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21 tips for spelling like the pros

Arvind spelling bee championESPN

The 88th Scripps National Bee began Wednesday. Of the 285 contestants in Oxon Hill, Maryland, this year, only one will win Thursday.

These students spend months, sometimes years, studying for their big moments on the mic. They painstakingly memorise definitions and learn various etymologies to aid their spelling.

Aside from the extra trainin though, common spelling tips also help contestants reach the end of the competition.

Learn from the best.

General

1. Put “i” before “e” except when the letters come after “c” and sound like “ee” or when they sound like “ay” — with many exceptions.

Almost everyone knows the rhyme: “I” before “e” except after “c.”

This rule has some value but only if you remember all of the exceptions.

First of all, the “c” rule holds true only for “e-i” combinations that sound like “ee,” as in “ceiling.” When the “e-i” combination after “c” makes a different sound, the “i” usually goes first, as in “science” or “efficient.”

Second, “e” can come before “i” even without a “c,” such as when the vowel combination sounds like “ay,” as in “feign” or “vein.”

Lastly, many words don’t fit the rules at all, such as “their” and “weird.”

2. The letter “u” always follows the letter “q.”

Exceptions to this rule exist but often as Anglicized versions of foreign words — such as the favourite Scrabble word “qi.”

Nouns

3. Use “-acy” in all but four cases: apostasy, fantasy, ecstasy, and idiosyncrasy.

Those are the only words in English that end in “-asy.”

4. If the part of the word before the ending can’t stand alone as a complete word, you’ll usually use “-ary” as in “library.”

5. Words that take “-ery” often relate to nouns with “er” already included.

For example, “brewer,” “bluster,” and “shiver” become “brewery,” “blustery,” and “shivery.”

Also, if the part of the word before the ending can stand alone, you’ll usually add “ery.”

6. Many nouns (or adjectives) that take “-ory” relate to words with “or” already included.

For example, “contributor” becomes “contributory.” They also often stem from a noun that ends in “ion.” Consider that “introduction” becomes “introductory.”

7. If you pronounce the end of the word “zun,” as with “confusion,” use “-sion.”

The suffix -sion will also usually follow a final “-l,” “-n,” or “-r” regardless of pronunciation. (Keep in mind the verb forms of words like “exertion” and “invention” actually end in “t,” as in “exert” and “invent.”)

8. If you pronounce the end of the word “shun, ” as with “station,” you’ll usually use “-tion.”

Also, “-tion” will usually follow any letter other than “-l,” “-n,” or “-r.”

9. To pluralize basic nouns and ones that end in a hard “ch” or “f,” just add an “s.”

As in “monarchs” and “chefs.”

10. When a word ends in soft “ch,” “sh,” “s,” “x,” or “z,” add “-es.”

Verbs

To create the present participle and past tense of a verb, you need to add “-ing” or “-ed,” respectively, to its infinitive, like “to dream.” (Present participle refers to an action happening in that moment, such as “I am running.”)

11. If the verb ends in an unpronounced “e,” like “bake” or “smile,” drop the “e” and add the “-ed” or “-ing.”

“Bake” and “smile” become “baking” and “smiling.”

12. If the verb contains only one syllable, like “stop,” or ends with a stressed syllable containing one vowel and a consonant, like “refer,” double the final consonant before adding “-ed” and “-ing.”

For example, “stop” becomes “stopping” and “stopped,” while “refer” changes to “referred” and “referring.”

13. If the verb ends in a hard “c,” as in “traffic” or “panic,” add a “k” before adding the ending.

“Traffic” becomes “trafficked.”

14. If the verb ends in a “y,” “ure,” or “ear,” add “-ance” to make it a noun.

For example, “ally,” “reassure,” and “clear” become “alliance,” “reassurance,” and “clearance.”

If the verb ends in “ate,” like “tolerate,” you’ll also most likely add “-ance,” though not always.

15. If the verb contains “ere” at the end, you’ll need “-ence” at the end to make it a noun.

“Revere” and “adhere” become “reverence” and “adherence.”

The endings “-ancy” and “-ency” work the same way. For example, because “vacate” ends in “-ate,” the noun is “vacancy.”

Now, to turn the noun version into an adjective, add “-ant” or “-ent.” The same rules apply, only in the reverse order. If a noun ends in “-ancy,” you’ll usually add “-ant.” If a noun ends in “-ency,” it normally takes “ence.”

16. Use “-ify” in all cases but four: liquefy, putrefy, stupefy, and rarefy.

Those are the only words in English that end in “-efy.”

Adjectives and adverbs

17. Spell a word with “-able” when it can stand alone.

Usually, a word that takes the suffix “-able” can stand alone as a word, like “understandable.” The same still goes for a dropped “e,” as in “advisable” (stem: advise) and double consonants such as “stoppable” (stem: stop).

When in doubt, choose “-able.” The Oxford Online Dictionary lists more than 1,000 adjectives that take “-able” compared with only 180 with “-ible.”

18. Spell a word with “-ible” when it can’t stand alone or when it ends in a hard “c” or “g.”

Words with “-ible” almost never function as words on their own, such as “audible.” Also, words with a hard “c” (pronounced like “k”) and a hard “g” (as in “gig”) usually take “-ible.”

If you can recognise whether a word has a Latin root, remember that “-ible” usually accompanies words from Latin, such as “audible.”

19. Spell adjectives with “-ful.”

Words like “beautiful,” “careful,” and “spiteful” require only one “l.” If you turn the adjective into an adverb, however, like “beautifully,” you’d need to double the “l.”

20. Using the basic rule, you just add “-ly” to the end of an adjective to make it an adverb. But if the adjective contains two syllables and ends in “y,” as in “happy,” replace the final “y” with “-ily.”

For example, “happy” becomes “happily” and “angry” becomes “angrily.”

21. If the adjective ends with a consonant followed by an “e,” as in “terrible,” drop the “e” and add “ly.”

“Terrible” becomes “terribly.”

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