i before e, except after c.. and also v?
September 11, 2012 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Looking for new ways to learn to spell specific words. and possibly to make it sink into my head when you use "then" vs "than".

I have never been, and will never be, the world's best speller. But, my ability to spell has improved dramatically since I started doing a lot of typing.

I still have some words that trip me up. Some of the following is just an example:

Reveal (I want to spell it "Reveil")
Horrible (Horriable)
Terrible (Terrable)

As I'm sure you can tell, I am a phonetic speller. To me, the "veal" in reveal sounds like the veil of a dress and not the meal. This is reenforced by the fact that to reveal something, you often show it off, aka to unveil it. Not cook a nice dinner again.

One way I've been able to combat this was to set a login password to the correct spelling, which forced me to learn it.

I was hoping there was a program out there, or even a android app, that would randomly pop up and ask me how to spell a word from a list I give it. (Or possibly some "most commonly misspelled words" list)

related question: I never ever use "than". Any time I am saying something happened after something else, I always use then. I never even stop to think about it. I know there's little memory sayings you can tell yourself, but when you don't even stop to think.. how do you remember to say the sayings?
posted by royalsong to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
AnkiDroid flash card software for your Android. You could program it with words that pose problems to you.

Any time I am saying something happened after something else, I always use then.

This is correct usage. "I went to the store, and then I came home." The word "than" is used for comparisons such as "he is stronger than me". How do you make such comparisons if you never use "than"?
posted by Tanizaki at 6:26 AM on September 11, 2012

Re: your final point. You're correct - 'then' is used to place something in a time sequence. eg: I did this, and then I did that. You could substitute 'next' or 'after' or 'later' for 'then' in this example.

'Than' is used for comparison. He is taller than her. She runs faster than I do. Vancouver is bigger than Calgary.

Sorry - no saying to help you out, but I don't think you need it here as you seem to intuitively know the underlying rule for 'then'.
posted by lulu68 at 6:26 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

'Reveal' is the opposite of 'conceal' and ends the same (or do you do 'conceil' too?).
posted by Segundus at 6:31 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

As I'm sure you can tell, I am a phonetic speller. To me, the "veal" in reveal sounds like the veil of a dress and not the meal.

Hmm. But "reveal" is rhymes with "peel" and not "male," whereas "veil" rhymes with "male." Or maybe you say "re-vale?" I'm a little confused by that one, I haven't heard such an accent before.

As for your "horrible/terrible" problem, well, now you know how those words are spelled. If you come up on another word that sort of sounds like those ones, you can make a safe wager that maybe they're spelled the same, such as "incorrigible" or "gullible." Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule, since you know of the words "laughable" and "inconsolable." It helps to know what the words mean (and where they come from) in order to figure out how they are spelled, which I'll mention again at the end of this comment.

One thing that can help with spelling is to read a lot. I don't mean comments on the internet, I mean books, things that have been copyedited so that there are no (or very few) mistakes in the spelling of words. When I'm trying to think of how to spell a word, I'm trying to picture a place I've seen it written before. It helps to have lots of data points.

To echo previous answerers, you seem to know how to use "then." The word "than" is only for comparisons.

As a lad, I had to work through Word Clues in school. Yes, it builds vocabulary, but more importantly, it helps you with spelling, since words with the same roots will often be spelled the same. Maybe get your hands on that workbook!
posted by King Bee at 6:51 AM on September 11, 2012

Then rhymes with when.
Compare has an a in it, and so does Than.

That's the easiest way I can think of to differentiate between the two.
posted by emelenjr at 6:58 AM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry. Perfect example of me not knowing what I'm doing.

I use then for everything. Even when you're suppose to use "than"
posted by royalsong at 7:09 AM on September 11, 2012

emelenjr has the right idea.

I doubt there's any way for you to gain the correct instincts on this at this point, so you need mnemonic devices for each troublesome word. With a quick search, I found this page of ready-made mnemonic devices for commonly misspelled words: http://www.commonlymisspelledwords.org/

Mnemonic devices really work. Fill up your toolkit with the ones you need.
posted by General Tonic at 7:24 AM on September 11, 2012

thEn= Ever= timE. If it's being used to describe the order of events in time, you want "then". I ate, and then [later] I slept.

thAn= Amount= Attributes/Abilities. If you're describing an amount of attributes or qualities, you want "than". He is a better dancer [has more dancing ability] than me.

As for the spelling, I usually google words that I commonly misspell.
posted by windykites at 7:57 AM on September 11, 2012

In elementary school my teacher (when we were working on some math problems involving greater than/lesser than) would say "remember, it's more thaaaan," stretching out the "A" sound (and she took off points if we wrote "then" on our homework instead of "than.") That helped anchor it in my mind for pretty much the rest of my life.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:59 AM on September 11, 2012

One way to make this easier would be to improve your pronunciation/minimize your accent. You are in prime territory for the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (which is not a particularly desirable speech habit IMO). If your pronunciations of "then" and "than" or "veal" and "vale" (etc.) are so similar that it's screwing up your intuitive sense of how these words should be spelled, then it strikes me that working on your accent/pronunciation could have a pronounced effect on your spelling. Because, of course, why would you spell the word "than" when the way you say it makes it rhyme with "ben"? It doesn't make intuitive sense to spell it with an "a" if it's pronounced that way.
posted by slkinsey at 8:01 AM on September 11, 2012

THEN something happened and it was scarier THAN the last time!

Maybe an example phrase like that will stick in your memory and might help you evaluate which one to use. Or, as others have said—"than" is used when comparing things; "then" is an expression of time.
posted by Eicats at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2012

I was mighty, mighty tempted to get the Oatmeal's grammar poster for my classroom back when I was a high school English teacher. Might have been worth getting fired over if it helped the kids remember these rules!

As others have said, mnemonics are the way to go for things like than/then, affect/effect. For straight up spelling, well, my teachers used to make us write the word correctly 20 times...which is something I made myself do a couple of months ago to finally learn to spell "relevant" correctly (I kept writing it as "relavent"). We all have words that trip us up!
posted by smirkette at 9:20 AM on September 11, 2012

I know there are mnemonics and such.

The problem is that I never reach the point in my communication where I stop and go: should I be using then or than here.. I just auto default to "then" unless I'm physically typing out: greater than 5, less than 3.

My question was more toward.. how do I maybe myself read the word "then" and ask myself if that's the right word.

Also, really confused on the whole vale and male part of reveal. It is pronounced re-veel, right?
posted by royalsong at 9:46 AM on September 11, 2012

Reveal rhymes with feel. Veil rhymes with male. You said reveal and veil rhymed for you, which is what is confusing people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:28 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Muscle memory helps. Come up with some pattern sentences with "than" and type them over and over. "Jane was taller than Phil." For an extra challenge, sentences with both words. "Until then, Paris was larger than New York."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:34 AM on September 11, 2012

Do you pronounce "pin" to rhyme with in, win, din, kin?
Do you pronounce "pen" to rhyme with hen, then, wren, den?

Do you clearly hear the difference between the two sets of sounds and understand them in the absence of context? The problem may be, as slkinsey notes, that you're not hearing the correct pronunciation, so spelling what you hear is failing you twice.

To me, the "veal" in reveal sounds like the veil of a dress and not the meal.

Reveal, veal and meal all rhyme. (Veil is pronounced like "vayle" [not a word] or "tail".)

Imagine a waiter in a swanky restaurant reVEALing the MEAL by presenting a tray with a big, silver dome over the top and lifting it off to show off the food. Just keeping saying aloud in your head, "reveal the meal" -- maybe even have a set of index cards of your common errors and flip through them each morning while you brush your teeth.

ThEn works two ways:

1) ThEn refers to timE -- one thing happening and then another. Look at the clock. Most time-related numbers (one, three, five, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve) have E's in them. (None have A's in them.)

2) Then falls into an if/then pattern. If X happens, THEN Y happens, and though it's less obvious, it's still about one thing happening after another, so it's still about time.

ThAn -- You are comparing two things. Think: Is this bigger thAn thAt. Any time you're comparing two things, ask, is it "taller/stronger/weirder/somethinger" THAN THAT. You'd never say "then thet" (especially as "thet" isn't a word).

Make a point, every time you finish a paragraph, of looking back to see if you're written the word "then" or "than" and ask yourself what the meaning of the question is. Do it over and over and eventually, you'll know it innately. Of course, turning spell-check and grammar-check on in Word is wonderful, as it interacts with all your browsers and other software products so that any time you actually misspell something, it makes a wiggly red line under it. (Microsoft had to be good for something.)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:55 AM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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