Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Easy Mistake to Make

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.
(Sauce unknown)

Spelling is difficult enough, but when there are several words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings it can be extremely difficult to know how to get the right one. Here are a few I've come across recently:
  • He was hunched in a corner pouring over a book.
  • The children looked at me in ore.
  • Just to wet your appetite.
Did you spot all the mistakes? (The correct versions were poring, awe and whet.)

English is the world's biggest language, with twice the vocabulary of its nearest rival. That means that it's a wonderful tool for writers, but there are also pitfalls. How do we learn all those little variations and nuances?

When I was learning Welsh I came across mutations. In Welsh, a word changes its first letter depending on the word preceding it. So, for example, the Welsh word for cat is cath, but if you put the definite article in front of it, the cat, it becomes y gath. It makes it extremely difficult to look up Welsh words in a dictionary because gath will not be listed. There are three separate tables of mutations, and one word could have any number of mutations depending on what word it follows and what context it's used in. At first I despaired of ever leaning them, but a wise teacher told me not to bother. "Just listen," he said, "And you will pick it up."

He was right. One day someone asked me where I lived. The obvious reply "Yn [in] Caernarfon" but somehow I knew that was wrong. I replied instead "Yng Nghaernarfon", correctly using the mutation. It just sounded right. I must have heard it a few times and assimilated it.

It's the same with learning these awkward spellings. If we read a lot we will just know.  Immerse ourselves in books and see the correct word and correct spelling used time and time again. That's one of the many reasons why writers who are asked for their advice to aspiring writers so often say "Read a lot".


  1. This is so true. For us Americans, however, “ore” and “awe” would never be mistaken, as they are pronounced completely differently! But with my kids and their spelling tests, so often they get frustrated with these sorts of words, or words that have a spelling pattern that is pronounced differently from how it’s spelled (like bear and pear vs. hear and dear). With my son I used to write stories for him using his spelling words so that he could get used to seeing them in context and see them over and over again.

    You bring up a good point, though- that’s why as writers we MUST read! :-)

    1. I hadn't thought of that about "awe" and "ore" Kasey. Similarly, though, I read a book which had the mistake "undo attention" which would never happen here, and in lots of American comedies when little kids laugh when their parents say "duty" we feel somewhat smug that we never have that problem.

  2. great poem! So crazy how words can be mixed up. Yes, the spell checker is handy, but it has created problems of its own. What drives me crazy is people pronouncing "akx" for "ask." Also saying irregardless. No such word - it's just regardless. :-)

    1. That drives me mad! I love the reply, "Do you want to ask me, or axe me? Because one is illegal." "Could of" also really annoys me.



Related Posts with Thumbnails