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Share grammar bloopers you’ve spotted, as well as your pet peeves.

outsmarting your spelling checker

Is it accommodate, accomodate or acommodate? mischievious or mischievous? graffiti or grafitti? supercede or supersede? ninety or ninty?

Does it really matter, as long as something (like a spelling checker) or someone (like your administrative assistant) with spelling skills and a dictionary checks all your work?

It does, if one’s poor spelling is seen by others as a window into one’s quality of thinking – rightly or wrongly. The worst sin of the poor speller is failure to acknowledge uncertainty about a particular word; better to look it up than pretend one knows how to spell it. Which of us hasn’t had spelling blocks? We can’t know every word. Some highly successful people are atrocious spellers.

If you want to improve and practice your spelling, this is a good place to do it. You’ll find some tips below. As well, subscribers to UpWORDly Mobile EXPRESS will see regular spelling quizzes to help you stay sharp. 


How good is your spelling-error detection system?

How far do you trust your computer’s spelling checker? Mine figured these sentences were ace perfect:

  • Reign, reign, go aweigh.
  • You their, stay out of my cite.
  • Don’t ride down the bridal path right now, even if you think you are being discrete.
  • I have no piece of canvass large enough to cover the palette of firewood.

Spelling checkers are useful; I’ve been grateful for mine many times, since my typing isn't the greatest. However, they can be fooled, especially by words that sound alike (homophones) but are spelled differently. They can pretend to sanitize your PowerPoint presentation but still leave you with embarrassing errors.

Marker boards, napkins and other ad hoc writing surfaces don’t have spelling checkers

Even if you did trust your computer as your spelling surrogate, what happens when you’re . . .

  • using a marker board during a brainstorming session at work?
  • writing a quick note on a document hardcopy?
  • sketching something out on a napkin during a business lunch?

Anytime you’re not certain, really certain, about the spelling of a word, look it up. Sharp makes a pocket-size electronic dictionary that fits easily into pocket or purse. Mine contains the Oxford Dictionary of English (355,000 words) and the New Oxford Thesaurus of English (600,000 alternative and opposite words) and, yes, I have used it to help me find synonyms for the crossword on more than one occasion. Or you can jot down the word on a scrap of paper and look it up later. Or put a sticky note on the page where you found it.

In Canada, we spell some things differently from our neighbours

In Canada, it’s neighbour. In the U.S, it’s neighbor. The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling book calls out the following words to end in –our rather than –or: 

arbour discolour honour saviour
ardour dishonour humour splendour
armour endeavour labour tumour
behaviour enamour neighbour valour
candour favour odour vapour
clamour fervour parlour vigour
colour flavour rancour  
clangour glamour rigour  
demeanour harbour rumour  

NOTE: The u is dropped in some forms, especially when an –ous ending is added, such as laborious, humorous or rancorous.

In Canada, we might write a cheque (check in U.S.) when purchasing theatre (theater in U.S.) tickets. And we may have to manoeuvre (rather than maneuver) as we reconnoitre (rather than reconnoiter). We use the metre as a unit of length (as well as for rhythm in poetry). We usually refer to jewellers and jewellery stores rather than to jewelers and jewelry stores, as is the practice in the U.S. Mould, for all its definitions, is correct in Canada and the U.K., but becomes mold in the U.S.

Some tips for both Canada and U.S. spelling (we have much more in common than not)

Here are a few (and only a few) rules that may help:

To pluralize compound nouns, add s to the key word:
attorneys general
notaries public
courts martial

Words ending in soft -ce or –ge keep the e before –able and –ous.

Words ending in silent e keep the e when adding a suffix beginning with a consonant:

Keep the final e in the present participle of singe, tinge, eye, dye:
Exceptions: acknowlegment, argument, duly, judgment, truly

Remember this one? Put i before e, except after c, or when sounded as a as in neighbour or weigh.
after c: ceiling, conceive, deceit, perceive, receipt, receive
sounds as a: feign, heinous, niece, achieve, relieve, chief, fiend, yield, sieve, believe

Exceptions: counterfeit, foreign, forfeit, height, leisure, neither, seize, weird, financier, either, species

There are more rules, but between the rules and the exceptions, it often seems easier to just look up words you’re not sure of or memorize the ones you keep running into and can’t quite remember.

100+ spelling demons

Here is a list of well-known demons. If you can master these, you’re doing better than most.


accommodate dysfunctional  likable  reference 
accordion ecstasy  likelihood  resistance 
accumulate embarrass  lilies  restaurant 
achievement entrepreneur  maintenance  restaurateur 
adolescence environment  millennium  rhythm 
aficionado exacerbate  minuscule  ridiculous 
Albuquerque exhilarate  mischievous  rococo 
allotment existence  necessary  sacrilegious 
analyze Fahrenheit  neophyte  secede 
annihilate fallacy  nickel  segue 
anoint familiar  niece  separate 
anomaly fascist  ninety  sergeant 
antiquated fettuccine  ninth  shepherd 
athlete fiery  non sequitur  siege 
bouillon fluorescent  occasion  silhouette 
cachet foreign  occurred  sophomore
caffeine foreword (book)  occurrence  spaghetti 
calendar forgo  parallel  stratagem 
cemetery fulfil (or fulfill)  paraphernalia  subtle 
colonel gauge  persistent  succeed 
connoisseur graffiti  personnel  supersede 
conscientious guerilla  pneumonia surveillance 
consensus harass  precede  synonymous 
convalesce hemorrhage  predilection  temperament 
counterfeit  hierarchy  prejudice  tenement
daschund idiosyncrasy  prerogative  tranquility 
daiquiri indiscernible  privilege  vacuum 
decaffeinated  indispensable  proceed  weird 
desiccate  innuendo  proffer  withhold 
desperate  inoculate  publicly   
dichotomy  iridescence  questionnaire   
disastrous  judgment  quandary   
discernible  liaison  realtor   
discipline  lightning  recommend