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Guide to Spelling: Hooked on Phonics

See and Say

Some words are misspelled because they are often mispronounced. Sometimes extra letters are added; other times, letters are omitted. How many of the following words do you mispronounce?

  1. Leaving out a consonant: February, recognize, surprise, government, library, eighth, Arctic, candidate, probably.
  2. Adding an unnecessary vowel: forty, pronunciation, schedule, chimney, disastrous, umbrella.
  3. Leaving out an unstressed syllable: accidentally, superintendent, incidentally.
  4. Leaving out an unstressed vowel: temperature, vegetable, original, miniature, interesting, diamond, chocolate.

At other times, you're not at fault at all: The words are spelled differently from the way they sound. With such unphonetic words, you're working without a net. There are no rules, only spelling techniques like memorization and visualization. Of course, there are always dictionaries.

These unphonetic words fall into three main categories: silent letters, tricky-dickie word endings, and y/i use. And here they are …

Silent Letters

Never seem to meet the people you want to see, but can't get rid of the same old pests? The same is true of spelling words. Keeping this truism in mind, here are some words with silent letters that have no doubt been annoying you for years. Only now, you know why.

  • Silent b: doubtable, subpoena, subtle, undoubtedly
  • Silent h: exhaust, exhibit, exhilaration, ghastly, ghost, heir, rheumatism, rhyme
  • Silent g: align, design, gnarled, diaphragm
  • Silent p: cupboard, pneumatic, pneumonia, psalm, pseudonym, psychology, receipt
  • Silent t: bankruptcy, listen, mortgage, wrestle
  • Silent c: acquaint, acquire, acquit, ascertain, miscellaneous, ascend, fascinate, indict, muscle
Quoth the Maven

Homonyms and homophones are especially tricky to spell and use correctly.

Tricky-Dickie Word Endings

The following words confound even the best spellers because they don't end the way we think they should:

  • Words that end in -ar: beggar, burglar, bursar, calendar, cellar, liar
  • Words that end in -cian: electrician, musician, pediatrician, politician
  • Words that end in -ain: Britain, captain, certain, mountain, porcelain

Y/I Use

Here are some words that sound like they contain an i. No such luck; each has a y creating the i sound.

  • abyss
  • analyze
  • cylinder
  • hypocrisy
  • paralysis
  • syllable
  • symmetry
  • symphony
  • synonym
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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