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Spelling Tips

10 Simple Tricks to Avoid Spelling Snafus

Yes, there should be an apostrophe in “its” but there are no apostrophes in Scrabble so we’re relaxing a bit. (Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash.)

English words can be notoriously difficult to spell; a mishmash
of different origins has created a collection of words with no discernible
logic. “Choose to lose”? Why isn’t it “Choose to loose” or “Chose to lose?”

The truth is that many similar-sounding words can be
differentiated only through familiarity and practice; we simply know the
difference between “ate” and “eight.” Until we commit the difference to memory,
we will always risk declaring that the coffee table “compliments” the couch
(“Nice cushions!”) when we mean “complements.” Technology won’t help you; your
computer’s spell-checker has no sense of context and will glide right past

Spelling memory tricks

To help you commit them to memory, here are some simple tricks for
avoiding some of the most bothersome spelling errors:

1.      Affect or Effect? Usually, “affect” is an action, which begins with the same letter. “Effect” is generally a noun. So, one thing affects another — or has an effect on it. There are exceptions, as always: When
we speak of “effecting” change, we turn the noun into a verb. And “affect” can
also be a noun, as in “He assumed a snobbish affect.” But in the most common,
everyday uses of the two words, you can stick with the basic differentiation.

2.      Aural or Oral? Think of “audio” and you’ll remember that “aural”
indicates hearing. “Oral” has to do with the mouth, as in “oral health.”

3.      Principal or Principle? The principal is still your pal, at least when it comes to these two words.

4.      Complement or Compliment? Something complements another by completing it; note the first six letters are the same. You can also apply this rule of thumb (remember?) to complementary and complimentary.

5.      Consensus or Concensus? When a group reaches consensus, it has given consent to an idea. No, it’s not about giving your opinion to a census taker. (Consensus, by the way, is not a word.)

6.      Accommodate This word is big enough to accommodate two cc’s and two mm’s.

7.      Taylor or tailor? A tailor makes clothes fit; both words have an i in them.

8.      Stationery or stationary? Letters are written with stationery, and both words have er in their end.

9.      Counsel or council? One gets counsel by consulting with an expert. A council is a group that deliberates or oversees, such as a city council.

10.  Advisor or adviser? Actually, both spellings are correct. The choice is simply
a matter of personal preference.

As for the most notorious of the homophones, “its” and “it’s,” all I can say is you’ll just have to remember that the possessive takes no apostrophe, just as “hers” and “theirs” do not.

That’s just the way it is.

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