Tracienne Ravita, and Kirk Swenson (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.