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Learn English Spelling

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English Spelling!

You know what I'm going to say, don't you? Spelling matters.

Spelling matters

In fact, I often apologise for the horrors of English spelling, along with my rather frequent apologies for English pronunciation, this means I do a lot of apologising, but it's a fact: To speak English well, you need vocabulary, a nice accent, and good grammar. To write English well, you need vocabulary, grammar, an understanding of punctuation and good spelling.

As you learn English you might start to ask yourself, "Why is English spelling such a nightmare in the first place?" One reason is that English has adopted words from many other languages, sometimes we keep the spelling and sometimes we change it to suit us. In Olde Worlde England words were written as they sounded (phonetically) and so one word could often be spelt in many different ways, seemingly you only need to look at original Shakespeare manuscripts to see this chaos in action. Eventually spelling was standardised and set in stone in numerous dictionaries, but the chaos peeks through from time to time. As you learn English you will notice the pronunciation of a word often bears no resemblance to the way it is spelt, (sorry) usually you will find a historical reason for this.

The good news is that although many English words have irregular spellings there are some rules that can help you. Watch out though, for every rule there are always some exceptions (sorry)!

English has over 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 separate sounds, more than any other language, think of it as a game rather than a chore.

How to Improve Your Spelling

  1. Keep a notebook of words you find difficult to spell. Underline the part of the word that you find most difficult.
  2. Use a dictionary, not a spell-checker! OK use a spell-checker, but don't rely on it. Spell-checkers don't check for meaning, the most common misspelt words I have seen on the net are there and their.
  3. Learn words with their possible prefixes and suffixes.
  4. Learn the rules, but don't rely on them. As I mentioned earlier for every rule there is at least one exception. For example:-
i before e except after c
One of the first English spelling rules that was learnt in most schools is "i before e except after c". This only works when the pronunciation of the word is like a long ee as in shield.
For example:-
piece, relief, niece, priest, thief
but after c
conceive, conceit, receive, receipt 
when A or I is the sound
it's the other way round

with an 'a' sound - deign, eight, neighbour, feign, reign, vein, weight

with an 'i' sound either, feisty, height, neither, sleight

Exceptions (sorry):
seize, weird, conscientious, conscience, efficient . . .

Silent Letters

There are lots of silent letters in English. Yes, we stick letters in a word and then we don't pronounce them (sorry).

What is a silent letter?
A silent letter is a letter that must be included when you write the word even though you don't pronounce it. Over half the alphabet can appear as silent letters in words. They can be found at the beginning, end or middle of the words and, from the sound of the word, you wouldn't know that they were there.
For example:-
a - treadle, bread
b - lamb, bomb, comb
c - scissors, science, scent
d - edge, bridge, ledge
e - see below
h - honour, honest, school
k - know, knight, knowledge
l - talk, psalm, should
n - hymn, autumn, column
p - pneumatic, psalm, psychology
s - isle, island, aisle
t - listen, rustle, shistle
u - biscuit, guess, guitar
w - write, wrong, wrist
Silent e

Silent e is the most commonly found silent letter in the alphabet.
There are some hard and fast rules for spelling when a word ends with a silent e.
When you wish to add a suffix to a word and it ends with a silent e, if the suffix begins with a consonant you don't need to change the stem of the word.

For example:
force + ful =forceful
manage + ment =management
sincere + ly =sincerely

If however the suffix begins with a vowel or a y, drop the e before adding the suffix.
For example:
fame + ous =famous
nerve + ous =nervous
believable + y =believably
criticise + ism =criticism

mileage, aggreeable

Prefixes and Suffixes

Adding a prefix to a word doesn't usually change the spelling of the stem of the word.

For example:-
anti + septic antiseptic
auto + biography autobiography
de - sensitize desensitize
dis - approve disapprove
im - possible impossible
inter - mediate intermediate
mega - byte megabyte
mis - take mistake
micro - chip microchip
re - used reused
un - available unavailable

Adding a suffix to a word often changes the spelling of the stem of the word. The following may help you work out the changes. Again there are exceptions, so if you're not sure - look it up in your dictionary.

Words ending in a consonant
When the suffix begins with a consonant, just add the ending without any changes.
For example:-
treat + ment treatment

Doubling the consonant
For most words with a short vowel sound, ending with a single consonant, double the consonant when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel, such as er, ed or ing.
For example:-
mop + ing mopping
big + est biggest
hot + er hotter
For words endling in l after a vowel, double the l before adding er, ed or ing.
For example:-
carol + ing carolling
travel + er travelling
Some words ending in r, x, w or y are exceptions to the doubling rule
tear + ing tearing
blow + ing blowing
box + er boxer
know + ing knowing

And if your main word has two consonants at the end, or more than one vowel, don't double the consonant.
rain + ing (two vowels a + i) raining
keep + er (two vowels e + e) keeper
break + ing (two vowels e + a) breaking
hang + er (two consonants n + g) hanger

Word Endings

Words ending in ce and ge
When you want to add a suffix starting with a or o leave the e in.
For example:-
manage + able manageable
notice + able noticeable
courage + ous courageous
prestige + ous prestigious

Words ending in ie
When you want to add ing to verbs ending in ie, drop the e and change the i to a y.
For example:-
die - dying
lie - lying
tie - tying

Words ending in y after a consonant
When you want to add suffixes such -as, -ed, -es, -er, -eth, -ly, -ness, -ful and -ous to a word ending in y after a consonant, change the y to an i before adding the suffix.
For example:-
eighty + eth eightieth
duty + es duties
lazy + ness laziness
mystery +ous mysterious
beauty + ful beautiful
multiply + ed multiplied
busy + ly busily

Words ending in y after a vowel
Keep the y when adding suffixes such as er, ing or ed.
For example:-
destroy destroying destroyed
pry prying pried
buy buying buyer
play playing player

You may be confused by some differences in spelling that are actually caused by the differences between American (AmE) and British (BrE) English spelling. It's not that one is right or better and the other wrong or worse, the trick is to learn one form of spelling and stick to it. Try not to mix them up.

-ise vs -ize

-re vs -er

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