Spelling and the Dictionary

One of the most useful sources of spelling information is a dictionary

Main Entry information

  • Syllable divisions - when a word contains more than one syllable, it is entered in the dictionary with a small space between each syllable.

  • Hyphenation - some words are always spelled with a hyphen.  The dictionary entry will show this hyphen, if there is one.

  • Word divisions - some dictionary entries consist of two words.  A two-word entry will usually have a large space between the two words.

  • Capitalization - if a word is usually spelled with a capital, its entry will also be spelled with a capital.  If a word has two uses but only one of them is capitalized, the dictionary may list them under two entries - for example, God (the Almighty) and god (any supernatural being that is worshipped).

Outside the Main Entry

Sometimes a dictionary can provide help in spelling certain kinds of words that may not be listed as main entries.  These are special grammatical forms or suffixed forms.  Here are some:

  • Comparative and Superlative forms of adjectives.  For examples, the two words crazier and craziest, which are formed from crazy.

  • Verb Forms.  For example, the words crackled and crackling, which are formed from the verb crackle.

  • Suffixed Forms.  For example, the adverb craftily and the noun craftiness, which are formed from the adjective crafty.

  • Noun Forms.  For example, the word babies, which is formed from baby.

The above example words are not always main entry words, although the words from which they are formed are main entries.  They are often listed within the entry of the word from which they are formed.  Not all possible grammatical or suffixed forms are listed after the main entry.  Those that are listed are often those that involve spelling problems.

Variant Spellings

As you are undoubtedly aware, many words have more that one spelling.  When a word has two common spellings, the dictionary will often include them both.  Here are some of the main ways they may be listed:

  • The most common spelling will be a main entry, with a full definition after it.

  • Alternate, less common spellings are sometimes listed in the body of the main entry, either near the beginning or at the end.  These other spellings may be preceded by the word or or also.

  • The less common spelling may also have an entry of its own.  It will not have a full definition after it, however.

Spelling of Sounds at the Beginning of Words

Before you look up a word in a dictionary, you must have some idea how to spell it.  This is sometimes difficult, because the same sound may be spelled in many different ways.  Below is a simplified table of some of the common alternate ways that sounds can be spelled at the beginning of words.

Consonant Sounds Common Alternate Spellings
b, d, l, m, p, sh, t, th, v, and w Usually spelled the way they sound
f as in face ph (phone)
g as in gas gh (ghost), gu (guard)
h as in hole wh (who)
j as in join g followed by e, i, or y: (gentle, gin, gym)
k as in kitten c (coin), ch (chord), qu (queen)
n as in nice kn (know), gn (gnaw), pn (pneumonia)
r as in rice rh (rhino), wr ( write)
s as in save c followed by e, i, or y (cent), see(scent), sci (science)
sk as in skin sc (score), sch ( school)
ch as in child c (cello)


Vowel Sounds Common Alternate Spellings
a as in able ai ( aim)
a as in at a (at)
a as in area ai (air), e (ere)
a as in father a (argument)
e as in equal ea (eat), ee (eel), ei (either)
e as in lend e (end)
er as in her er (ermine), ear ( earth), ur (urge)
i as in ice ei (either)
i as in hit i (it), e (electric)
o as in open oa (oats), ow (owe)
o as in hot o (odd)
o as in often aw (awful), oa (oar), a (all), au (auto), ou (ought)
ou as in out ow (owl)
u as in up o (oven)
schwa - the unstressed vowel sound that begins about, event, oblige, upon a, e, i, o, u