These Hacks Remind Us That Spelling Still Matters

Take a trip down memory lane ...

According to us at the dictionary (and our favorite fourth-grade teacher Ms. Pell), spelling still matters. Why? Because following spelling conventions eases communication and helps avoid confusion. “Rapping paper,” anyone?

Ms. Pell has some very imaginative spelling mnemonics (memory aids) and acronyms up her sleeve. Here are some of the most inventive spelling tips to cover blackboards and whiteboards over the years.

I before e except after c

I before E except after C, or when sounding like A, as in neighbor and weigh. And also for weird, which is really just weird.

This classic rhyming mnemonic starts us off. The weird bonus is a wonderful, lesser-known tag. Especially, because a lot of English spelling is just that: weird.


Use the acronym RAVEN to remember the difference between affect and effectRemember: Affect = Verb, Effect = Noun

“The slender tree limb was affected by the very tall man who tried to sit upon it. The effect was a broken limb and a very tall man, now sprawled on the ground.”  Effect can also be a verb, but quoth the raven, nevermore.

A complement makes something more complete

Always a difficult distinction to remember, complement and compliment are tricky homophones. 

Hopefully, this tip will make a lasting impression: A complement to something makes the thing more complete (both have E’s).

When I get a compliment from someone, I feel good (both have I‘s; also praise feels good).

Fowl contains “owl”

So that you never describe a “bird” odor again: Remember, fowl contains owl and owls are wise. They’re also birds. That leaves foul to take care of the ugly stuff.

You hEAR with your EAR!

Ms. Pell’s all over this one singing a grinning chant, while prancing around the room gesticulating: “You hEAR with your EAR! EAR, do you hEAR me right here?”

Everything around was scary, so the canary stood stationary

“Everything around was scary, so the canary stood stationary.” It’s common knowledge that canaries don’t move in scary circumstances.

And, another tip: Stationery and paper (lovely note paper, most likely) both contain an E.

Two cottages, two mansions

Accommodation easily stumps most adults—one C or two? And, how many M’s?”

All you need to remember are two types of accommodations, doubled: “Two Cottages, Two Mansions”–two C’s, two M’s and you are accommodating yourself quite nicely!

A rat in the house may eat the ice cream

Ms. Pell loves to talk about her pet rat (which, incidentally, will show up later on). She keeps it in a cage because she knows all too well “A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream.” That’s just (a way to remember how to spell) arithmetic

This is an example of what some call an acrostic mnemonic, in which each letter in the word to be learned starts easily remembered words that are sequenced into a funny sentence.

Acrostics are super fun to play with. Here’s another off-the-cuff acrostic for arithmetic: “Agnes Ran Inside To Help Make Eight Tingly Itch Creams.”

I lost an E in an argument

A memory aid for spelling argument rests on a version of the following: “I lost an E in an argument.” 

Our favorite is this mnemonic, though: A Rude Girl Undresses. My Eyes Need Taping!

Big elephants are ugly

The French-based beau- in beautiful throws learners off. An unlikely mnemonic for this word is: “Big Elephants Are Ugly.”

Maybe the contrast between beautiful and ugly is what sticks? But, such a statement unduly prejudices big elephants. Not cool, according to Ms. Pell.

Try this instead: “Be Exactly As U-tiful as you are!”

Big elephants can always understand small elephants

Having eliminated the bias against big elephants, Ms. Pell approves of this next mnemonic for spelling because: “Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants.”

This seems like a solid statement, considering the bias is removed because elephants of all sizes, shapes, and colors are more alike than different. Unity in diversity, folks.

BEG at the INN

To remember the double N in beginning, all you need to do is “BEG at the INN.” The inn is called ING.

Never beLIEve a LIE!

Ms. Pell always reminds her students “Never beLIEve a LIE!” That’s a nicer mnemonic than “LIE is at the center of believe.” But, what is truth? Uh oh, let’s not get metaphysical.

Dara checks her calendar every day

That blasted –ar in calendar never fails to trip us up. Never make the –er mistake again by remembering this phrase: “Dara checks her calendar every day.”

You could always substitute “Darrell,” but be careful not to write “calendarr.” No appointments with pirates, please.


The ghosts that haunt the cemetery make you go “EEE!” Three E’s lie buried in the cemetery.

O U lucky duck

Alas, conditionals are a major part of life. What’s worse, learners are forced to encounter the strangest tongue-swallowing combination of letters that looks like –owld but sounds like –uhd: the coulda’s, shoulda’s, woulda’s of the world.  

To remember the common ending for these auxiliary verbs, think of “O (Oh) U (you) Lucky Duck.” But, if you feel like dissing these conditionals for their crazy spelling: “O U Little Devils” works just as well.

You can’t have just one (s)

Deserts are sandy and completely unpalatable. With desserts, however, you can’t have just one (s), you have to have two.

Sometimes, desserts are sickly sweet, but they always turn you around when you’re stressed (stressed is desserts backward).

Dash in a real rush, hurry (or) else accident!

By far, the best spelling mnemonic on this list is for a word that makes you feel the worst. The British add an O (diarrhoea), while Americans omit it (diarrhea). People on both sides of the pond “oh” and “oh no” a lot, though.

Ready for the best mnemonic ever? “Dash In A Real Rush, Hurry (Or) Else Accident!”

Mrs. D, Mrs. I, Mrs. FFI, Mrs. C, Mrs. U, Mrs. LTY!

The previous slide gave Ms. Pell some real difficulty, she has a sense of propriety, you know. But, she’s starting to feel better with this giddy cheer about a bunch of married ladies named letters. “Mrs. D, Mrs. I, Mrs. FFI, Mrs. C, Mrs. U, Mrs. LTY!”  

Imagine Ms. Pell’s shoulders or eyebrows going up and down with each letter. That’s totally happened somewhere.

It’s hard to embarrass really responsible and studious students

Ms. Pell would like to quickly share the right way to remember the double R and double S in embarrass. Then, we’ll get to the crude way (and, of course, the much more memorable way).

Ms. P’s: “It’s hard to embarrass Really Responsible and Studious Students.” However, really responsible and studious students become embarrassed really easily when Ms. P calls them out in class for being really responsible and studious. But …

“It’s hard to embarrass Really Raunchy ASSes.”

Goofy Greg loves to exaggerate

The gg in exaggerate can be jogged a couple ways: “Goofy Greg loves to exaggerate.”

Or, for a more elevated approach: “To exaggerate, use grand gestures.” Even better (and literally exaggerated): “Goofy Gregg loves to exaggerate with grandiloquent gesticulations.”

George eats old gray rats and paints houses yellow

According to many reputable spelling sites, the correct spelling of geography relies on acrostics with a variable cast of characters: General Eisenhower, George Eliot, plain George, Old(est) Girl, Rats, Grandmother, and a Pony or Pig.  Here’s the rundown:

General Eisenhower’s Oldest Girl Rode A Pony Home Yesterday.”

George Eliot’s Old Grandmother Rode A Pig Home Yesterday.”

George Eats Old Grey Rats And Paints Houses Yellow.”

A flashy composite: “George Eats Old Grandmother Rats And Ponies, How Yucky.”

Go home old scary toad!

The sneaky H in ghost appears exactly where it doesn’t make sense—what’s wrong with “gohst”? Like “Oh no, it’s a gOHst!”

For very confused (but perfectly sensible) children, here’s a good trick: “Go Home Old Scary Toad!” (turd is useful, too).

IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime

To remember the double N in innocent—and, generally a good rule of thumb no matter what—“IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime.”

Laugh and U get happy

Here’s one of Ms. Pell’s favorites: “Laugh And U Get Happy.”

Poor little kids, first having to learn that the gh- in ghost sounds like guh. And, just when they’re getting the hang of that nonsense, gh, here sounds like –ff. What the ff?!

Never eat cake! Eat salad sandwiches and remain young!

Oh, this one’s tough. But, there are at least three mnemonics to provide necessary assistance.

  1. “It’s necessary to remember the cesspool in the middle.”
  2. Never Eat Cake! Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young!”
  3. Unless you’re at a cabana, wearing a shirt is necessary for service at a restaurant: “The Necessary Shirt has 1 collar (C) and 2 sleeves (S’s)”

People eat oranges. People like eating.

No need to explain why eo sounds like ee.

What’s important is that people need their vitamin C, and luckily one way to get it is by eating citrus fruit: “People Eat Oranges. People Like Eating.”

People say you can hit old ladies, or get yogurt

“People” also have something mean but helpful to say about how to spell psychology (after they eat their oranges, of course): “People Say You Can Hit Old Ladies, Or Get Yogurt.” Get the yogurt. Never hit old ladies. Or anyone, for that matter.ds 

Rhythm helps your two hips move

When Ms. Pell’s in a sassy mood, she likes to do the rumba. Her hips sashay in the best of ways because she knows that “Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move.”

There’s A RAT in sepARATe

Ms. Pell’s rat is back. To remember there’s no –er- in separate, think of how much Ms. Pell’s pet rat loves wedging itself between letters, separating them, if you will. No doubt about it: “There’s A RAT in sepARATe.”

One rifle but fires two shots

Nobody likes violence, Ms. Pell least of all. But, for the sake of proper spelling, an imaginative rifle must be shot. Sheriff will always get the red underline of shame unless you imagine the Sheriff of Spelltown, who has only one Rifle but Fires two shots (one R and two F’s).

To get her

In the event Ms. Pell ever wants to become Mrs. Pell (or, perhaps, Mrs. Ippi if she takes her husband or wife’s name), she would love to be swept off her feet in a grand gesture, something akin to the most spectacular spelling bee on Earth.

Ms., Mr., or Mx. Ippi should rent a horse and buy lovely flowers on their way to propose to Ms. Pell. Their white steed will gallop onward “TO GET HER”! That way, they will be together.

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