Spell checkers will catch some kinds of errors, but not all. For example, they tend to miss homonyms -- words which are pronounced the same way but spelled differently, such as site/ sight, there/ their/ they're, and its/ it's. Most spell-checkers, for example, would report no error in the following sentence, despite the fact that there are three serious spelling mistakes:

Their looking for a new sight where the gopher can build it's home.

The joint influence of British and American spelling on Canadian usage has provided an additional challenge to Canadian students: Canadians tend to follow standard British spelling for certain words (axe, cheque), to follow American spelling for others (connection, tire), and to allow either for yet more (programme/ program, labour/ labor, neighbour/ neighbor). The important thing to remember is to be consistent in usage and to follow a regular pattern when you spell. Don't mix neighbour with labor, for example. Choose one or the other pattern, and follow it closely. The best way to avoid problems with mixed British and American spelling is to keep a dictionary handy that shows Canadian usage.

Although spelling correctly is largely a matter of practice and the common-sense use of reference materials, there are four standard spelling rules. Although each has exceptions, if you study these rules carefully, you will be able to avoid most common errors, even without a spell-checker.

Written by Dorothy Turner

Spelling words with "ei" and "ie"

When the sound is a long "e" (as in feed), write "i" before "e", except after "c". After "c" reverse the spelling ("ei"):

After other letters
believe, yield, reprieve
After c
ceiling, perceive, conceit

The problem with this rule is that it works only when "ei"/"ie" sounds like the "ee" in feet. If it has any other sound, you should write "ei" even after letters other than "c":

foreign, vein, freight


Written by Dorothy Turner

Spelling final "y" before a suffix

When a word ends in "y" preceded by a consonant, you should usually change the "y" to "i" before adding the suffix:

curly becomes curlier
party becomes parties
thirty becomes thirties, thirtieth

However, if the suffix already begins with "i", keep the "y" (except before the suffix "-ize"):

thirty becomes thirtyish
fry becomes frying
agony becomes agonize
memory becomes memorize

When the ending "y" is preceded by a vowel ("a" "e" "i" "o" or "u"), "y" does not change to "i":

journey becomes journeying
trolley becomes trolleys


Written by Dorothy Turner

Final Silent "e"

If a word ends in a consonant followed by a silent "e", drop the "e" before endings beginning with a vowel, but keep the "e" before endings beginning with a consonant:

engage becomes engaging but engagement
care becomes caring but careful
fate becomes fatal but fateful
scarce becomes scarcity but scarcely

Written by Dorothy Turner

Spelling Words with Double Consonants

Double the final consonant before a suffix beginning with a vowel if both of the following are true: the consonant ends a stressed syllable or a one-syllable word, and the consonant is preceded by a single vowel:

drag becomes dragged
wet becomes wetter
occur becomes occurred, occurring
refer becomes referral, referring

Written by Dorothy Turner