Chapter 2: Working with Words: Which Word Is Right?

2.2 Spelling

Learning Objectives

  • Identify common spelling rules
  • Identify commonly misused homonyms
  • Identify commonly misspelled words

One essential aspect of good writing is accurate spelling. With computer spell checkers at your disposal, spelling may seem simple, but these programs fail to catch every error. Spell checkers identify some errors, but writers still have to consider the flagged words and suggested replacements. Writers are still responsible for the errors that remain.

For example, if the spell checker highlights a word that is misspelled and gives you a list of alternative words, you may choose a word that you never intended even though it is spelled correctly. This can change the meaning of your sentence. It can also confuse readers, making them lose interest. Computer spell checkers are useful editing tools, but they can never replace human knowledge of spelling rules, homonyms, and commonly misspelled words.

Common Spelling Rules

The best way to master new words is to understand the key spelling rules. Keep in mind, however, that some spelling rules carry exceptions. A spell checker may catch these exceptions, but knowing them yourself will prepare you to spell accurately on the first try. You may want to try memorizing each rule and its exception like you would memorize a rhyme or lyrics to a song.

Write i before e except after c, or when pronounced ay like “neighbor” or “weigh.”

  • achieve, niece, alien
  • receive, deceive
  • When words end in a consonant plus y, drop the y and add an i before adding another ending.
    • happy + er = happier
    • cry + ed = cried
  • When words end in a vowel plus y, keep the y and add the ending.
    • delay + ed = delayed
    • Memorize the following exceptions to this rule: day, lay, say, pay = daily, laid, said, paid
  • When adding an ending that begins with a vowel, such as -able, -ence, -ing, or -ity, drop the last e in a word.
    • write + ing = writing
    • pure + ity = purity
  • When adding an ending that begins with a consonant, such as -less, -ment, or -ly, keep the last e in a word.
    • hope + less = hopeless
    • advertise + ment = advertisement
  • For many words ending in a consonant and an o, add -s when using the plural form.
    • photo + s = photos
    • soprano + s = sopranos
  • Add –es to words that end in s, ch, sh, and x.
    • church + es = churches
    • fax + es = faxes

Self-Practice Exercise 2.3

H5P: Highlight all the misspelled words in the following paragraph:

Sherman J. Alexie Jr. was born in October 1966. He is a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Native American writer, poet, and filmmaker. Alexie was born with hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. This condition led doctors to predict that he would likly suffer long-term brain damage. Although Alexie survived with no mental disabilitys, he did suffer other serious side effects from his condition that plagud him throughout his childhood. Amazingly, Alexie learned to read by the age of three, and by age five he had read novels such as John Steinbeck’sThe Grapes of Wrath . Raised on an Indian reservation, Alexie often felt aleinated from his peers due to his avid love for reading and also from the long-term effects of his illness, which often kept him from socializeing with his peers on the reservation. The reading skills he displaid at such a young age foreshadowed what he would later become. Today Alexie is a prolific and successful writer with several story anthologeis to his credit, noteably The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World . Most of his fiction is about contemporary Native Americans who are influenced by pop culture and powwows and everything in between. His work is sometimes funny but always thoughtful and full of richness and depth. Alexie also writes poetry, novels, and screenplays. His latest collection of storys is called War Dances, which came out in 2009.

Tip: Use these eight tips to improve your spelling skills:

  1. Read the words in your assignment carefully, and avoid skimming over the page. Focusing on your written assignment word by word will help you pay close attention to each word’s spelling. Skimming quickly, you may overlook misspelled words.
  2. Use mnemonic devices to remember the correct spelling of words. Mnemonic devices, or memory techniques and learning aids, include inventive sayings or practices that help you remember. For example, the saying “It is important to be a beautiful person inside and out” may help you remember that beautiful begins with “be a.” The practice of pronouncing the word Wednesday Wed-nes-day may help you remember how to spell the word correctly.
  3. Use a dictionary. Many professional writers rely on the dictionary—either in print or online. If you find it difficult to use a regular dictionary, ask your instructor to help you find a “poor speller’s dictionary.”
  4. Use your computer’s spell checker. The spell checker will not solve all your spelling problems, but it is a useful tool. See the introduction to this section for cautions about spell checkers.
  5. Keep a list of frequently misspelled words. You will often misspell the same words again and again, but do not let this discourage you. All writers struggle with the spellings of certain words; they become aware of their spelling weaknesses and work to improve. Be aware of which words you commonly misspell, and you can add them to a list to learn to spell them correctly.
  6. Look over corrected papers for misspelled words. Add these words to your list and practise writing each word four to five times. Writing teachers will especially notice which words you frequently misspell, and it will help you excel in your classes if they see your spelling improve.
  7. Test yourself with flash cards. Sometimes the old-fashioned methods are best, and for spelling, this tried-and-true technique has worked for many students. You can work with a peer or alone.
  8. Review the common spelling rules explained in this chapter. Take the necessary time to master the material; you may return to the rules in this chapter again and again, as needed.
Tip: Remember to focus on spelling during the editing and revising step of the writing process. Start with the big ideas such as organizing your piece of writing and developing effective paragraphs, and then work your way down toward the smaller—but equally important—details like spelling and punctuation.


Homonyms are words that sound like one another but have different meanings.

Table 2.2 Commonly Misused Homonyms
Commonly Misused Homonyms What do they mean? Examples
Lead, Led
  • Lead (noun). A type of metal used in pipes and batteries.
  • Led (verb). The past tense of the verb lead.
  • The lead pipes in my homes are old and need to be replaced.
  • After the garden, she led the patrons through the museum.
Lessen, Lesson
  • Lessen (verb). To reduce in number, size, or degree.
  • Lesson (noun). A reading or exercise to be studied by a student.
  • My dentist gave me medicine to lessen the pain of my aching tooth.
  • Today’s lesson was about mortgage interest rates.
Passed, Past
  • Passed (verb). To go away or move.
  • Past (noun). Having existed or taken place in a period before the present.
  • He passed the slower cars on the road using the left lane.
  • The argument happened in the past, so there is no use in dwelling on it.
Patience, Patients
  • Patience (noun). The capacity of being patient (waiting for a period of time or enduring pains and trials calmly).
  • Patients (plural noun). Individuals under medical care.
  • The novice teacher’s patience with the unruly class was astounding.
  • The patients were tired of eating the hospital food, and they could not wait for a home-cooked meal.
Peace, Piece
  • Peace (noun). A state of tranquility or quiet.
  • Piece (noun). A part of a whole.
  • For once, there was peace between the argumentative brothers.
  • I would like a large piece of cake, thank you.
Principle, Principal
  • Principle (noun). A fundamental concept that is accepted as true.
  • Principal (noun). The original amount of debt on which interest is calculated.
  • Principal (noun). A person who is the main authority of a school.
  • The principle of human equality is an important foundation for all nations.
  • The payment plan allows me to pay back only the principal amount, not any compounded interest.
  • The principal held a conference for both parents and teachers.
Sees, Seas, Seize
  • Sees (verb). To perceive with the eye.
  • Seas (plural noun). The plural of sea, a great body of salt water.
  • Seize (verb). To possess or take by force.
  • He sees a whale through his binoculars.
  • The tidal fluctuation of the oceans and seas are influenced by the moon.
  • The king plans to seize all the peasants’ land.
Threw, Through
  • Threw (verb). The past tense of throw.
  • Through (preposition). A word that indicates movement.
  • She threw the football with perfect form.
  • She walked through the door and out of his life.
Where, Wear, Ware
  • Where (adverb). The place in which something happens.
  • Wear (verb). To carry or have on the body.
  • Ware (noun). Articles of merchandise or manufacture (usually, wares).
  • Where is the restaurant?
  • I will wear my hiking shoes when go on a climb tomorrow morning.
  • When I return from shopping, I will show you my wares.
Which, Witch
  • Which (pronoun). Replaces one out of a group.
  • Witch (noun). A person who practises sorcery or who has supernatural powers.
  • Which apartment is yours?
  • She thinks she is a witch, but she does not seem to have any powers.

Self-Practice Exercise 2.4

H5P: Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct homonym.

  1. Do you agree with the underlying (principle, principal) that ensures copyrights are protected in the digital age?
  2. Marjorie felt like she was being (led, lead) on a wild goose chase, and she did not like it one bit.
  3. Serina described (witch, which) house was hers, but now that I am here, they all look the same.
  4. Seeing his friend without a lunch, Miguel gave her a (peace, piece) of his apple.
  5. Do you think that it is healthy for mother to talk about the (passed, past) all the time?
  6. Eating healthier foods will (lessen, lesson) the risk of heart disease.
  7. Daniela (sees, seas, seize) possibilities in the bleakest situations, and that it is why she is successful.
  8. Everyone goes (through, threw) hardships in life regardless of who they are.

Commonly Misspelled Words

Below is a list of commonly misspelled words. You probably use these words every day in either speaking or writing. Refer to this list as needed before, during, and after you write.

Tip: Use these two techniques to help you master these troublesome words:

  • Copy each word a few times and underline areas that are tricky.
  • Copy the words onto flash cards and have a friend test you.
  • across
  • address
  • answer
  • argument
  • athlete
  • beginning
  • behaviour
  • calendar
  • career
  • conscience
  • crowded
  • definite
  • describe
  • desperate
  • different
  • disappoint
  • disapprove
  • eighth
  • embarrass
  • environment
  • exaggerate
  • familiar
  • finally
  • government
  • grammar
  • height
  • illegal
  • immediate
  • important
  • integration
  • intelligent
  • interest
  • interfere
  • jewellery
  • judgment
  • knowledge
  • maintain
  • mathematics
  • meant
  • necessary
  • nervous
  • occasion
  • opinion
  • optimist
  • particular
  • perform
  • personnel
  • possess
  • possible
  • prefer
  • prejudice
  • privilege
  • probably
  • psychology
  • pursue
  • reference
  • rhythm
  • ridiculous
  • separate
  • speech
  • similar
  • since
  • strength
  • success
  • surprise
  • taught
  • temperature
  • thorough
  • thought
  • tired
  • until
  • weight
  • written
  • writing

Self-Practice Exercise 2.5

H5P: After identifying each incorrectly spelled word, write in the correct spelling at the end of passage below.

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 16th 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 19th 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. Eventually, 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 independant city.

Now that you have identified the misspelled words, write the correctly spelled words in the order that they appear in the passage above:

Writing at Work

In today’s job market, writing emails has become a means by which many people find employment. Emails to prospective employers require thoughtful word choice, accurate spelling, and perfect punctuation. Employers’ inboxes are inundated with countless emails daily. If even the subject line of an email contains a spelling error, it will likely be overlooked and someone else’s email will take priority.

The best thing to do after you proofread an email to an employer and run the spell checker is to have an additional set of eyes go over it with you; one of your teachers may be able to read the email and give you suggestions for improvement. Most colleges and universities have writing centres, which may also be able to assist you.

Key Takeaways

  • Accurate, error-free spelling enhances your credibility with the reader.
  • Mastering the rules of spelling may help you become a better speller.
  • Knowing the commonly misused homonyms may prevent spelling errors.
  • Studying the list of commonly misspelled words in this chapter, or studying a list of your own, is one way to improve your spelling skills.

Writing Application

What is your definition of a successful person? Is it based on a person’s profession or character? Perhaps success means a combination of both. In one paragraph, describe in detail what you think makes a person successful. When you are finished, proofread your work for spelling errors. Exchange papers with a partner and read each other’s work. See if you catch any spelling errors that your partner missed.


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Writing for Success - 1st Canadian H5P Edition Copyright © 2021 by Tara Horkoff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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