Thursday, May 10, 2012

Double, double, toil and trouble

  
As Shakespeare's witches said in 'Macbeth': 'Double, double, toil and trouble.'
But wait a moment. Should that be 'Duble, dable, toil and trible'? Of course, a spell checker helps, but even spell checkers aren't perfect.

Do you have difficulty spelling words ending in -ible, -able and -uble? You're not alone. There are so many homophones (words which sound the same but may be spelt differently) in English that choosing the right one is not always easy. Other commonly confused words are 'effect' and 'affect', or 'they're' and 'their'.  How can you be sure which is the correct spelling? As always, I'd recommend a good online learner's dictionary. The seven listed here are available free of charge:

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
http://www.mycobuild.com/free-search.aspx
http://www.ldoceonline.com/
http://www.macmillandictionary.com/
http://www.learnersdictionary.com/
http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/
http://oaadonline.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/

If you spell a word incorrectly in the dictionary search box, you'll be given suggestions which prompt you to find the right word - perfect for difficult spellings!
Another way to remember confusing spellings is to use a mnemonic, or memory aid, such as 'i before except after c, except in certain cases'. This rule helps with words like 'friend' and 'receive'. Another suggestion made to me was the mock warning given by a primary school teacher: 'Spell "friend" properly, or I'll "fry" your "end"!' Sounds painful, but I've never forgotten it!

What memory aids for spelling do you know? Please add your suggestions in the comments box below and help make a discernible difference to our reputable blog!

7 comments:

Katya said...

Thank you for the nice post,

the example with frightening mnemonic is good, but the example with 'i goes before' mnemonic is actually useless.
It helps with such words like 'receive', 'achieve', but there are many exceptions like 'weight'. So one should know not only the mnemonic, but also the classification of all words: which of them fit the rule, which don't...
This task becomes not easier that memorizing spelling of each word, so this particular mnemonic is useless.

However, I think there are lots of useful mnemonics, which do really help :)

Julia Miller said...

Thanks Katya. That's a good point - there are too many examples of 'except in certain cases' in English! Making rules for English spelling is very difficult.
Do you have any other mnemonics which really do work? I tend to use them more for things like the colours of the rainbow: Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). That's a very old-fashioned, British one!

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Anonymous said...

when the ie rhymes with d - narrows things down a little. I also advise their heir but either here or there.

Andrea Duff said...

How clever!!

Anonymous said...

"Was it you I saw?" is one I use with upper primary learning support... to a) spell "was" with an 'a' and b) to remember which "saw" is to have seen.

sireesha said...

i found this very informative thanks a lot for sharing