Thursday, 10 November 2011

English Spelling!

English Spelling!

I often apologise about the horrors of English spelling, 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.

So why is English spelling such a nightmare? 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.

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