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9.12: Diction and Spelling (Part 2)

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    Avoiding Slang and Clichés

    Avoiding Slang

    Slang describes informal words that are considered nonstandard English. Slang often changes with passing fads and may be used by or familiar to only a specific group of people. Most people use slang when they speak and in personal correspondences, such as emails, text messages, and instant messages. Slang is appropriate between friends in an informal context but should be avoided in formal academic writing.

    Exercise 41

    Edit the following paragraph by replacing the slang words and phrases with more formal language. Rewrite the paragraph on your own sheet of paper.

    I felt like such an airhead when I got up to give my speech. As I walked toward the podium, I banged my knee on a chair. Man, I felt like such a klutz. On top of that, I kept saying “like” and “um,” and I could not stop fidgeting. I was so stressed out about being up there. I feel like I’ve been practicing this speech 24/7, and I still bombed. It was ten minutes of me going off about how we sometimes have to do things we don’t enjoy doing. Wow, did I ever prove my point. My speech was so bad I’m surprised that people didn’t boo. My teacher said not to sweat it, though. Everyone gets nervous his or her first time speaking in public, and she said, with time, I would become a whiz at this speech giving stuff. I wonder if I have the guts to do it again.

    Avoiding Clichés

    Clichés are descriptive expressions that have lost their effectiveness because they are overused. Writing that uses clichés often suffers from a lack of originality and insight. Avoiding clichés in formal writing will help you write in original and fresh ways.

    1. Clichéd: Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes my blood boil.
    2. Plain: Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes me really angry.
    3. Original: Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes me want to go to the gym and punch the bag for a few hours.

    Avoiding Overly General Words

    Specific words and images make your writing more interesting to read. Whenever possible, avoid overly general words in your writing; instead, try to replace general language with particular nouns, verbs, and modifiers that convey details and that bring yours words to life. Add words that provide color, texture, sound, and even smell to your writing.

    Example \(\PageIndex{9}\):

    General: My new puppy is cute.

    Specific: My new puppy is a ball of white fuzz with the biggest black eyes I have ever seen.

    General: My teacher told us that plagiarism is bad.

    Specific: My teacher, Ms. Atwater, created a presentation detailing exactly how plagiarism is illegal and unethical.

    Spelling Rules

    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 \(\PageIndex{10}\):

    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 \(\PageIndex{11}\):

    happy + er = happier

    cry + ed = cried

    When words end in a vowel plus y, keep the y and add the ending.

    Example \(\PageIndex{12}\):

    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 \(\PageIndex{13}\):

    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 \(\PageIndex{14}\):

    hope + less = hopeless

    advertise + ment = advertisement

    For many words ending in a consonant and an o, add -s when using the plural form.

    Example \(\PageIndex{15}\):

    photo + s = photos

    soprano + s = sopranos

    Add -es to words that end in s, ch, sh, and x.

    Example \(\PageIndex{16}\):

    church + es = churches

    fax + es = faxes

    Tips to Improve Spelling Skills

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.”
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.


    Homonyms are words that sound like one another but have different meanings.

    Commonly Misused Homonyms

    • principle, principal
      • principle (noun). A fundamental concept that is accepted as true.
        The principle of human equality is an important foundation for all nations.
      • principal (noun). The original amount of debt on which interest is calculated.
        The payment plan allows me to pay back only the principal amount, not any compounded interest.
      • principal (noun). A person who is the main authority of a school.
        The principal held a conference for both parents and teachers.
    • where, wear, ware
      • where (adverb). The place in which something happens.
        Where is the restaurant?
      • wear (verb). To carry or have on the body.
        I will wear my hiking shoes when go on a climb tomorrow morning.
      • ware (noun). Articles of merchandise or manufacture (usually, wares).
        When I return from shopping, I will show you my wares.
    • lead, led
      • lead (noun). A type of metal used in pipes and batteries.
        The lead pipes in my homes are old and need to be replaced.
      • led (verb). The past tense of the verb lead.
        After the garden, she led the patrons through the museum.
    • which, witch
      • which (pronoun). Replaces one out of a group.
        Which apartment is yours?
      • witch (noun). A person who practices sorcery or who has supernatural powers.
        She thinks she is a witch, but she does not seem to have any powers.
    • peace, piece
      • peace (noun). A state of tranquility or quiet.
        For once, there was peace between the argumentative brothers.
      • piece (noun). A part of a whole.
        I would like a large piece of cake, thank you.
    • passed, past
      • passed (verb). To go away or move.
        He passed the slower cars on the road using the left lane.
      • past (noun). Having existed or taken place in a period before the present.
        The argument happened in the past, so there is no use in dwelling on it.
    • lessen, lesson
      • lessen (verb). To reduce in number, size, or degree.
        My dentist gave me medicine to lessen the pain of my aching tooth.
      • lesson (noun). A reading or exercise to be studied by a student.
        Today’s lesson was about mortgage interest rates.
    • patience, patients
      • patience (noun). The capacity of being patient (waiting for a period of time or enduring pains and trials calmly).
        The novice teacher’s patience with the unruly class was astounding.
      • patients (plural noun). Individuals under medical care.
        The patients were tired of eating the hospital food, and they could not wait for a home-cooked meal.
    • sees, seas, seize
      • sees (verb). To perceive with the eye.
        He sees a whale through his binoculars.
      • seas (plural noun). The plural of sea, a great body of salt water.
        The tidal fluctuation of the oceans and seas are influenced by the moon.
      • seize (verb). To possess or take by force.
        The king plans to seize all the peasants’ land.
    • threw, through
      • threw (verb). The past tense of throw.
        She threw the football with perfect form.
      • through (preposition). A word that indicates movement.
        She walked through the door and out of his life.

    Commonly Misspelled Words

    The table below lists commonly misspelled words. You probably use these words every day in either speaking or writing. Each word has a segment in bold type, which indicates the problem area of the word that is often spelled incorrectly. If you can, use this list as a guide before, during, and after you write.

    Use the following two tricks to help you master these troublesome words:

    1. Copy each word a few times and underline the problem area.
    2. Copy the words onto flash cards and have a friend test you.
    Table of Commonly Misspelled Words
    across disappoint integration particular separate
    address disapprove intelligent perform similar
    answer doesn’t interest perhaps since
    argument eighth interfere personnel speech
    athlete embarrass jewelry possess strength
    beginning environment judgment possible success
    behavior exaggerate knowledge prefer surprise
    calendar familiar maintain prejudice taught
    career finally mathematics privilege temperature
    conscience government meant probably thorough
    crowded grammar necessary psychology thought
    definite height nervous pursue tired
    describe Illegal occasion reference until
    desperate immediately opinion rhythm weight
    different Important optimist ridiculous written
    key takeaways
    • Accurate, error-free spelling enhances your credibility with the reader.
    • Mastering the rules of spelling may help you become a better speller.
    • Knowing the commonly misused homonyms may prevent spelling errors.
    • Studying the list of commonly misspelled words in this chapter, or studying a list of your own, is one way to improve your spelling skills.

    This page titled 9.12: Diction and Spelling (Part 2) 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.