Contrary to popular belief, not all writers are good spellers. In fact, and unfortunately, many writers—particularly writing “newbies”—are not. Even self-professed “grammar queens” and “grammar nazis” are guilty of making regular spelling mistakes. No, spelling mistakes are not reserved for children and those who failed high-school English class. We simply cannot assume that every word of a published article—whether online or in print, fiction or non-fiction—is spelled correctly.
Why is this? Are we uninformed, or just lazy? While English is certainly a confusing language with seemingly more spelling and grammar exceptions than rules, it is not difficult to take some time to learn how to spell. This learning begins with recognising commonly misspelled words and then learning how to spell them correctly.
You’d be surprised at how many words are commonly misspelled by new writers and veteran writers alike—there are thousands upon thousands. However, for the purposes of this article, shorter, more manageable lists will suffice.
One reason why so many words are commonly spelled incorrectly in writing is because they are often confused with other similar-sounding and looking words; particularly homonyms. Here is a list of commonly confused words:
– your, you’re;
– it’s, its;
– there, their, they’re;
– to, too, two;
– no, know;
– new, knew;
– a lot (not alot), allot;
– past, passed;
– threw, through;
– lose, loose;
– advice, advise;
– desert, dessert;
– effect, affect;
– insure, ensure, assure;
– allude, elude;
– weather, whether;
– principal, principle;
– patients, patience;
– independent, independant;
– conscious, conscience;
– compliment, complement
The key to knowing which spelling to use when, is learning what each word means. For example, “desert” means to leave behind or a dry, sandy region; “dessert” is the sweet treat you have after dinner. Another trick is to differentiate between the spellings based on the part of speech. For example, “advice” is a noun (“That’s terrible advice!”), but “advise” is a verb (“I must advise against that.”).
Other commonly misspelled words occur because writers have become so familiar with the misspelling that they believe the error to be correct. Or because they tend to spell an unknown word based on how it sounds. Or because they think the word is too long or confusing to spell correctly.
Here is another short list of commonly misspelled words:
– accommodate (usually one “c” or “m” is missing);
– embarrass (usually an “r” or “s” is missing);
– guarantee (not “guarranty” or “guerentee” or “guarentee”);
– harass (just one “r”);
– jewellery (US version is jewelry);
– judgement (US version is judgment);
Obviously spelling isn’t everything in writing, but it sure can make or break you as a writer. Whether you focus on writing fiction or non-fiction, it’s essential to not only learn how to spell, but also to identify commonly misspelled words and learn how to spell them correctly. Poor spelling is, to some, indicative of poor writing, and this is not the impression you want to make as a writer. Bad spelling makes your writing appear sloppy and unprofessional.
Convinced you’re a lousy speller for life? Relax. There are actually methods for improving your spelling, that don’t involve memorising the correct spelling of every single word in the dictionary. Using a mnemonic (just don’t spell it “neumonic”) device is one of the best ways to help you spell better. An example of a mnemonic device is thinking of the three “e’s” in the word “cemetery”—just like tombstones all in a row: e e e.
There are many more mnemonic devices that can be used, some of which can be found at websites like http://www.mnemonicdictionary.com. A simple Google.com search will return many more sites—if you’re game!
Kristy Taylor is a syndicated freelance journalist with articles and short stories strewn across all forms of media. She has written and published numerous books, and is the executive editor of KT Publishing, which encompasses several web sites. For free listings of short story competitions visit http://www.shortstorycompetitions.com
To contact Kristy, email her at email@example.com
This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.