You may never be a spelling-bee contestant confronted with a word like “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis,” but you probably still encounter tricky words that you need to spell accurately on a daily basis. Even though we have handy tools like spell-check these days, there’s nothing that can replace good personal spelling skills when you’re trying to communicate with others.

1.Separate the word into chunks. Slowly repeat the word out loud. Sound out each part carefully, one syllable at a time. Splitting the word into manageable parts will help you focus on the spelling of each individual section, which makes it easier to put the whole thing together.

  • Try writing the word down syllable by syllable as you say it aloud. For instance, when you chunk out “aristocratic,” it becomes: “a – ris – to – cra – tic.” “Repetition” would be parsed out as “re – pe – ti – tion,” and “ridiculously” would become “ri – di – cu – lous – ly.”

 

2.Start from simpler forms of the word. Many words are tricky to spell because they’re compounds or derivations of less complicated words. If you think about the root of a complex word, it can give you a good starting point for figuring out the rest.

  • The easiest way to identify a word’s root is to remove any prefixes (like “un-,” “mis-,” “im-,” “re-,” “pre-,” or “inter-”) or suffixes (such as “-ly,” “-tion,” “-or,” “-ment,” “-ing,” “-like,” or “-less”) that may be attached to it.
  • For example, if you’re having trouble with “restructuring,” take away the prefix “re-” and suffix “-ing” to start from the most basic form of the word: “structure.” “Disconnection” could be simplified to the prefix “dis-” plus the root “connect” and suffix “-tion.” If “derivation” is too hard, think about how you would spell “derive,” then add the suffix.
  • Keep in mind that the last letter of a word’s root is often dropped or changed when combining it with suffixes to avoid awkward, overlapping, or repeated vowels or consonants. For instance, “disconnection” does not have two “t’s,” and “restructuring” drops the “e” from the root “structure” to accommodate the suffix “-ing.”

3.Draw on common spelling rules. Even when a word is difficult to sound out, it may still follow a standard pattern of English that you can apply as a rule.

  • For instance, a common rule like “i before e except after c” can help you figure out that words with an “ee” vowel sound will most likely be spelled “shield” (i before e) and “receive” (except after c).
  • Another example of a common spelling rule is that for words ending with an “e,” you generally drop the “e” when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel (like “-ing” or “-able”) and keep it when adding a suffix that starts with a consonant (like “-ment” or “-ly”). If you draw upon this rule, you can figure out that “homeless” and “homely” will both keep the “e” at the end of “home” while “moving” and “unmovable” will both drop the “e” from “move.”

 

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