How Do I Become a Better Speller?

By Catherine Osborn

A college freshman asked me how to spell “valiant” and when I did, he wondered why it was not “-ent”. He asked how I knew that and I had no idea how to respond! All along, I’ve been a terrific speller, even winning some spelling bees in my younger years. But after some thoughtful consideration and reference to my classes on teaching English, I have come up with a few helpful tips:

1. The number one thing that bolsters your spelling ability is reading. The two are so inherently linked that it is almost impossible to be a good speller without being a good reader.

2. Exposing yourself to different types of text will increase your knowledge of the way things are spelled. Through reading newspapers, novels, blogs, even billboards, your brain memorizes spelling patterns.

3. Becoming familiar with root words will also help. We get confused with prefixes and suffixes sometimes and forget the word’s spelling. By singling out the root word, we take away half the problem!

4. Writing frequently also helps you to spell with more precision. You will quickly learn which words “look right” and if not, never hesitate to consult a dictionary. Once you’ve written a word correctly a few times, you will start to remember this.

5. Familiarize yourself with spelling rules. These include but are not limited to:

  • “i before e except after c”
  • “The letter y preceded by a consonant changes to i before a suffix”
  • “Most words drop the final silent e before a suffix beginning with a vowel”
  • “When adding a suffix to a word that ends with a single consonant after a single vowel and stressing the last syllable in the pronunciation of the word, the final consonant is doubled.”
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35 Responses to “How Do I Become a Better Speller?”

  • Daniel Leonard

    A tip I’ve heard: if you want to remember how to spell a word, try to spell it alphabetically–that is, with its letters in alphabetical order. For example: poltergeist -> eeigloprstt. To do this, you have to know how to spell it properly, and it might help you to concentrate on visualizing the word in your mind. Spelling and writing words backwards might have the same effect.

  • Daniel

    Yeah if I am not wrong Maeve wrote something similar on a comment.

  • kelly

    I would skip reading blogs – too many misspellings. It really is amazing how many people cannot spell – or have atrocious typing skills or non-existent proofing.

  • Daniel

    kelly, i think that the “blogs” generalization is too big.

    There are some blogs around the net that attract more readers than mainstream websites (e.g., http://www.huffingtonpost.com/).

    There must be something good in them 🙂 .

    Blogs are just a type of website, if they are good or not depends on who writes and manages them.

  • twoluvcats

    I am an atrocious speller!! But the time savings in just pounding out my misspellings and then fixing them later is worth it to me…takes me too much time to have to think about how to spell a word correctly!

    “The two are so inherently linked that it is almost impossible to be a good speller without being a good reader.”

    …true, but it IS possible to be a good reader without being a good speller 😉

    Because I know I can’t spell, I use spellcheck, and proofreading…the best invention ever is FireFox’s inline textbox spell checker. Thank heaven that now even my comments are spell checked and I don’t make an ass of myself across the web. lol

  • Geoff Foster

    Seeing your remark about prefixes and suffixes reminds me of a couple of rather amusing misapprehensions I have come across while editing.

    One is to do with “indices”, an alternative spelling to “indexes” often found in scientific writing. I had a student who made a back-formation to “indice” as the singular.

    And in another paper on a physiological subject, it became apparent that the writer thought that “mice” was the singular form, so talked about ” .. injecting this mice..”, then using “mices” as the plural.

    [Shades of Tom and Jerry’s “I hate meeces to pieces”!]

  • Egon

    I’ve always been pretty good speller (also winning spelling bees back in my day) but my wife isn’t. She reads a lot, but mostly fiction novels, whereas I read a lot, but only non-fiction books, blogs, etc. I wonder if there’s a correlation between the types of reading we do, or if it’s something else? She often asks me how I knew how to spell certain word, and I never have any idea how I know, I just do.

  • Derrick

    I find it impossible to spell. I am a fairly avid reader, but it has never really helped my spelling. I think that it has something to do with my dominant auditory learning style. Visual learning advise is fairly limited. The advise to sound out the word phonetically seems the most helpful for my learning style.

  • kwx

    Thanks for the tips, do you mind putting up some examples for each of the rules mentioned at the end of the post?

  • Daniel

    We will cover each of the rules individually on future posts (some have been already covered, check the “Spelling” category).

  • harry

    i all ways do mistakes in writing English give me some tips for that

  • Cheryl

    Actually, I don’t think what you read has anything to do with how well you spell. I read primarily fiction, with a smattering of non-fiction, and can spell fairly well. My husband, who is also a reader of fiction, claims that spelling is for spell-checkers – and has never been good at spelling himself.

  • sara khatib

    hi , good day I want to tell you that when you get exersises on spelling please can you send them to me because I suck in spelling and in my reportcards I want a good grade on spelling.
    sincerly
    Sara Khatib

  • Beveine

    If you want to become a better speller you must practise, I have not been a great speller myself but I am now reading more books and I have sign up with dictionary.com, so everyday I learn a new word and its meaning, pronouncation and how to spell it. I think you should sign up also. Thanks for reading have a great day.

  • tina

    i worry about not knowing how to spell, because i have three kids that always need help with homework. Most people think that i’am so smart, but if they only knew how hard it is for me everyday. if anyone has tips on becoming a better speller please help.

    p.s. for give any misspellings

  • Marie James

    I ‘ve all ways have promblems with spelling, as long as i can remember and i just don’t know what to do about it. I think i am a good reade. I wonder if english beeing my secound language have anything to do with it.

  • nina

    I am writing the most difficult test which is on usingenglish.com on Baffled and it talks about Gordon Brown’s speech.Anyone who can help me please the deadline is so close.I am supposed to find the incorrect sentences on the statement.

  • julia

    I read some pages about the punctuation, and each day we learn something, I think the tips are very usuful and I’m interested in learn more.

  • Jessica

    Will I have a hard time whit spelling also and I dont like have to all ways ask people how to spell something it get old. And school teacher have to teach oleny what they have in the books. That does it help every body. And some people need to learnd a nother way I dont think thats a bad thing.

    Jessica T.

  • Shelda Kirkland

    I know that reading and spelling are inherently linked, but this does not stop me from spelling words incorrectly. I too am an avid reader from fiction to scholarly journals, yet I still struggle a least once a week with spelling. Ironically, I am currently finishing my master’s degree in Education and soon I will be teaching English. I write extremely well and I understand the rules of spelling, but I find myself using phonetic reasoning to spell more than memorization as I get older. I believe that being able to spell correctly is not a testament of one’s intelligence, but more a direct reflection of one’s learning style. I am a linguistic learner, which means that the utilization and application of words helps me learn–this does not mean I am a natural speller. For instance, not everyone who spells efficiently can write efficiently. When I am with my kids and I run across a word that I can’t spell correctly, I try to sound it out or I look it up. Sometimes the kids even correct me and I am proud because they are become self-initiated learners. The way I look at it is we can’t all be great at everything. This is our strength–our diversity.

  • Rosa

    Can anyone please send me something that might help spell better.

  • John Smith

    Waht about species? It does not follow the i before e except after c rule!

  • deb

    I believe spelling has a direct correlation with memory. Once I look at a word I know if it is misspelled. I heard there is a correlation with reading a spelling. My daughter was class valedictorian hates reading, and it a great speller. Genetic, probably. The only thing I’ve noticed lately everywhere you go, postings, advertisements, etc. No one knows how to spell. So English out the door we are now spelling in American, that makes no sense however you get my gist.

  • khristy monte

    tomorrow is our spelling bee contest..
    i hope everything’s gonna work out just fine..
    God,help me..
    thanks
    =D

  • Dale

    I found with keeping a small dictionary in my top pocket, problems with spelling have slowly decreased. On that note you must broaden your vocabulary in order understand and use these words in your every day life.

    With spelling, keep a note pad and pen close by when reading your novel or magazine, scribbling down the words you come across that you may visualize and understand but may not be one hundred percent confident in spelling if asked, once a week take your note pad a preform look cover write check with your new spelling list. You will find that you will be using more complex wording in your reports and in your speech.

    Sounds a little too simple but it works. My daughter will take a magazine or paper and whilst reading it, will extract words over a weekly period, looking forward to giving her dad and herself a spelling test.

    Shes only 9 yrs old but can spell better than her grandmother, toppings her class with reading and writing.

    Sometimes back to basics is predominately what some of us need.

    Everyone to their own. 🙂

    Thanks Dale.

  • M in atl

    This article confirmed what I thought. I recently started reading books because I wasn’t a reader and I feel it shows in my writing. I’m a secretary and am 100% embarrassed about my inability to spell well. I especially love the tips. It’s funny that I came to these conclusions on my own and actually started putting them to use. While reading I write down a list of words I’ve never seen, spelled or don’t know how to spell. I feel great about myself now because I’ve been beating myself up about it. It could cause me my job. Now I’m finding solutions, I’m not as worried.

  • Rosy

    I am a terrible speller! I want to go to college but I am nervous about my inability. I am a book worm but that does not make any difference. I suppose it is because English is not my first language, but I never attend school in my native county and I m speller better in Spanish than in English. I have also found that as the technology advances the lazier I get. I will start to put in use this tips. Thanks!

  • venqax

    @Geoff Foster

    [Shades of Tom and Jerry’s “I hate meeces to pieces”!]

    Actually that is Jinx, who chased Dixie and Trixie. Not Tom or Jerry. I don’t think Tom spoke at all.

    Only 3 years for someone to catch that! Only on DWTs! LOL

  • venqax

    Oooo…. make that 4 years! Daily Arithmetic Tips would help some of us, too.

  • Grace

    Hi, I’m a pretty decent speller, and I consider myself both an auditory and visual learner. Whenever I write, I think in words and actually hear them inside my head as if there’s an ‘inner voice.’

    My technique when writing a word is to have it heard in my head first. Then I segment the word to its individual syllables (and hear the sound of each). Then I associate the sound I hear with the corresponding written symbol.

    Well it may seem a bit complicated, but we actually do it instinctively due to our prior experiences. No deliberate effort required. 🙂

    I think it’s all about seeing patterns and abstracting rules. This is especially helpful when learning a new language: you abstract the sound patterns and their corresponding written symbols.

    Too complicated? It’s our amazing brain doing all the work subconsciously. 🙂

  • G.C

    Your first tip is more less an opinion then a fact. I, for example, I’m an exelent reader, I read on a daily basics and have tons of books on my bed side table, and yet, im a terrible speller. I KNOW the words are spell wrong, I just have no idea how to fix them. And, aside from reading, I write everyday. Some people fing it hard to believe i’m a bad speller. So i just broke the impossibility of someone being “A good speller without being a good reader”.

  • Grace

    Hi to all. I’m here to give some very helpful important tips on spelling. Well first of all, you can spell by pronucing words out. Example: When you were a young child, you started off by spelling simple words such as, jet, man, top, ect. But you advance to harder levels now. So then you’re about to learn compound words! So you just put two and two togather! As you can see as a young child you go WHOA! This is a 6 letter word! But you can’t always go by that. And all this takes is practice. Sound the word out to figure out how to spell it. You might not always get it right but, don’t worry about it. Spelling takes practice. One day in your free time, go look some words up in a dictionary.

  • Grace

    Here I come, accidently spelled pronouncing wrong. I know how to spell it but, I don’t even know what was going through and out my head to not spell it right o_O

  • Grace

    Hi guys. I am so sorry for my immaturity. I have really matured since then. Ok, so I’m going to tell you what I should’ve said on my first paragraph.

  • Grace

    Hello everyone. I am here to give some very important, helpful tips on spelling. First off, you can learn to spell by pronouncing words out. For an example, as a little kid, you start off by spelling small words. Maybe a 2 letter or a letter 3 word. And eventually, you progress and start learning 4’s and 5’s and as you progress you might go wow, how am I going to do this but, little by little, you’ll be able to do it all! So don’t get upset, because soon, you’ll go back and say, “how could I have been not able to spell this”. The more you practice, the faster you’ll get it. No worries if it takes longer than you expected it to be. You can’t expect to go to bed and wake up the next morning and be better than you were last night because it all takes time.

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