"I" Before "E" Except After "C"

Being a good speller certainly has its perks. You can ace your English tests, compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, or even be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. And, if you grew up in certain parts of the world, good spelling is often a highly valued trait - often a source of parental pride, if not outright bragging.

But what if you just want to speak English well, and you are a non-native speaker? That is where the trouble often begins. You have to contend with silent letters (salmon, thumb), different pronunciations of letters (cough, phone), words borrowed from other languages with their own spelling quirks (silhouette, ballet, gourmet), words that are often pronounced incorrectly and thus spelled incorrectly (espresso vs. expresso), homonyms or similar sounding words that have different spellings and meanings (pore, poor, pour), and many more idiosyncrasies and challenges! So what can you do to survive?

Here are some tips for getting English spelling under control.

  1. Keep a personal spelling list: Write down words you frequently spell incorrectly. Include how you typically spell it (wrong), the accurate spelling, and any applicable spelling rules to help you remember it in the future.

  2. Be aware of standard North American vs. British English variations, such as pajamas vs. pyjamas, behavior vs. behaviour.

  3. Learn confusing word endings such as -ent vs. -ant and -able vs. -ible, such as relevant, recent, incapable, and invisible.

  4. Learn how to spell words with silent letters such as diaphragm, walk, thumb.

  5. Familiarize yourself with words containing double consonants such as accommodate, necessary, commitment, occasional, and ladder.

  6. Keep a list of words with unusual letter combinations such as ophthalmologist, psychologist, and fluorescent.

  7. Be aware of the different “sounds” various letters and letter combinations make. For instance, “ch” sounds different in Christmas, mustache, and kitchen. Check the RULES by the Sound spelling chart for additional examples.

  8. Know how to spell words that are often mispronounced such as espresso (correct) vs. expresso.

  9. Be careful not to rely blindly on spell-check features, since they make mistakes!

  10. Have easy access to a comprehensive dictionary (online, app, or book format), e.g. www.dictionary.com.


To learn more about idiosyncratic spelling, check out the charts in the RULES BY THE SOUND book.

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Post some of your spelling challenges!