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?”
You got me. I’m sure there’s some linguistic explanation, but right now we’re on deadline and we need to know which to choose.
The truth is, familiarity and practice are usually the only ways you can only tell the difference between similar-sounding words. Until we commit the difference to memory, we will always risk declaring that the coffee table “compliments” the couch (“Nice cushions, couch!”) when we mean “complements.” Technology won’t help you; spell-checkers have improved but often glide right past these homophones.
So I’m here to help.
I’ve worked out some quick memory tricks to solve some of the most common spelling snafus.
Next time you’re stumped, try these:
Affect or Effect? Usually, “affect” is an action; both words begin with the same letter. “Effect” is generally a noun. So, one thing affects another — or has an effect on it. There are exceptions (aren’t there always in English?) but most of the time you can stick with the basic differentiation.
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.”
Principal or Principle? The principal is still your pal, at least when it comes to these two words.
Complement or Compliment? Something complements another by completing it.
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. Concensus is not actually a word, but many people trip and use it when they want “consensus.”
Accommodate is big enough to accommodate two c’s and two m’s.
Tailor or Taylor? A tailor makes clothes fit; both words have an i in them. “Taylor” is only a word for people named Taylor, by the way. So just think, “No way Taylor.”
Stationery or stationary? Letters are written with stationery, and both words have er in their end.
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.