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I have compiled a new collection of memory aids, or mnemonics, for spelling and other word topics.

A frequent spelling mistake involves "capital" versus "capitol." A capital is the city where the main government offices are. A capitol is the building where lawmakers do what they do. Many capitols have domes, a word with an "o." Think of the U.S. Capitol.

The "principal" is in charge of a school, or, in other contexts, is the primary person or thing. A "principle" is a guiding rule, theory or law. To remember principal, remember that the principal can be your "pal." A set of guidelines would not be a person or pal.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary adds a probably unintentionally comical usage note about this common confusion. It says, "If you are unsure which noun you want, read the definitions in this dictionary." I'd think that would apply to every noun we wonder about.

You face a "dilemma" when you have to make a difficult decision. Some people think that the word is spelled "dilemna," with an "mn." This might be because of words such as "autumn," "hymn" and "solemn," each of which has a silent "n."

You can remember the correct spelling by chanting to yourself, "Emma has a dilemma." Don't worry, Emma, these dilemmas will make you stronger.

The word "environment," or your surroundings, is often pronounced incorrectly. Many people say in-VIE-ern-ment or in-VY-er-ment. I say both of those too unless I think hard about it. This might lead people to spell the word incorrectly, as "enviorment" or "enviornment." The dictionary says the proper pronunciation is in-VIE-ren-ment.

To spell and pronounce it correctly, remember that our environment contains iron.

"Weather" is that maddening array of conditions outside. "Whether" is a conjunction signaling that available choices will follow. How to remember the spellings? In cold weather, you wear a sweater. Both words contain "weat."

For spelling "success," succeed in remembering this: "Double c, double s. Now you can spell success."

Now, this one was new to me. Do you have trouble spelling "arithmetic"? Remember this little jingle: "A rat in the house may eat the ice cream." The first letter of each word spells "arithmetic." I would take a while to recover from a rat eating my ice cream.

And, surprisingly, a similar mnemonic helps you remember the spelling of "geography." "George eats old gray rats and paints houses yellow." Yuck. Are the creators of these phrases intent on causing nightmares?

One memory aid helps you remember that some words are absolute modifiers. Real and fictional characters can be unique, perfect and immortal. Power can be eternal, infinite and irrevocable. A line can be straight. The characteristics are absolute because a person can't be more unique. Eternal power can't be more eternal. A line can't be straighter.

The U.S. Constitution's writers hoped "to form a more perfect union." A thing can't be more perfect. I won't criticize the guys at the Constitutional Convention, though. They had a lot going on.

The mnemonic is, "Good, better, best. Never let it rest, until your 'good' is 'better' and your 'better' is your 'best.'" Once a thing is best, it's the best. You can't have "one of the best" anything, though people say that all the time.

We have the ubiquitous aid: "I before e, except after c, and when sounding like 'ay,' as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh.'"

We all know that dozens of words ignore this rule with a vengeance. So some recommend tacking on an extra sentence full of exceptions such as this:

The foreigners seized the weird, ancient heights.

A "peak" is the top of a mountain. A "peek" is a brief look at something.

A mountain resembles a capital "A." So peak has the "a" in it. The second part is weaker, I'll admit. You peek at things with your two eyes. The letter "e" shows up twice in "eyes" and in "peek."

How do you remember the distinction between "affect" and "effect"? Most of the time, we use "affect" as a verb, as in when the weather or some movies or snarky comments affect the way you feel. And, much of the time we use "effect" as a noun, as in special effects or psychological effects or the domino effect.

One reader recommended the mnemonic RAVEN: "remember, affect verb, effect noun."

Perhaps this is why Edgar Allan Poe featured this creature in his poem "The Raven," so that you'd nevermore forget the difference between affect and effect. Nah, probably not.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, World Wide Words, English Plus

Style on 08/19/2019

Print Headline: Hooked on mnemonics for spelling


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