Elementary school kids are bombarded with techniques to help them master spelling. But as any parent who has ever read a homework assignment knows, for every helpful rule, there’s an exception—or seven. We all know that i comes before e except after c, and anything else is weird. That helps with common trip-ups like friend and believe. But what about weigh?
Sometimes a good old-fashioned mnemonic is the best tool for keeping track of the words that confound your kids—and you—the most. Here are some that always work for me.
Weigh: Exceptions to the i-before-e rule include words that make the long a sound. But quicker than flipping through the rulebook in your mind, just remind yourself that we weigh more than I do alone.
Desert vs. Dessert: That extra s is the difference between a hot, dry landscape and a sweet finish to dinner. Just remember the latter has two, like strawberry shortcake.
Misspell: It’s just mis+spell, but very often one s gets dropped. To avoid that, remember the classic reminder, Miss Pell never misspells.
Rhythm: Do a happy dance, because you’ll never mess up this tricky word again: Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move.
Principal or Principle: My grandmother taught me that the school principal is your pal, and I’ve pretty much always found that to be true. Other people, like a principal in a play or business, can be pals too. But ideas or rules are principles.
Cemetery: This sometimes spooky word has three e’s—just like eeek!
Island: This place is land, with water on all sides.
Embarrass: It’s simple! Don’t forget any rr’s or ss’s and you’ll never be embarrassed.
Memento: This word is a frustrating one, because we think we want to hold onto a moment. But instead, remember that mementos help you save memories!
Make up your own! It’s easy to craft helpful mnemonics for any word that gives you trouble. I had a hard time with guarantee until I started saying to myself, gee, u are right! The u comes first! Don’t worry if they sound silly—the silly sounding rules are the easiest to remember.
Laura Wallis is a freelance writer and editor specializing in all things family, home, food, and health. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and dog—none of whom take grammar as seriously as they should. She writes for The Stir by CafeMom.