"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!




What About Spell Check?

spell check
spell check

English spelling is a challenge, even for computers! Here is a reprint of a recently re-circulated poem on LinkedIn that highlights the "dangers" of putting too much trust into your computer's spell-check feature. This can lead us down the wrong path of communication. For those speaking English as a Second Language, who have less familiarity with English, the results can be somewhat amusing, if not embarrassing. Look at the passage below and see if you can make the necessary corrections. We'd love to hear from you to see if you know of any other similar passages:  

Eye halve a spelling chequer

It came with my pea sea

It plainly marques four my revue

Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid

It nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the error rite

Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it

I am shore your pleased two no

Its letter perfect awl the weigh

My chequer tolled me sew.

Check out our communication products for non-native English speakers. Effective communication entails proper language, pronunciation, and writing skills. www.eslrules.com.