Types of Difficult Spelling Words

Types of Difficult Spelling Words

by Sandra Johnson

It is said that learning English is harder than learning any other language, largely because of our difficult spelling. There are many words that are difficult to read or spell due to rules, exceptions to the rules, silent letters, and homonyms. Many of the most difficult spelling words are easily placed into three different categories. If you focus on one category at a time, it may help you to memorize and understand the spelling of these words.

Words that Contain Silent Letters

The first major category of difficult spelling words is: words that have silent letters, or otherwise do not spell out the way that they sound.

Most people can grasp that “the e is silent but makes a hard vowel sound elsewhere in the word” when dealing with the ‘e’ at the end of the word. However, it is harder to understand why the ‘u’ in laugh makes no sound. It seems to have no purpose in being there.

Additionally, the ‘f ‘sound at the end does not match up to the ‘-gh’ at the end of the word. This makes most people who are just learning to spell write down ‘laugh’ as ‘laf’. Learning difficult spelling words like these takes time, practice and patience. Other words with silent letters include ‘hymn’, ‘muscle’, ‘scene’, ‘knock’, ‘column’, and ‘caught’.

Spelling and Understanding Homonyms

Another category of difficult words is those that are homonyms. Homonyms are those words that sound alike but have different meaning and are spelled differently from one another. There are literally thousands of homonyms, also called homophones, in the English language. You will need to practice memorization techniques in order to get a grasp on these words. Many of them are considered high frequency, and should be easy for most people to grasp. These include ‘their’ and ‘there’, ‘to’ and ‘too’, ‘here’ and ‘hear’, ‘plane’ and ‘plain’, ‘alter’ and ‘altar’, and so on.

Exceptions Confirm the Rule

The last category of difficult words simply does not seem to follow the rules. In other words, there are rules for spelling different types of words. Unfortunately, the rules don’t always apply. The easiest example of this is the ‘i before the e’ rule. Using the rule “I before e, except after c,” isn’t always the answer. Words such as ‘neither’, ‘either’, ‘leisure’, ‘protein’, and ‘seize’ all have the ‘e ‘sound made by ‘e’ before ‘I’, with no ‘c’ in sight. What can you do about these? Again, simply memorize them. The best thing to do in order to learn the most difficult spelling words is to practice by writing and reading them over and over again until they stick.

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