“English spelling,” says R.L. Trask, “is notoriously complex, irregular, and eccentric, more so than in almost any other written language” (Mind the Gaffe!, 2006).
- “Spelling is not a reliable index of intelligence. . . . Many intelligent people struggle with English spelling, while others will find it comparatively easy to master. Learning to spell correctly requires remembering numerous unusual and peculiar spelling forms. Some people are just better at this form of rote learning than others. . . .
“One of the reasons why English spelling is so unpredictable is because its vocabulary consists of many words derived from other languages, which have been adopted with their original spellings intact. Understanding the origins of these words and the languages they have come from will help with spelling them.”
- Standardization of English Spelling
“. The standardization of English spelling began in the 16th century, and although it is unclear at exactly what point our spelling became set, what is certain is that ever since it happened, people have complained that the rules of spelling, such as they are, just don’t make sense.”
- American Spelling and British Spelling
“George Bernard Shaw once defined the British and Americans as two peoples separated by a common language. Not just in accent and vocabulary but in spelling, too, this is true.
“Like the spelling of ‘honor’ versus ‘honour’ and ‘defense’ versus ‘defence,’ the use of one L versus two in certain positions in words is a sure sign of American English. Classic examples include American ‘traveled,’ ‘jewelry,’ and ‘color’ versus British and Common wealth ‘travelled,’ ‘jewellery,’ and ‘colour.’
- Reading and Spelling
“There is no necessary link . . . between reading and spelling: there are many people who have no difficulty in reading, but who have a major persistent handicap in spelling–this may be as many as 2% of the population
Everyone who has difficulty with spelling words correctly can derive some comfort from knowing that some very good writers have been notoriously bad spellers. It’s also comforting to bad spellers to know that this business of spelling seems to have little to do with intelligence. It has more to do with how we remember things. Some people, once they’ve seen a word spelled correctly, will never misspell that word again. Those are the people who, if you ask them how to spell a word, will first say, “Wait a second. Let me write it down.” If you are not a strong visual learner, but learn in other ways, you will have to learn some other tricks to become a strong speller.
The following suggestions about spelling are only that—suggestions. Spelling, like vocabulary building, is ultimately a personal matter, and only a planned and sustained effort to improve spelling will have the desired results.
Writing with modern word-processors has changed the game of spelling somewhat, but not entirely. Spell-checkers are capable of discovering misspelled words for us — sometimes even as we write them — and most of them will suggest alternative spellings. Very good spell-checkers are even capable of asking whether we’ve confused a correctly spelled word with another word (e.g., we’ve used the word “they’re,” but do we really mean “their”?). Studies show, however, that papers written with the help of a spell-checker are only slightly better than papers written without a word-processor. The reason seems to be that a word-processor makes our text look so professional that we’re apt to overlook misspelled words. Never blame a spell-checker for failing to catch a misspelled word in your paper. That is your responsibility! Perhaps the best we can say about spell-checkers is that they’ve taken away another excuse for bad spelling.
Using the Dictionary
For the purposes of checking your spelling, however, a small pocket dictionary will help us. In fact, bookstores will often sell dictionaries that have nothing but spelling, and those can be very efficient, indeed, for this purpose. Small but powerful (and rather expensive) digital dictionaries are also available, and if they make looking up words more fun and if you have the money lying around to buy one, they can be a good investment. The important thing about owning any kind of dictionary, though, is that you must have it immediately at hand when you are writing.
Mnemonics (Now there’s a toughie to spell! It’s pronounced as if that initial m didn’t exist.) Are little memory devices you can use to remember how to spell words. Geography students will remember that George Eliot’s Old Grandfather Rode A Pig Home Yesterday. Some mnemonics seem more difficult to remember than the spelling they’re supposed to serve.
Coming up with mnemonics to help you remember things are a device you probably use in other studies all the time. Extend the habit into your personal mission to improve spelling. Be as inventive as you wish and have fun with the idea. It will pay off in the long run. For example sq3r
Homonyms and Plurals
Homonyms are words that sound alike or nearly alike but have different meanings and different spellings: affect-effect, -their-there, expect accept the list goes on and on.
Creating plurals in English is usually quite simple: just add s to the end of the word. Sometimes, however, it isn’t that easy and the rules can be a bit perplexing. For example wife wives man men and so on
Rule #1: “I before E except after C”;
This rule, designed to help us remember how to spell words such as receive and chief, seems so promising in its simplicity at first.
- achieve, believe, brief, grief, thief, friend, grieve, chief, priest
- conceive, deceive, perceive, receipt, receive,
This rule is relatively simple and worth remembering.
Rule #2: “Dropping Final E”
When adding an ending to a word that ends with a silent e, drop the final e if the ending begins with a vowel:
However, if the ending begins with a consonant, keep the final e:
Rule #3: “Dropping Final Y”
When adding an ending to a word that ends with y, change the y to i when it is preceded by a consonant.
- supply becomes supplies
- worry becomes worried
- merry becomes merrier
This does not apply to the ending -ing, however.
Nor does it apply when the final y is preceded by a vowel.
Working on Your Spelling
Improving your spelling skills is largely a matter of personal commitment: looking up a word you’re not sure of, keeping the dictionary at hand, keeping a list of words you know you have trouble with. From this list, you should compile your own list of words that look odd to you or aren’t spelled the way you would spell them. Look up their definitions and origins and use them in sentences. Carry around the list and review it from time to time until the proper spelling occurs naturally to you.
American and British Spelling of Words
Writers who grow up in England, Canada, or any place where spelling habits conform to British preferences will be perplexed when the word colour comes back from an American instructor with a slash mark through the u. When Noah Webster started putting his dictionary together, he thought it would be a good idea to simplify some English spelling and that -our was one ending he thought we Americans could do without. Standard American spelling, ever since then, has been sometimes different from British, and it extends to other words as well. A good dictionary, even a good American dictionary, should account for these differences. Instructors should also be equipped to account for them, if not to allow for them.
While discussions surrounding the correct spelling of words can generally be cleared up by checking their spelling at Your Dictionary., many people find themselves confused regarding the difference between American and British spellings.
Common Differences between American and British Spelling
Although the differences between American and British spellings are often subtle, they are still significant. For example (American spelling – British spelling):
- analyze – analyse
- apologize – apologise
- behavior – behaviour
- canceling – cancelling
- center – centre
- check – cheque
- color – colour
- encyclopedia – encyclopaedia
- favorite – favourite
- fiber – fibre
- fulfill – fulfil
- gray – grey
- humor – humour
- labor – labour
- license – licence
- jewelry – jewellery
- theater – theatre
To further complicate matters, some words have a slightly different meaning in American and British English. For example (American word – English word):
- pacifier – dummy
- lawyer – solicitor
- period – full stop
- pharmacist – chemist
- rent – hire
- soccer – football
- cookie – biscuit
- eraser – rubber
Spelling Rules to Remember
If you must frequently work with both American and British spellings, you may find it helpful to keep in mind these spelling rules:
- Words ending in RE in British English have been changed to ER in American English. For example centre in British and center in American..
- Words ending in OUR in British English have been changed to OR in American English .for example labor in American English and labour in British English
- Words ending in IOUR in British English have been changed to IOR in American English. For example behaviour in British English and behavior in American English.
- Many words ending in YSE or ISE in British English have been changed to YZE or IZE in American English, although there are exceptions. Fore example realize in American English and realize in British English.
Which Spelling is Correct?
Technically, both American and British spellings are correct. However, American spellings are gaining an advantage in many circumstances because Microsoft Word is set to default its spell check feature to American spellings. Thus, all British spellings will appear as incorrect when using this program.
If you are a student preparing a research paper, ask your teacher which spelling he or she prefers. If your instructor has no preference, simply choose either American or British spellings and be consistent throughout the piece.