Dr. Judith M. Newman


Standardized spelling is a convenience for reminding readers of the words they know. The chief reason for conventional spelling is the fact that the majority of people consider it a sign of literacy and even social respectability! People take for granted that the spelling of educated people will be conventional; even people who are careless about their own spelling are quick to detect and condemn misspelled words in the writing of others.

If you're one of those whose spelling is unconventional, now is a good time to analyze your common erros and working to eradicate them. A spell checker helps but it isn't infallable. You have to have a sense to how a word is spelled to make sure the spell checker has inferred the word you intend.

What makes spelling in English difficult is the fact that we have only 26 letters to represent ~80 sounds. Therefore the same letter or letter combination may represent a variety of sounds

a as in aha, fare, hat, many, lay, far, was, idea...
ou as in though, bough, enough, cough, rough, through...

The converse is also true—one sound may be represented in a variety of ways:

bee, believe, precede, sea, receive...

In addition, a number of words are written with letters that are not pronounced, and others (homophones) sound alike but are spelled differently because they have different meanings.

These inconsistencies are the result of how English has evolved—but that doesn't make them easier to remember. Absolute correctness in spelling is impossible to achieve—the goal is to develop a sense of what are the probabilities that a given word is spelled a particular way.

Online Resources

There are lots of resources to help you with spelling. Click here for some you can find online.