The English language is confusing and packed with inconsistencies, as anyone learning the language for the first time will be quick to point out. Although your best bet is to write and read as much as possible, you can significantly improve your spelling skills by learning some of the many spelling rules (and exceptions), by using clever tricks and helpful memory aids, and by practicing your problem words as often as possible. If you stick to it, you'll soon have a firm grasp on those silent vowels, confusing consonants, and crazy pronunciations!


Spelling Help

Doc:Spelling Rules,Common Misspellings

Spelling Rules

  1. Learn the "i" before "e" rule. The rule "i" before "e", except after "c" is a useful one to remember. It means that the letter "i" should always come before the letter "e" when the two are beside each other in a word (eg. "friend" or "piece"), except for when they come after the letter "c", in which case the "e" should come before the "i" (eg. "receive"). Memorizing this rule can help you to spell many common words where the placement of the "i" and "e" is confusing.
    • Sounding it out: Another useful way to remember the placement of "i" and "e" is to sound out the word. If the combination of the "e" and the "i" sounds like a long "a" ("ay"), then the "e" should be placed before the "i". For example, the words "eight" or "weigh".
    • Understanding the exceptions: However, like most rules, there are exceptions - words which don't follow the "i" before "e" except after "c" rule. Such words include: "either", "leisure", "protein", "their" and "weird". Unfortunately, there is no trick to help you memorize these, you just have to learn them.
    • Even more exceptions: Other exceptions include words containing the letters "cien" such as "ancient", "efficient", "science", and words containing the letters "eig" (even when the "e" and "i" don't make an "ay" sound) such as "height" and "foreign".
  2. Learn how to deal with double vowels. When you come across a word with double vowels (or two vowels beside each other) it can sometimes be difficult to tell which one should come first. Luckily, there is another helpful rhyme you can use to remember which vowel should come first, as follows:
    • When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking. This means that the vowel who's sound you can actually hear when you say the word should come first, followed by the vowel you can't hear.
    • Listen for the long vowel: In other words, when there are two vowels together, the first one in the word is a long vowel sound and the second one is silent. When you say the word "boat," for example, the letter "o" says its name but the "a" is not pronounced.
    • So if you're not sure how to arrange the vowels in a word, just sound the word out -- which long vowel do you hear? Put that one first. Words that prove this rule include team (you hear the "e"), mean (you hear the "e") and wait (you hear the "a").
    • Exceptions: As always, there are exceptions to the rule which simply must be learned. Some of these include the words "you" (you hear the "u" sound rather than the "o"), "phoenix" (you hear the "e" sound rather than the "o") and "great" (you hear the "a" sound rather than the "e").
  3. Be wary of piggyback pairs. It's not uncommon for pairs of consonants to be pronounced so that one is silent - and so it figuratively "piggybacks" on the sound of the other.
    • This "piggybacking" can make words containing consonant pairs difficult to spell, as it's easy to forget about the consonant you cannot hear and just write the one you can hear.
    • Therefore, it is important to familiarize yourself with these piggyback pairs and learn some of the most common consonant combinations, so you can spell these types of words correctly.
    • Some of the most common piggyback pairs include the following:
    • Gn, pn and kn - in these piggyback pairs you can only hear the "n" sound, the consonant preceding the "n" is silent. Words containing these pairs include "gnome", "pneumonia" and "knife".
    • Rh and wr - in these piggyback pairs you can only hear the "r" sound, the other consonants are silent. Words containing these pairs include "rhyme" and "wrestle".
    • Ps and sc - in these piggyback pairs you can only hear the "s" sound, the letters "p" and "c" are silent. Words containing these pairs include "psychic" and "science".
    • Wh - in this piggyback pair you can only hear the "h" sound, the "w" is silent. An example of a word containing this piggyback pair is "whole".
  4. Watch out for homonyms and homophones. Homonyms and homophones are two types of words that can cause difficulty for spellers. But before you can learn to watch out for homonyms and homophones, you must first understand their definitions.
    • A homonym is one of two or more words that are spelled the same and pronounced the same but differ in meaning. A good example of this are the words bank (meaning embankment) and bank (meaning a place where money is kept).
    • A homophone on the other hand is one of two or more words, such as night and knight, that are pronounced the same but differ in meaning. Sometimes they are spelled the same - such as the word "rose" (meaning the flower) and "rose" (meaning the past tense of rise) - and sometimes they are spelled differently, such as the words "to", "too" and "two".
    • As a result, all homonyms are also homophones because they are pronounced in the same way. However, not all homophones are homonyms because not all homophones are spelled the same (whereas homonyms are).[1]
    • Examples: Some other common homonyms and homophones are "here" and "hear"; "eight" and "ate"; "wear," "ware," and "where"; "lose" and "loose"; and "sent," "scent," and "cent."
    • Click on any of the following commonly mistaken homonyms/homophones for more detailed instructions on how to use them:
  5. Be careful with prefixes. Prefixes are word parts that you add to the beginning of other words in order to change their meaning. For example, adding the prefix "un-" to the word "happy" makes "unhappy" (meaning "not happy"). Adding a prefix to a word can make spelling slightly tricky, however there are a couple of rules you can follow to make things easier:
    • Don't add or take away letters: Remember that the spelling of a word doesn't change when you add a prefix, even if it means putting two of the same letter right next to each other. In other words, you never add any letters in or take any letters out, even if you think the result looks slightly odd. As an example, look at the spelling of the words "misstep", "preeminent" and "unnecessary".
    • Understand when to use hyphens: In certain circumstances, you will need to put a hyphen between the prefix and the base word. These circumstances include: when the prefix comes before a proper noun or numeral (eg. un-American), when using the prefix "ex-" meaning "former" (eg. ex-military), when using the prefix "self-" (eg. self-indulgent, self-important), when it becomes necessary to separate two "a's", two "i's" or certain other letter combinations in order to improve readability (eg. ultra-ambitious, anti-intellectual or co-worker).[2]
  6. Learn the correct way to pluralize nouns. Learning how to correctly pluralize nouns is another spelling task which often causes difficulties, as there are many different ways of pluralizing words in the English language (though the most common way is just to add the letter "s").
    • Look at the last letters of the word: The key to correctly pluralizing nouns is to look at the last one or two letters of the word you wish to pluralize, as this will provide a clue to the correct ending. Some of the most common rules are as follows:
    • Most singular nouns which end in the letters "ch", "sh", "s", "x" or "z" can be converted to plural form by adding the letters "es". For example, the word "box" becomes "boxes", the word "bus" becomes "buses" and the word "prize" becomes "prizes".
    • Most singular nouns which end in a vowel followed by the letter "y" can be converted into plural form by simply adding the letter "s". For example, the word "boy" becomes "boys" and the word "day" becomes "days".
    • Most singular nouns which end in a consonant followed by the letter "y" can be converted into plural form by dropping the "y" and adding the letters "ies". For example, the word "baby" becomes "babies", the word "country" becomes "countries" and the word "spy" becomes "spies".
    • Most singular nouns that end in the letters "f" or "fe" can be converted into plural form by dropping the "f" or "fe" and adding the letters "ves". For example, the word "elf" becomes "elves", the word "loaf" becomes "loaves" and the word "thief" becomes "thieves".
    • Most singular nouns that end in an "o" can be converted into plural form simply by adding an "s". For example, the word "kangaroo" becomes "kangaroos" and the word "piano" becomes "pianos". However, sometimes when a word ends in a consonant followed by the letter "o", the correct way to convert it into plural form is to add the letter "es". For example, the word "potato" becomes "potatoes" and the word "hero" becomes "heroes".[3]

Spelling Practice

  1. Break words into syllables and look for words within words. Just because a word is long, that doesn't necessary mean that it's difficult to spell - all you need to do is break the word down into syllables, and look for smaller words within the bigger one.
    • Breaking into smaller words: For example, the word “baseball” can be broken down into two smaller words: “base,” and “ball” which aren't difficult to spell at all!
    • Breaking into syllables: Even if you can't make actual words, breaking a long word down into smaller syllables can be very helpful. For example, you can break the word "hospital" down into "hos-pit-al", or the word "university" into "u-ni-ver-si-ty".
    • Breaking into parts: You can even remember a seemingly difficult fourteen-letter word such as “hypothyroidism” by breaking it down into parts: one prefix, one full word, and one suffix: “hypo-”, “thyroid,” and “-ism.”
    • Keep in mind that you can significantly improve your spelling by learning all of the common prefixes and suffixes, as a large number of words contain either one or both of these.
  2. Sound out words. Sounding out the pronunciation of a word (in an exaggerated fashion) can help you to figure out its spelling. However this only holds true when you are pronouncing the word correctly.
    • Therefore, you should do your best to make a habit of correctly pronouncing words (don't skip consonants or vowels that you're not supposed to) and you'll have a better chance of spelling them correctly.
    • Examples: Some words that are commonly mispronounced - and therefore misspelled - include: "probably" (usually pronounced like "probly"), "different" (usually pronounced like "difrent"), "Wednesday" (usually pronounced like "Wensday") and "library" (usually pronounced like "libry").
    • Other words you need to watch out for when using this method are the ones we tend to say too quickly, such as "interesting" or "comfortable". Because we often say these words so quickly, it can be difficult to sound out the correct spelling.
    • Slow down: When sounding out such words, try to slow down and really enunciate each syllable. Pronounce the word "interesting" as "in-TER-esting" so you don't forget the "e" in the middle, and pronounce the word "comfortable" as "com-FOR-ta-ble" to help you remember where each of the vowels go.
  3. Use memory aids or mnemonics. Mnemonics are devices which help you to remember important information, such as how to spell a word. They come in many different forms, some of which are described below:
    • Silly sentences: A fun mnemonic device for remembering specific problem words is to make up sentences in which the first letter of each word corresponds with a letter in the word you are trying to spell. For example, to remember how to spell the word "because", you could use the sentence "Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants". Or to remember the word "physical" you could use the sentence "Please Have Your Strawberry Ice Cream And Lollipops". The sillier the sentence, the better!
    • Clever clues: Some other creative memory aids use hints found within the words themselves to aid with correct spelling. For example, if you have difficulty in remembering the difference between the word "desert" (meaning arid land) and the word "dessert" (meaning a sweet treat), just remember that the word "dessert" has two "s"s because you always want seconds.[4]
    • If you have difficulty with the word "separate", remember that there's a rat in the middle. If you are always forgetting the difference between the word "stationery" and "stationary", remember that "stationery" spelled with an "e" is about envelopes and such things. And if you have trouble differentiating between the words "principal" (meaning the person with the highest authority) and "principle" (meaning a fundamental truth), just remember that the principal or head of the company is your "pal".
  4. Try to memorize commonly misspelled words. Even if you learn all of the rules and try all of the spelling tricks, there will probably still be some words you'll have a mental block against and will consistently misspell. For these words, memorization may be the only way to go.
    • Identify problem words: First you will need to identify the words that you have the most trouble with. You can do this by looking back through previous writings and checking your spelling. This will be easier to do if you have electronic files and run a spell check program but the very best way to get this done is to have an impeccable speller (someone who is excellent at spelling) edit your work. Which are the words you tend to misspell the most often?
    • Make a list: Once you have identified your most commonly misspelled words, make a neat list, then rewrite each word (using the correct spelling) at least ten times. Go through each word, sound it out, "see" the syllables, and make a conscious mental effort to memorize the spelling.
    • Practice makes perfect: Do this every day or every other day. What you're essentially doing is "training" your mind and hand(s) to spell the word correctly. Eventually, you might want to quiz yourself by having someone read the words out loud (or making a recording of yourself) and writing out each word as you hear it. Then go back and see which ones you got wrong.
    • Use labels and flashcards: Another method you can use to learn how to spell problem words is to use flashcards and labels. Stick labels with the correct spellings on everyday household items, such as "faucet", "duvet", "television" and "mirror". Then every time you use one of these items you will be reminded of how to spell it. You can also try sticking a flashcard with 2 or 3 of your problem words beside the bathroom sink or on top of the coffee maker - then every time you're brushing your teeth or waiting for your coffee you can work on memorizing the correct spellings!
    • Use your senses: You can also try using your finger to 'write out' the spelling -- trace the letters on your book, your desk, even the sand on the beach! The more of your senses you use, the better you will train your brain.


  • You can practice by spelling the word when you use it. So if you say a word like "pasta" you could think or say p-a-s-t-a this may help create a mental image of the word.
  • Proofread your work. We all get busy at some point during writing, which makes it easy to toss in a sound-alike word such as 'reef' for 'wreath'; and you can carry on unaware that a mistake has been made...until later when it jumps out at you...then you are like, "Wow, I wrote that?"
  • Check compound words in a dictionary. There is really no way to know whether to write "stomachache," "stomach-ache," or "stomach ache" unless you consult a dictionary. There is a lot of change in the rules of hyphenation these days, so check a fairly recent dictionary in your type of English - British or American.
  • It can really help to be familiar with the spelling of a few other languages, and to know the language that the word comes from. Then you can use the tricks that come from different languages. For example, in French, the "sh" sound is spelled with a "ch", thus forming words like "cliché" and "chic".
  • Don't be afraid to use the dictionary. English words come from many different languages. The oldest English words were from either Anglo (Northern German), Saxon (Southern German), Norman or Bordeaux French settlers of England. Many other words are from Latin or Greek root words. A good dictionary can tell you where the word is from, and when you begin to learn them you will begin to recognize patterns.
  • There are so many ways to write out a single sound that theoretically, you could pronounce the word "ghoti" as "fish" (if you pronounce the gh as in tough, the o as in women and the ti as in nation).[5]
  • Think about copyediting someone else's work. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to try teaching it to someone else. Train yourself to pick out other people's spelling mistakes, even in books. (It does happen sometimes.) You can begin by copyediting wikiHow articles. Simply click the "edit" tab, and you can immediately start editing. Consider Create a wikiHow Account later so that you can become a member of the wikiHow community.
  • Reading books and newspapers, catalogues, billboard signs, posters in windows all aid in learning how to spell. If you find a word that is not familiar, write it down, even if all you have is a paper napkin. When you go home, look up the word or words in the dictionary. The more you reference, the more you read, the better you will be at spelling.
  • Take the letters in the word and write a sentence with each of them. For example, you could learn to spell “arithmetic” with the sentence “A rat in the house might eat the ice cream." Or the sentence 'I want accommodation in castles and mansions' will remind you that there are 2 'c's and 2 'm's in the word accommodation.


  • Don't assume that just because a word is printed in a book it is spelled properly; there are mistakes made there, too, as well as in other writings. It happens!
  • Keep in mind that some words ("color," "colour"; "goiter," "goitre"; "gray," "grey"; "checkered," "chequered"; "theater," "theatre") can be spelled (or spelt) more than one way. Both spellings are correct, but one may be preferred in American, British English, or even Australian English.
  • Even obviously misspelled words are often accepted by spell checker programs. It's best not to rely on them too heavily.
  • Don't rely on a spelling checker program, as they are NOT foolproof and would let a sentence like this slip through: "Eye tolled ewe, eye am knew at this."
  • Be very careful to discover which version of English language spelling is being used, i.e. Was this article created by a UK speller or an American speller? And if you know that, do you know who is adding to and / or "correcting" it? Spellcheckers are dangerous things.

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