The modern age has given us amazing tools like spell check, but that’s a little like having an excellent team of paramedics always waiting at the base of the cliff (surely a dubious use of medical resources?). What happens if you can’t use ‘spell check'? Wouldn’t you rather not leap off that cliff in the first place? (Unless you’re this guy, in which case, go for it, you crazy bat-thing.)
Adult native speakers of English typically have a vocabulary of around 20,000 words – yet it’s usually the same teeny tiny group of words that cause us grief time and again. So here are 11 of the more common words and some simple mnemonics (techniques for remembering) to help you avoid leaping off the cliff.
(And yes, mnemonic probably needs its own spelling mnemonic.)
1. STATIONARY and STATIONERY
One of them means standing still. The other is that pile of unopened notebooks you keep buying because you like the smell (as well as pens, pencils, envelopes etc.). “E for envelope” is your friend here – stationery being the writerly, scribbly, papery stuff. “A for anchored” will remind you that to be stationary is to stay put.
One thing’s certain with this one – you’ll either be dead right or dead wrong. (Boom chish.) But if you’re using vowels other than Es, we have ‘grave' fears for you. It’s not “cemetary” – despite what your brain wants to do (as things like “centenary” do go that way). The best way to remember it is that all three members of the E family are buried here.
This word was voted in high school as “most likely to be spelt wrong by real estate agents on big expensive signs”. But don’t be afraid of the double doubles – embrace them! To continue the real estate theme, your correct accommodation includes double garage, double vanities, double C and double M! (Great buying.)
“We ‘eard you were ‘aving trouble spelling this word…” said the weird man. And that’s all you have to do – imagine a weird man speaking in a cockney accent and translate “WE ‘EARD…” as “WE IRD”. You’re welcome.
Okay, so you’re at the fancy restaurant, and you’ve just realised that you don’t have your wallet with you, and you haven’t got round to getting that pay-wave thing set up on your phone. It’s time to do a runner. In a crash of cutlery and a thrash of the tablecloth, you bolt. “Hey YOU!” wails the waiter. And that’s all you need to remember: “Hey you” = AU. RestAUrant. (Alternatively, you could just picture an AUstralian restaurant…)
Put simply, you’re in possession of all the Ss.
This is one of those words, a little like “cemetery” above that doesn’t seem like it should be spelt this way, but it is. After all, we’re simply used to more words ending in -ER, plus the way we pronounce this one doesn’t help things. The best way to remember it is to imagine a calendar with something that represents those final two troublesome letters, -AR. So maybe imagine a calendar of Argentina, or a Beatles calendar with Abbey Road (AR) on the cover, or 12 months of Alfa Romeo images. Or (if you’re in Australia) you bought the calendar at Angus & Robertson. Or a pirate calendARRRRRR. Whichever works for you, me hearties.
This one is often incorrectly spelt “momento” due to thinking that it relates to “ moment”. But it actually relates to “remember” – with a memento being a keepsake you take for yourself – so it’s all about “ME” right from the start! (And not “MO”…) Alternatively, track down a copy of the excellent Guy Pearce film from 2000 called Memento and watch it. Then go to this ‘meme' generator and make one of Guy wearing his outfit from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, saying “I don’t remember anything…” Every time you look at the meme, you’ll have the first four letters sorted.
9. LOOSE and LOSE
We get it. The double O may give us OOZE and SNOOZE but it also gives us GOOSE and NOOSE. So go ahead and make the noose on the goose loose – use a hose and you can’t lose.
10. COMPLIMENT and COMPLEMENT
The difference here is the “I” vs “E”. In the “I” corner, think about INSULT – the opposite of a compliment. And for the “E” team, think ENHANCE – something that complements typically enhances something else. Compliment means both a nice remark AND something you get for free. You can remember that easily by saying, “I just wanted to say I love this voucher I received for free. You’re such a nice person!”
We thought about spelling the title of this post wrong to get your attention. But some of you may have thought we’d misspelled it on purpose! The secret here is that MIS- is your prefix, and you’ll need a complete word to follow it. Hence why we get “misunderstanding or “misadventure”, and, if it relates to spelling, it’ll be “misspelling”.
Hopefully these will help you commit these words to memory and get them right the first time in future. To celebrate, we’ve given the paramedics at the base of the cliff the rest of the week off.
BECOME AN EXPERT
Our awesome Grammar and Punctuation Essentials course will give you more tips and tricks to getting it right first time – you’ve got nothing to loose… ahem, lose.