2.1 Spelling


This section of Ch. 2 will cover the following topics:

  • spelling tips and rules
  • frequently misspelled words

With computer spellcheckers, spelling correctly may seem simple. But spellcheckers don’t catch every error. For example, if you write “to” but mean “too,” a spellchecker won’t mark that as incorrect because “too” is also a real word. Also, if the spellchecker highlights a word that is misspelled and gives you a list of alternatives, you might choose a word with the wrong meaning, even though it is spelled correctly.

Writers are responsible for the errors in their work. Spellcheckers are useful, but they cannot replace human knowledge and judgment.

Tips to Improve Spelling

  • Read everything you write carefully. Focusing word by word will help you note each word’s spelling. If you skim quickly, you will overlook misspelled words.
  • Own a dictionary and use it. If you find it difficult to use a regular dictionary because you can’t figure out how words start, get what is called a “poor speller’s dictionary.”
  • Keep a list of frequently misspelled words. Writers often misspell the same words over and over. Be aware of which words you commonly misspell and add them to your list.
  • Look over returned assignments for misspelled words. Add these words to your list and practice writing each word (spelled correctly!) four or five times.
  • Be familiar with a few common spelling rules (see below). Return to the rules as needed.
  • Read. As simple as that sounds, reading good writing is the best (and easiest) way to learn to spell correctly.

4 Spelling Rules

One way to master spelling is to learn a few basic spelling rules. Keep this list nearby and refer to it regularly. Understanding these rules won’t fix every spelling problem, but it will help with some of the more common and troublesome mistakes.

  1. Put i before e (achieve, niece, alien), except after c (receive, deceive) or when pronounced ay (neighbor, weigh).
  2. When words end in a plus y (happy, cry), drop the y and add an i before adding another ending (happy + er = happier, cry + ed = cried). When words end in a plus y (delay), keep the y and add the ending (delay + ed = delayed). Exceptions are day, lay, say and pay which become daily, laid, said, paid.
  3. When adding an ending that begins with a vowel (-able, –ence, –ing, –ity) to a word that ends in e (write, pure), drop the last e (write + ing = writing, pure + ity = purity). But when adding an ending that begins with a consonant (-less, –ment, –ly) to a word that ends with an e (hope, advertise), keep the e (hope + less = hopeless, advertise + ment = advertisement).
  4. Many words ending in a consonant and an o (photo, soprano) add -s to make a plural (photo + s = photos). Exceptions are words like potato, which adds es (potato + es = potatoes). Add -es to words that end in s, ch, sh, and x (church + es = churches, fax + es = faxes).

Exercise 1

Type the following sentences, choosing the correct spelling of the word in parentheses.  Don’t just guess: refer to the rules above or to your dictionary.

  1. My (neice/niece) recently graduated from high school.
  2. Classes meet only on Monday, (Wensday/Wednesday/Wedsday) and Friday.
  3. When final exams are over, I am always (happyier, happier).
  4. The recipe calls for (tomatoes/tomatos) and garlic.
  5. Larry often sends (faxs/faxes) rather than emails.

Frequently Misspelled Words

Below is a list of words that are often misspelled. Each word has a segment in bold type, which indicates the part of the word that is often spelled incorrectly. Read through the list, noting words that are problematic for you.

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

Exercise 2

Find the nine commonly misspelled words in the following paragraphs. List them, spelled correctly.

(Note: “Lenapi” is not misspelled; it is the name of a native American tribe.  “Breuckelen” is also not misspelled.  Look for common words.)

Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. It is located on the eastern shore of Long Island directly accross the East River from the island of Manhattan. Its beginings stretch back to the sixteenth century when it was founded by the Dutch who originally called it “Breuckelen.” Immedietely after the Dutch settled Brooklyn, it came under British rule. However, neither the Dutch nor the British were Brooklyn’s first inhabitants.

When European settlers first arrived, Brooklyn was largely inhabited by the Lenapi, a collective name for several organized bands of Native American people who settled a large area of land that extended from upstate New York through the entire state of New Jersey. They are sometimes referred to as the Delaware Indians. Over time, the Lenapi succumbed to European diseases or conflicts between European settlers or other Native American enemies. Finalley they were pushed out of Brooklyn completely by the British.

In 1776, Brooklyn was the site of the first importent battle of the American Revolution known as the Battle of Brooklyn. The colonists lost this battle, which was led by George Washington, but over the next two years they would win the war, kicking the British out of the colonies once and for all.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Brooklyn grew to be a city in its own right. The completion of the Brooklyn Bridge was an ocasion for celebration; transportation and commerce between Brooklyn and Manhattan now became much easier. In 1898, Brooklyn lost its seperate identity as an independent city and became one of five boroughs of New York City. However, in some people’s opinien, the intagration into New York City should have never happened; they though Brooklyn should have remained an independent city.


  • Error-free spelling enhances your credibility with readers.
  • Mastering the rules of spelling can help you become a better speller.
  • Studying lists of commonly misspelled words or keeping a list of words you frequently misspell will improve your spelling skills.
  • The easiest way to improve your spelling is to read more.


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1, 2, 3 Write! by Gay Monteverde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.