How to Spell     
Spelling for Adults - learn to love it.

The Letter C

The letter C “is no letter at all” John Baret 1580. 

The letter C is a problem letter that has been talked about over the centuries. (Watch the video and/or read on)

Its sound can be:  "k" / "s" / "ch" /  "sh" / "q- cue" or silent 

In this lesson we're looking at its sounds, rules and history

hard c- "k" (before a, o, u) cod, cat, curl, cold, cross 

soft c "s" (before e, i, y) city, nice, face, circle, cement, cigarette, cinema, cyst, cycle, flaccid 

hard c -cc- "k" account, soccer, accrue, occupy, yucca, occasion

soft c -cc- "s" (before e, i, y) accept, eccentric, occidental 

c- "ch" cello, vermicelli, cappuccino - foreign borrowed words 

-c- sh" special, liquorice, ocean 

silent c - muscle, science, indict 

"q" "cue" sound - cue, cucumber, cure, curiosity 

We can have the British ‘kerb’ v American ‘curb’ 
and disk (British) v disc (American) 

Since the 1700s the Q, K, S sounds are or have been used for Islam’s holy book - Coran, Koran to the now-favoured Quran or Qur’an.

Let's look at the history of this letter and why it's a 'strange' one. 

In Anglo-Saxon English the C was pronounced "k" or "ch," then the French invaded in 1066 and introduced the soft C ("s" sound). 

The French scribes wrote C before i and e making it soft "s"– cell, city, procession, cellar, citizen, grace, palace 

Modern words follow this old rule:

A soft c "s" before i, e or y - cinema, decide, celebrate, cemetery, cyber, cigarette, cylinder, centre/center, decide, cent, acceptance.

A hard c "k" before a, o, u, or a consonant, or at the end of words - can, could, cut, class, public, back, colour/color, Canada, claim.

Some words with both sounds: 
reconcile ( re con cile - hard c before o and soft c before i)

It’s a good rule but with all rules there are exceptions so look out for them. 

Do the word search below (won't work on Apple iphone /ipad!)

Hope this was useful. Thanks for reading this.


-able & -ible endings new video

Check out my new -able & -ible video.

There's also new information about these 'tricky' spellings, and a new recording of the spelling test

Keep working hard on your spelling and stay passionate about your learning


Spelling Tip number 4

Spelling Tip 4 Speaking vs Spelling

"If I improve the way I speak I'll be able to spell, right?" Wrong
Some people blame their accents and the way they say words for not being able to spell well. They think that if they speak 'properly' and pronounce words 'correctly' they'll be able to spell. 

But this is not true. The English spelling system doesn't work like that. We can have loads of different ways of saying the same word which means we can't have a standard spelling for it. 

To have a regular phonic 'sounding out' system which worked, there would have to be only one way of spelling each sound. This is true in some languages but not in English. 

There have always been lots of different English accents and dialects. How we say words still varies from region to region and country to country - London, east Midlands, Liverpool, Newcastle, Scotland, American, Australian, Indian, the Caribbean etc. So a simplified, standardized spelling system couldn't possibly reflect all these great varieties of English. 

Another reason why spelling and pronunciation are different is that the way we say words has changed over the centuries while the spelling remained fixed. Sometimes the way something is spelt shows us the history of the word and the way people spoke it centuries ago - and that's why the spelling might seem a bit strange.

But often the spelling does reflect pronunciation and saying a word can give clues or even very clear indications of likely spelling patterns but it's unreliable unless you know the patterns and pronunciation:
Light, flight, right, bright slight. But write, site, kite 
eight, weight but height 
match, batch but watch 

So sometimes we can relate sounds to patterns if we know all the possible variations which good spellers do. 

My spelling tip number 4 is: don't fret over your accent and think its at fault for you not spelling well. It is only through visual familiarity with language, and the visual sequences of letters that you can learn about the probable spelling of words. 

For a more in depth look at letter patterns and their sounds check out my Spelling Patterns and Pronunciation masterclass Click here for more info on this course 

For a more on accents, pronunciation and grammar check out my Standard English vs Non-Standard English video Click here for more info about this video

spelling tip number 3

How to remember & stop forgetting spellings.


Do you get stressed because you forget spellings so quickly? 

In this short video we're looking at how to remember and stop forgetting spellings (and most things). 

The working memory (short term memory) holds information for a short time then is forgotten. If you want to hold onto something for future use then you have to transfer it from the short term memory to the long term memory. 

This will only happen if you make it happen and this is especially true about spelling. Just because you've seen a word and copied it down once, doesn't mean it's yours to spell again. You won't own that word to use it when you want to without really learning it, committing it to memory. 

How to remember and stop forgetting. 

Most forgetting happens in the first few hours. 
  • You need to revise little and often. 
  • You need to practise a new word you want to learn within 20 seconds or so, and then review it again after about an hour.
  • Then look at the word again after an overnight rest, because sleep seems to help memorization. 
  • Don't leave it more than a week before you revise it again and do it at least once more within a month. 
  • The more you can use the word in your writing, or consciously take notice of it when it crops up in your reading, the more permanently it will become fixed in your memory. 

One good method to fix spelling into your brain is the Look Say Cover Write Check method. Basically write the word you want to learn on a piece of paper, look at it, see the shape of it (you must write in lower case always), cover it, write it and check it carefully and think why you've made that mistake and how to remember it, then try again. - check my video on this great method for a more in depth look - click here to go to the video

So my spelling tip 3 is: writing and spelling are interlinked. If you want to improve your spelling you must write.

Use the words you want to learn in a piece of writing and it will help fix their meaning and their spelling in your mind. 

So the more you write the word the more it gets into your long term memory.

See you in spelling tip number 4


Spelling tip number 2

Why is English spelling so confusing?

You may feel that English spelling is illogical, weird and just plain crazy. It's true that there are some strange irregular spellings, this is because it includes words from many languages and some very very old words. 

But English is much more regular in spelling than we think. In fact about 75% of English spelling is regular. 

According to David Crystal: English spelling gives the impression of being more irregular than it really is. There are about 400 words in English whose spelling is wholly irregular - the trouble is these are among the most frequently used words in the language. (David Crystal - The English Language.) 

Let's look at some of the most popular of these irregular words: although, among, answer, are, aunt, autumn, blood, build, castle, clerk, climb, colour, comb, come, cough, could, course, debt, do, does, done, dough, eye, friend, gone, great, have, hour, island, journey, key, lamb, listen, move, none, of, once, one, only, own, people, pretty, quay, receive, rough, said, salt, says, shoe, shoulder, some, sugar, talk, two, was, water, were, where, who, you

(Notice a lot of these words have silent letters in them. These used to be pronounced, but we leave the silent letters in there to show the history of the word.) 

So how did English spelling become so 'weird' with its unusual spellings? The English spelling system developed over the centuries and the irregularities came about because of various invaders and writers trying to fit their alphabet and sounds to English:

  • English developed from the Romans, Anglo-Saxons & Vikings,
  • the French scribes, (1066) caused the most problems with spelling,
  • then in the 1400s, the printers with their new fangled printing presses changed words and spelt them how they wanted,
  • and then the 16th Century English academics decided to make spelling more like its Latin roots and added all sorts of silent letters in words.
  • Then in 1828, American Noah Webster decided to simplify American spellings and brought out his American English dictionary.
  • This lot changed and brought 'strange' ways of spelling words.

    Also pronunciation changed over the centuries but the spelling remained the same. especially with the words with silent letters in them like knee, knock, light, cough, calm, daughter... we didn't change the spelling because that was set. 60% of English words have silent letters in them. 

    If you know they're not there to mess with your head but to show the history of the word it helps. For example: knock, knee, gnaw, gnat are all Viking (Old Norse) words, the 'k' and 'g' were pronounced but not now. 

    As your knowledge of words increases, your confidence in learning improves, your ability to use a dictionary develops and your memory bank of words grow larger, you will start being able to predict likely spelling patterns or feel able to learn whole groups of words at once, and learning and remembering spellings will become easier for YOU. (Basic Skills Agency's The Spelling Pack) 

    So my top spelling tip number 2 is knowing the history of spelling helps you realise why it is the way it is and stops you getting frustrated with it. 

    P.S If you're interested in finding out more about why spelling is the way it is check out my ebook The Reasons Why English Spelling is the Way it is - click here.

    spelling tip number 1

    how to spell logo

    Top Ten Spelling Tips Series - Number 1

    1. Does reading improve your spelling?
    Do you know?

    No, it doesn't

    Reading’s very important but it won’t improve your spelling.

    Different skills are involved. Spelling is much more difficult than reading.

    According to David Crystal: Teachers assume that reading, once taught, automatically means that spelling will be ‘caught’. But there is no correlation between reading ability and spelling ability. (David Crystal: The English Language)

    Spelling won’t happen because we read. A word must be consciously and deliberately learnt.

    Spelling uses a set of active, productive, conscious processes that are not required for reading. (David Crystal: The English Language)

    We don’t read to learn spelling, we read for information or entertainment etc. We skim over the words when we read whereas spelling is an active letter-by-letter activity.

    Spelling is a visuo-motor skill. This means that visual and physical skills are crucial. You must see the patterns of English and feel the writing of them. Learning to visualize the whole word can also improve spelling.

    Reading a word is easy but try to spell it and there could be a number of ways to spell it, like in homophones: buy/bye/by, you/you're, its/it's, there/their/there, stationary/stationery

    Look at the following words. They have the same long vowel sound 'e' + s but have 7 possible spellings: breeze, knees, these, fleas, seize/sees/seas, cheese, tease/teas.
    Easy to read not so easy to spell!

    TOP TIP number 1: Just because you’ve seen a word, read it, and copied it down once, doesn’t mean you'll be able to spell it.

    You must work at and study spelling, notice the features of words. Pay attention to how words are made up – the letter patterns, root words, prefixes, suffixes, rules.

    Work at and study spelling.

    Hope this was useful. 

    Stay passionate about your learning & spelling


    there, their, they're video & exercises

    there, their, they're - they have the same sound but different spelling and meaning. They're called homophones, and we're looking at how to remember which one to use by using spelling strategies such as memory tricks, and word-within-a-word.

    When we're typing quickly and thinking about the content we sometimes automatically write the first homophone that springs into our minds and that's why we need to always, always, proofread and go over our emails and writing to check to see that we haven't used the wrong there, they're, their.

    Let's look at there and its usages and common phrases and see how we can remember it

    there - Where are they? Over there! 
    There's the cinema over there. 

    We can use it with There is / there was 
    there are/ there were 

    We have phrases such as: 
    Been there done that! 
    There and then. 
    There you go!
    There you have it! 

    Let's look at a strategy to help you see if you're using the right word: Look at the word. Can you see a word within the word that means place just like there? 

    There's an here in there - here there where nowhere everywhere So there you have it there - here, where 

    Let's look at they're they're is a contraction /short form of they are

    They’re happy. They’re Australian. They’re nurses. They're not New Zealanders 

    The strategy you need to use to see if you're using the right one is to read back your sentences and read they're in the long form as they are and see if it fits. 

    They're nurses over they're. 
    They are nurses over they are. x 
    Oops first is right second not.

    They're nurse over their. What's wrong with this? 
    They are nurses over there , not here 
    They're nurses over there. √ 

    Let's look at their which is used for possession and belonging to:
     my house, your, house, his house, her house, our house - their house

    Their country is in turmoil at the moment. 
    They have a problem with their house.

    The memory trick I use is around the i i = my so my house or their house. It's not my house it's their house. 

    They're car is brand new. x (They are car x)
     There car is brand new. x (Here, there car x) 
    Their car is brand new. √ (My car no Their car √) 

    Let's do a little test (explanation also on video)

    Are these right? 
    1. Their are loads of people over there. 
    2. They're job is so important. 
    3. They're so happy. 
    4. Have you been there before? 
    5. Where's there car parked?

    Answers below 

    *If you'd like to master these words and other difficult homophones like it/its, we're/where, bear/bear, you're/your then click here and pop over to check out my Homophones Masterclass 


    1. There are loads of people over there. 
    2. Their job is so important.
    3. They are/ They're so happy.
     4. Have you been there before? 
    5. Where's their car parked?

    How did you do? 

    Now try this test

    though, through, thorough, thought - video, info, exercise

    These words look very similar to each other and are easy to confuse and spell. 

    In this lesson and video we're taking a thorough look through these nightmare words and though you might get confused keep your thought processes open while we work on how you can remember them. Phew!

    Can you see the letter pattern they all have? -ough a tricky pattern to learn and spell. They also all have the th- letter pattern. 

    In my other video on the history and pronunciation of -gh- words video we learnt that these -gh- words are Anglo-Saxon words and were written with just an h and used to be pronounced like the Scottish loch. But then the French invaded and added a g to the h to reflect the 'hard' h sound.

    This sound eventually became silent or pronounced with a "f" at the end of some words. We leave the gh in there to show the origins and history of the word.

    through It means in one side out and the other: go through a door, walk through the park, struggle through until pay day. 

    We've also got throughout. He checks stock throughout the warehouse. 

    Through is the only one of the words that starts with t.h.r.- "thr".  We have a "thr" + "oo" (a long vowel sound). 

    We get it confused with the past tense of throw - threw. threw and through are homophones, which means they have the same sound but different meaning and spelling (check out the homophones video and info here. 

    through has it's own pattern and sound thr like three, throw, throttle so the pronunciation can help with the first sound but then you have to learn the -ough pattern which they all have. 

    Use a memory trick or use the Look Say Cover write check method the help with the learning of it (watch my video about this method). 

    She was watching him through the kitchen window. 
    be/get through: I tried to phone the mayor's office, but I couldn't get through. 


    Though means in spite of the fact that; however, but, and we have even though and although which is more formal.

    The sun was shining though it wasn’t that warm.
    Even though it's small , the room has a spacious feel. 

    Though is made up of th + "oh" the ough is a short vowel sound "oh" 

    memory trick - though doughnuts (Brit spelling) are oh so delicious u get hefty Though we are only a small country, we have a long and glorious history. 

    even though: He went on fighting even though he was wounded.

    used after an adjective: Poor though her family was, they would never ask for help. Odd though it may seem, I never found out his name. Click here for more info 


    thorough - done with great care and completeness: Planners need a thorough understanding of the subject. It would be great if everyone had a thorough knowledge of English spelling. 

    We can also add ly and make thoroughly. She examined it thoroughly.

    through and though are pronounced with one syllable but thorough has 2 syllables "th ru".
    The key to a good interview is thorough preparation.
    It sounds like borough, Scarborough, Boroughbridge.

    It's like through with an extra o added after the th th o rough.

    Come up with memory trick that can help with this word.


    The last word is thought and is the most common word of the lot. It's the past tense of think - I thought this was the end but it's not. It's  also a noun - a thought , an idea.

    thought is made up of th + ort ( a long vowel sound).

    It's like though with a t at the end. 

    thought sounds like and is spelt like the others in the -ought pattern bought, brought, fought, ought, sought, nought. So if you can spell one of these you can relate it to thought. If not then come up with a memory trick. 

    Now do this exercise. Type in the correct word. Then press Get Answer! Check your spelling letter by letter.

    1: This means to be careful and complete =

    2: This is the past tense of think

    3: This word can mean: but, however, in spite of the fact that=

    4: This word means go in one end and come out the other

    5: The police made a ____ search of the house.

    6: I've just had a great ______!

    7: Even _______ the interview went very well I didn't get the job.

    8: I walk to work ______ the park every day.

    9: She may be slow but she's very ______.

    10: I quite like him. I don't like his wife, ____.

    plural spelling rule - changing y to ies or s

    spelling rules

    Y to -ies or -s

    plural spelling rules

    In this lesson we're looking at the y to ies or s plural spelling rule. 

    Do you know when to change words ending in y to ies or s? Words such as key - keys, journey - journeys, boy - boys, country- countries,  memory - memories, baby - babies... 

    You might not know the spelling rule but can spell these words and can probably see if the spelling looks right or 'strange'. Nevertheless, it's always good to know why spelling is the way 
    it is. 

    Let's look at adding s to these words:
    key - keys
    journey - journeys
    boy - boys 
    tray - trays 

    Can you see the letter before the y?
    key - keys 
    journey - journeys 
    boy - boys 
    tray - trays
    (buy- buys  This rule works for verbs too) 

    So what's the rule? 

    If the word ends in a vowel (a,e,i,o,u,) + y then just add s

    As I said, most people don't know this spelling rule but see what looks right. We can't have key - keies x, boy - boies x (3 vowels in a line - no!)

    key keys √ Good spellers can see what looks right.

    Let's look at the y to -ies words:
    country - countries 
    baby - babies
    body - bodies
    memory - memories
    (cry - cries  This rule works for verbs too)

    Can you see the letter before the y? 
    country - countries
    baby - babies
    body - bodies
    memory - memories
    cry - cries 

    So what's the rule? 

    If the word ends in a consonant + y then then the y changes to ies

    Let's do a test 

    Change these to plurals. 

    1. factory
     2. trolley 
    3. empty 
    4. play 
    5. story 
    6. guy 
    7. pastry 
    8. turkey 


    1. factory factories 
    2. trolley trolleys 
    3. empty empties 
    4. play plays 
    5. story stories 
    6. guy guys 
    7. pastry pastries 
    8. turkey turkeys 

    How did you do? 

    If you want to know more about plural spelling rules or revise them then click here.

    spelling a lot of or lots of

    In this lesson and video we're looking at a lot of and lots of.

    These two common expressions, a lot of and lots of, mean the same thing, and are used before nouns to mean ‘a large number or amount of'. 

    I've got a lot of shopping/ I've got lots of shopping. 
    There are lots of people. There are a lot of people. 
    He always eats a lot of food. / He always eats lots of food.

    In this lesson, we'll look at some common spelling mistakes and do a quick test to see what you know, then we'll go over the spelling, usage and pronunciation. 

    Watch the video below and/or read on. 


    Which is correct
    a. I had a lots of fun yesterday. 
    b. I had alot of fun yesterday 
    c. I had a lot of fun yesterday

    Did you choose c? I had a lot of fun yesterday. 
    3 separate words - a lot of 

    What about these sentences
    a. There were lots of people at the party 
    b. There were alots of people at the party 
    c. There were a lots of people at the party 

     Did you choose a?   a. There were lots of people at the party. 
    2 separate words - 'lots of' 

    First, we'll look at 'a lot of'. A lot of is three individual words. 

    Let's look at the pronunciation and how it can confuse people with the spelling of it. 

    1. We have the stressed 'a lot of'
    2. or unstressed "a lotuv" - the t joins the o to make "tuv" "a lotuv" 
    3. or even more unstressed "a lotta" 

    1. We had a lot of fun. 2. We had "a lotuv" fun. 3. We had "a lotta" fun. 1. It's a lot of money. 2. It's "a lotuv" money, 3. "It's "a lotta" money. 

    Or even more unstressed in some dialects like Liverpool "a lora" money.

    It doesn't matter how you pronounce it - all dialects and how we say 
    a lot of is valid and right, but there's only one way to spell it - a lot of.

    Let's look at lots of. It's two words "lots of" and is more informal, conversational. 

    The pronunciation is like "a lot of" with various unstressed forms. 
    1. We have the stressed "lots of" 2. Unstressed - the s joins the o "lotsuv" 3. or even more unstressed "lotsa" 

    So remember it doesn't matter how you say it but make sure you 
    write it as lots of 


    Which sentences are correct? 

    1. Lots of people loved the show. 
    2. There were alot of actors in the cast. 
    3. They took a lotta abuse from the crowd. 
    4. There's been a lot of rain this year. 
    5. There seems to be quite a lots of new shops opening. 
    6. Sit here - there's lots of room.   

    Answers. Correct sentences - 1, 4, 6. 
    Why are the others wrong? 
    1. Lots of people loved the show. 
    4. There's been a lot of rain this year. 
    6. Sit here - there's lots of room.

    A quick note about a lot of and lots of from the Oxford dictionary: 
    A lot of and lots of are very common in speech and writing but they still have an informal feel and are generally not considered acceptable for formal, business, academic English, where alternatives such as many or a large number, a great deal of are used instead. 

    Thanks for reading this. 

    Keep passionate about your spelling and writing.


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    Recent Posts

    1. The Letter C
      Thursday, April 03, 2014
    2. -able & -ible endings new video
      Thursday, February 27, 2014
    3. Spelling Tip number 4
      Sunday, January 19, 2014
    4. spelling tip number 3
      Sunday, January 12, 2014
    5. Spelling tip number 2
      Sunday, January 05, 2014
    6. spelling tip number 1
      Wednesday, December 11, 2013
    7. there, their, they're video & exercises
      Thursday, September 12, 2013
    8. though, through, thorough, thought - video, info, exercise
      Wednesday, August 14, 2013
    9. plural spelling rule - changing y to ies or s
      Sunday, August 04, 2013
    10. spelling a lot of or lots of
      Wednesday, July 03, 2013

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