How to Improve Spelling and Grammar Skills

A dictionary can be a useful spelling guide.
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Sharpening your spelling and grammar will help readers understand your writing better. Learning some basic rules will help you write more cleanly. If you're ever unsure of a word's spelling, consult a dictionary -- the effort you make will help you remember that word later.

1 Learn Spelling Rules and Remember Exceptions

One way to improve your spelling is to learn a few rules that govern how letters are arranged in English words. For instance, one common rule is "i before e, except after c." This means, in word where i and e appear as a combined vowel sound, the i goes before the e unless they are after the letter c. For example:

  • Siege
  • Believe
  • Perceive
  • Ceiling

However, keep in mind that English is a particularly inconsistent language when it comes to spelling rules. For many rules, such as "i before e," plenty of words are exceptions to the rule, such as weird. Memorize specific exceptions as you encounter them.

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2 Study Homophones

Homophones are words that sound identical, but have different spellings. A common spelling mistake is to use a homophone in place of the word you meant to use. For example, "there" refers to a place, while "their" is an adjective meaning "belonging to them," and "they're" is a contraction of the phrase "they are". To ensure you do not use the wrong homophone, review a list of common homophones and look up any pairs of words when you're not sure which spelling designates which meaning. Note also that some words are spelled differently in American English and British English, such as "color" and "colour."

3 Learn Parts of Speech and Sentence Structure

Understanding how English words and sentences are organized will greatly improve your grammar. A part of speech refers to the function a word serves in a sentence. A noun, such as "Cleveland" or "ice", represents a thing; a verb like "cry"or "allow" represents an action. Adjectives such as "tiny" and "superfluous" describe nouns, and adverbs like "quickly" and "quietly" describe verbs. Other parts of speech in English include conjunctions, prepositions and interjections.

Knowing parts of speech will help you understand sentence structure. In English, sentence are organized in a few typical ways, but in most cases each sentence -- or each clause in a large sentence -- includes a noun, called a subject, which acts, and a verb that describes that action. An object is a noun that is being acted upon. For example, in the sentence "I ate cake," "I" is the subject, "ate" is the verb and "cake" is the object. When you understand how the different parts of a sentence act on each other, you can check if your sentence is properly arranged.

4 Punctuation Rules

When you're writing, you have a vast number of punctuation marks to choose from. English punctuation includes not only the period and the comma, but also many others, such as the colon, semicolon, question mark and quotation marks. Learn and review the rules for each punctuation mark, beginning with its basic uses. For instance, the colon is usually used before a list of items, such as in "I checked my grocery list: flour, butter and canned yams." Once you have learned and practiced these basic rules, you can begin learning more specific instances of their use. For example, a comma that follows a quote should always be put inside the quotation marks: "I remembered her saying 'I don't care,' but I didn't believe a word of it."

Jon Zamboni began writing professionally in 2010. He has previously written for The Spiritual Herald, an urban health care and religious issues newspaper based in New York City, and online music magazine eBurban. Zamboni has a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Wesleyan University.