Guide to Spelling: Hooked on Phonics

Spelling Demons

How can you tell a spelling demon? They're the words that look wrong even when they're right.

I know you can spell all right because it's the opposite of all wrong. Maybe you were lucky enough to learn that a lot is two words, rarefy has that pesky e, and sacrilegious has a whole lot of letters.

There are still tons of words lying (laying?) in wait for you. Here are 10 common spelling demons that have no doubt been deviling you for years:

Ten Tough Spelling Words—and Ways to Make Them Tender

  1. traveler. The British spell it with two l's, but Americans don't double-up, except in accented syllables (such as controlled, referral, propeller).
  2. coolly. Here, you're just adding the suffix to the root. (I know it still looks funny. But it's right. Trust me.)
  3. embarrass. Two r's and two s's. But then again, we have harass.
  4. unparalleled. Memorize this sucker. There's no other way around it.
  5. nickel. Is there any justice in the world?
  6. glamour. We can deal with this … but what about glamorous?
  7. resuscitate. That's why people learn CPR; they're too busy being heroes (not heros) to spell what they just did.
  8. genealogy. Like its first cousins mineralogy and analogy, one of a few words that doesn't end with -ology.
  9. pavilion. That's what we get for taking words from the French. Cotillion and vermilion also pose difficulty.
  10. dysfunction. Because so many people have it, better learn how to spell it (maybe a cure is easier?).
Strictly Speaking

So what's it going to be: harebrained or hairbrained? (The former, as in harelip.)

Still game? Here's a list of spelling demons you're likely to encounter in daily life. Of course, there are many more, so don't write to me, e-mail me, or fax me your favorites. I'll give you a few lines at the bottom of the list where you can record your favorites.

abbreviate cellophane February journal
abyss debtor fickle journeying
academic decided gallery juvenile
ache defense ghetto keenness
adjacent deferred grammar kindliness
allotted delicious guess laboratory
bachelor deluge handicapped larceny
balloon ecstasy heaviness legend
bicycle efficient height leisure
bigamy eighth heroes maintain
budget eligible icing marmalade
bureau emperor icy marriage
capsule emphasis illegally mathematics
career fascinate illogical neutral
carnival feasible jeopardy niece
ninety opponents rabid sincerely
notary pageant rebelled sugar
obnoxious papal rebuttal treachery
obstinate parallel referee turkeys
offensive paralysis _________ _________
_________ _________ _________ _________
_________ _________ _________ _________
_________ _________ _________ _________
_________ _________ _________ _________
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at and Barnes & Noble.


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