La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library


La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library




Improve your Spelling

English spelling can be challenging to master for speakers of English as an additional language and native speakers. Pronunciation of words in English is not a reliable guide to spelling. English has a number of different ways to spell the same sound and a number of different ways to pronounce the same spelling. Despite its complexities, spelling is important.  There is nothing worse than getting a lower mark on an assignment or not getting a job interview because of spelling errors. Below are a few useful tips and techniques that can help you improve your spelling.

1. Use a dictionary

One of the best ways to ensure you spell a word correctly is to use a dictionary. Many dictionaries are available in hard copy and online (e.g., Macquarie Dictionarythe Australian National Dictionary). For speakers of English as an additional language, Oxford or Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary will be useful as they have more examples of words in different contexts.

2. Follow Australian English spelling conventions

The subtle spelling differences between Australian English and American English are often difficult for students to spot. It is important, however, to use the appropriate spelling conventions and to remain consistent.

3. Create your own word list

Make a list of words you find difficult to spell and keep it next to your computer or on your desktop. This will help you eliminate some of the spelling errors and will also save time.

Check out Online Macquarie Dictionary Word Cloud for most searched words each week.

4. Learn homonyms

A large number of English words have identical or similar pronunciation but different spelling, for example boarder-border and threw-through. These words are called homonyms. View the section Commonly Confused Words (under one of the tabs on this page) to familiarise yourself with those words.  

5. Learn commonly misspelled words 

Oxford Dictionaries Common Misspellings

6. Use computer spellcheck BUT use it with caution.

One of the most common mistakes students make is not using a computer spellcheck. Make a habit of ending your writing with a spelling check in Microsoft Word. Keep in mind that an automatic spellchecker

  • will not find spelling errors when words are misused (e.g. their and there, form and from)
  • may highlight correctly spelled words as errors
  • will not necessarily offer a suitable spelling suggestion.

7. Proofread your writing.

Because automatic spellcheckers are not always reliable, it is important to proofread your writing. Proofreading is more or less a mechanical task, and should be done after the document has been edited and fine-tuned. For best results,

  • read the text aloud
  • work with a hard copy only
  • read from end to start
  • (when needed) read for one thing at a time.

8. Learn patterns and spelling rules.

Despite many exceptions and inconsistencies, English spelling follows certain rules. Learning a few general rules will help you avoid making the same errors and will make you much better at English spelling.

Go to the next page to familiarise yourself with some spelling rules.

Some Spelling rules  

1. Distinguishing between ie and ei

One of the most common spelling errors is the use of ie instead of ei and vice versa. Words like believe and receive, for example, have the same pronunciation of the vowel in the second syllable but differ in spelling.

Write i before e, except after letter c.

believe             thief                 friend


perceive          receive            deceit

Write ei when the pronunciation is “ay” as in eight or vein.

weight             neighbour        freight

Exceptions: either, neither, foreign, height, leisure, weird, seize, forfeit, seizure

2. Doubling final consonants

Sometimes, words ending in a consonant double the consonant when an ending or a suffix is added to a word. Double the final consonant in one-syllable words when a single vowel precedes the final consonant.

map - mapped                         flat - flatter                

In words with more than one syllable, double the final consonant only when the final consonant is preceded by a single vowel and the stress (marked in bold font) falls on the last syllable of the stem once the ending is added.

submit - submitted                 begin - beginning


referreference                    benefit - benefited

3. Keeping or dropping a final e

Drop final e when adding suffixes or endings that begin with a vowel (e.g. -able, -ible, -ous, -ance).

advise + able = advisable

guide + ance = guidance

argue + ing = arguing

Keep the final e when adding suffixes or endings that begin with a consonant (e.g. -ment, -ly, -ness).

advance + ment = advancement

like + ness = likeness

Keep the final e when a word ends with -ce and -ge (e.g. noticeable, manageable). This spelling ensures a soft pronunciation of c and g.

courage + ous = courageous

change + able = changeable

View these online resources to find out more about spelling rules in English, such as adding suffixes /prefixes, when to keep and drop a final letter y, and more.

Spelling Rules - Cambridge Dictionary Online

Spelling - University of Toronto

Commonly Confused Words

The following pairs and groups of words are often confused and misspelled in English:



  I accept your offer of employment.

  John works every day except Saturday.

  Affect (verb)

  Effect (verb)

  Effect (noun)

  The high temperature will affect the result of the experiment.

  A consultant has been hired to effect changes in its organization.

  The wind had an adverse effect on the sprinters’ performance.



  We strike the black and white keys alternately on the piano.

  We can have lunch now; alternatively we can buy it on the train.



  Custard complements puddings to perfection.

  We complimented Maud on the delicious meal she had prepared.

  May be


  You may be able to catch the train if you hurry.

  Maybe John can replace Tom in the debate.



  The weather is much colder in Europe than it is in Australia.

  She has not decided whether to get married or not.




  There is a man standing at the door.

  They took off their boots on entering the house.

  They’re1 studying in the library.

1 “They’re” is called a contraction. Contractions are not commonly used in formal writing.


View an extended list of English homonyms and frequently confused words:

Common Spelling Errors - English as a second language (ESL) desk 

Activity 1. Words easily confused

Choose the appropriate word

1. Ron had no idea weather whether to speak first or let the guest address the audience first.

2. Since it is now 3pm, he maybe may be in a lecture.

3. The slides in the lecture complimented complemented the content.

4. The secondhand bookshop said that they would take all of the books accept except those that were damaged.

5. The change in timetable will not affect effect third year students.

6. Mary found an alternate alternative way to solve the problem.

7. Medical students learn all about the effects affects of injuries.

8. The new departments are putting their there own logos on their materials.


Further resources

Common spelling errors

English spelling and some useful techniques to master spelling

Proofreading tips