May 19, 2019

M. J. Maddox, PhD
is the American English Doctor.
 
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Don’t Misspell Words That Spell-Check Apps Will Catch

Section heading from the Washington Post (9 December 2018). Spelling tip: There’s a rat in separate: sep-A-RATe.

No one is too surprised that misspelled words are common in social media.

Comments are dashed off in a hurry. Many of the errors on Facebook and other sites are merely typos that the writer doesn’t notice until it’s too late to correct them. Then too, not everyone who posts has strong basic English skills.

Usage errors in the writing of nonprofessional writers do not represent the collapse of education.

Misspelled words in a reputable publication, on the other hand, are cause for concern.

Anyone who uses language in a professional capacity should have mastered the spelling conventions of Standard English. That includes artists, proofreaders, and headline writers, as well as reporters and editorial writers.

Because English is blessed with numerous homophones, relying on spell-check apps is not enough.

The only way to avoid misspelling words such as affect, effect, advise, advice, past, passed and the like is to learn what they mean and how they function in a sentence.

Some frequently misspelled words, however, will be flagged by any spell checker because they have no corresponding homonyms.

For example, there’s only one way to spell the following words: sincerely, athlete, business, definite, forty, misspell, weird, separate, tragedy, and truly. And yet they appear in every list of “frequently misspelled words.”

English spelling is more challenging than that of some other modern languages, but it is not beyond the ability of most English-speakers to learn to spell the words they use on a daily basis.

The teaching of English in many schools does not prioritize correct spelling. In fact, many K-3 teachers promote something called “inventive/invented spelling” that actually contributes to the fact that so many children fail to learn to spell the words they use.

Parents of elementary children can help their children master the basics of English spelling by working with them at home.

This slim spelling guide will help: 7 Steps to Good Spelling.

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2 comments to Don’t Misspell Words That Spell-Check Apps Will Catch

  • When I taught in the classroom (as opposed to teaching online) I had students write any word they misspelled in an assignment three times. I also recommended that they keep a small spelling notebook in which to list the words they continued to have trouble with. I also taught them to think “spelling pronunciations” as they wrote the troublesome word. For example, for “definite,” pronounce the i’s in the word as long i’s (eye).” This is a technique that works with words whose spelling no longer matches their pronunciation.

  • Good and practical spelling tips. Fortunately I don’t seem to have trouble with the homonyms, but I still have amnesia when it comes to separate, definite, and such. Thank goodness for spell-check. Of course, spell-check is a crutch and when writing a thank-you note or anything by hand there is always the dictionary. For many, many years I have suggested to myself to keep a list of my trouble words for quick reference. I suppose it’s time to actually try it. Seeing the trouble word in my own handwriting or even on a list on my computer might make a permanent impression. You think?

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