It is a well repeated mantra in schools and authors’ circles that English is a confusing language to master. Many of the “rules” of spelling and grammar have more exceptions than inclusions! Even after my many years in education, there are some that cause me to pause and reach for my reference books.
I’ve decided to write a few blog posts about some of the more common mistakes that turn up in the big wild world of publishing.
Let’s start with spelling.
A boy was once told off by his teacher for misspelling a word. “You should have looked it up in the dictionary,” she told him.
He replied: “Why would I look it up if I didn’t know it was spelled wrong?”
Not only does this have me giggling but it’s an important point. It’s easy for little spelling and grammar mistakes to slip by, especially when you’re self-editing. One of the points that was continually emphasised during my proofreading and editing training was check every single word, even if it looks right.
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There are more and more talented storytellers taking the bull by the horns and going down the self-publishing route to get their books out there. It’s a sad fact that a fantastic story can be let down by too many missed spelling mistakes.
Look at these common words listed below, which ones do you think are spelled correctly?
Thankfully there are some excellent online dictionaries available. While I was training, I used Collins Dictionary Online to check EVERYTHING.
Techniques to improve your spelling
Here are some tips that will help you to keep your spelling up to standard:
- Use a small dictionary or an online one such as http://www.collinsdictionary.com/ or a smartphone app. Refer to it frequently: if in doubt, check.
- Keep your own “dictionary” on your PC or device or in a notebook or both. List the words that trip you up, A – Z.
- Practise your weak spellings. Write them down repeatedly until you know them.
- Check the spelling in everything you write, including email messages and social media posts. This will develop accuracy and improve your spelling.
- Use a spell check (most word-processing software packages have them) but never rely on them completely. They will pick out obvious errors but not mistakes like using “toe” instead of “tow”.
One of the statements I hear most frequently from new writers when talking about the pitfalls of spelling is:
“But I don’t need to check my spelling with a dictionary, word does it for me“
Yes, a spell checking program is a life saver. I use one ALL THE TIME! 😉 However, it wouldn’t necessarily pick up a homophone error such as “hear” instead of “here” as I have already mentioned above. Also, make sure which language the program is set to. Is it UK English or American English? If it’s not set to the correct English language variation, you’ll miss some subtle but crucial spelling differences which I cover in The English Language: Variations across the Atlantic.
I hope this post has helped. Which common spelling mistakes resonate with you the most? (It’s okay — we’re all guilty of at least one.) Make a mental note to avoid those mistakes in the future, or just bookmark this page to remind yourself of them over and over (and over) again.
English, like many other languages, has its own set of tricky rules and intricacies. But with a little bit of practice and help from guides like this one, you can become a spelling master.
Here are some good interactive spelling tests. Try them and see how you score.
Until next time,