How to improve your spelling

tips and guidance notes on basic spelling skills

spelling1. You can improve your spelling skills by reading and writing as much as possible – and checking your written work.

2. If you are not sure about the correct spelling of a word, look it up in a good dictionary.

3. The best ways to improve your spelling are:

  • learn commonly mis-spelled words
  • learn the common rules of spelling
  • learn good spelling strategies

Commonly mis-spelled words

4. The most commonly mis-spelled words are probably there/their, its/it’s, to/too/two, and are/our.

5. This problem is caused because these words sound the same as each other. Here’s how to tell them apart.

6. There refers to a place, whereas their means belonging to them.

The table is over there, in the corner

there refers to a place

We are going to their house

their means belonging to them

7. Its means belonging to, whereas It’s is a shortened form of It is.

The dog is in its basket

its means belonging to the dog

It’s too late now

It’s means It is too late

8. To means towards, whereas too means very or in addition, and two is the number 2.

We are going to the concert

here to means towards

It was too cold for swimming

means it was very cold

He ate two chocolate bars

means the number 2

9. Are is part of the verb ‘to be’ – as in we are, whereas our means belonging to us.

We are in the same class at school

This is the verb ‘to be’, as in I am/we are

We have flowers in our garden

That is, the garden belongs to us

Common spelling rules

10. Almost all words have only one correct spelling – but there are occasional exceptions. Judgement for instance can also be spelled judgment.

11. One of the easiest rules to remember is I before E, except after C – but you need to be careful, because there are plenty of exceptions.

I before E

believe – chief – friend – thief

C followed by EI

ceiling – receive – deceit – conceive


either – neither – foreign – height – seize – leisure

Doubling of consonants

12. If a word ends in a vowel and a single consonant, double the consonant before adding -ing or -ed.

swim/swimming     ship/shipped

stop/stopping     occur/occurred

13. If the vowel is unstressed, or if there are two vowels, do not double the consonant.

enter/entering     shout/shouted

develop/developing     appeal/appealed

14. If the word ends in -c, change the -c to -ck before adding the ending.

panic/panicked     picnic/picnicking

Commonly mis-spelled words

The following words are often spelt wrongly. There is no short way round this problem. You simply have to learn the correct spelling.

acceptable – double c, not -ible.

accommodation – double c and double m

achievei before e except after c

assess – two lots of double s

believei before e except after c

communicate – double m

convenienti before e except after c

definite-ite, not -ate

disappear – double p [dis+appear]

disappoint – double p [dis+appoint]

necessary – one c, double s

receivei before e, except after c

recommend – double c [re+commend]

stationary – means not moving – use a

stationery – paper we write on – use e

success – double c, double s

weird – an exception to the rule

NB! One final point. Using a spelling-checker is not cheating. You should use one to check your work – and learn correct spellings at the same time.

spelling Test yourself with our easy spelling quiz

© Roy Johnson 2009

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Writing skills links

Red button How to edit your writing

Red button How to improve your grammar

Red button How to use quotation marks

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