Thursday, September 27, 2012

Alamak, English! week 1, spelling.

According to my new pre-examination time table, Thursday is the day to revise my English. But I really have no idea how to do that, since my house is strangely lacking of English revision books... and reading story books might not work out so well. So I thought, I'll practice writing, so that I'll hopefully be at my peak come the exam date. But sitting down with a blank piece of paper and scribbling on it is not very likely to help me out much. So maybe I thought, if I share a bit of English Lesson with my blog readers, theoretically it would give me practice writing, and at the same time it would (hopefully) help my readers as well. I would normally shy away from doing this, because my low-level English might embarass me in the eyes of international readers, but then I realised, a) what international readers? 'doh. b) my low-level English has already been embarassing me for the past one year, and c) There has been a significant increase in local readers of my blog recently, so I don't mind doing this.

By the way, for any non-local readers who are reading this, "Alamak" is the Malay equivalent of what we would say in English as "Oh, snap," or in Old English, "Alas!" or in British English, "Well, this is a bit of a rum do, isn't it?" This is meant to be ironic, because in Malaysia we have this educational show called "Oh My English (link translated)" which mainly corrects many English errors that are caused by the intermingling of the language with local slang.

Anyway, today I thought I would focus on Common Spelling Errors, and also some instances of when student mix up two words with similar spelling. Any paragraph with an asterisk (*) at the start is a summarisation of the above paragraphs, meaning to say that its a little important.

Lesson: "ie" and "ei".
A Facebook post I saw recently listed some of the top mispelled words. At number one on the list is "received", often mispelled as "recieved".

Did you have to read that line twice to spot the difference? The positions of the "i" and the "e" are changed. It's a very common mistake that can be hard to spot, but I have very little doubt that those cunning English teachers at school will pause and squint for a while whenever they see the word "received", to try to catch a student doing it wrong. While an ordinary reader might easily overlook such a mistake, we should try to perfect our writing, especially at SPM level.

Many people can become unsure when writing this word. They are well aware that they have to be careful to get the spelling right on this particular word, but they can't quite remember now, is it the "i" that comes first, or the "e"?

This is why people invented "Spelling Rules". If I recall correctly, some countries will teach their children all of the spelling rules, and believe me, these rules are very effective. Notice, for one, the spelling of the word "believe" in the previous sentence. The "i" came before the "e". But in the word "received", the "e" comes before the "i". In both cases, the letter directly after the "i" and the "e" is a "v". But the letter before the "i" and the "e" in the word "believe" is an "L", and in the word "received", it is a "c". Other words with the "ie" combination, like "friend" and "tie", have one thing in common: the letter before the "ie" is not a "c". From this, we deduce the following spelling rule:

Spelling rule: "i" before "e" except after "c".

*This rule works for any word that has the letters "i" and "e" adjacent to each other in a word. Words that have the letter "c" directly before the "i" and the "e" are spelled with "ei", such as "receipt", "deceive", and "conceive". All other words are spelled "ie", like "believe", "friend", "tie", and "fiend".

HOWEVER, there are a FEW exceptions to this rule. Of course there have to be exceptions, did you think it would be so easy? The following words do not have so much as a single "c" in them, but are stilled spelled with "ei": height, weigh (-ed, -ing -s, weight), seize, heifer, weird, feign, and surfeit. I don't know what the last one is, really, but the internet says it is an existing word, so it must be. There may be other exceptions, but I guess these are the common ones.

Lesson: "affect" and "effect".
I don't really know if very many people make this mistake, since unlike the previous one, I have no form of real statistic or data to prove that it is a common mistake; of course I could just use Google to see if it is, but I'm lazy. To be perfectly frank. Anyway.

I'm sure I must have made this mistake, at one time or another in my life. "Smoking has many negative affects on our health." Now, if I had written that, it would have been completely and undoubtedly WRONG.

The correct way to write that sentence would have been "Smoking has many negative effects on our health."

This is how it goes: The word "affect" is a verb, meaning that it is used when something happens to someone. The word "effect" is a noun, meaning that it is the thing that has happened.

In other words, we would say that a person is affected by the noisy environment, or maybe his bad behaviour affects the focus of other students in the class. The word "affect" here means that a bad thing is happpening or has happened to these people.

On the other hand, we say that these people have felt the bad effects of the polluted water supply. The word "effect" here is referring to the bad thing that has happened to these people.

*But I may be rambling. I hope all of this is sticking. To go back to our old sentence about the smoking, we would say that "Smoking has many bad effects on our health," or, "Our health is affected by cigarette-smoking." That's it. I've explained it to the best of my ability. So, in the words of my Additional Mathematics tuition teacher, "If you still don't get it, repeat it a hundred times until you do." Or, in my case, I guess you could just look for a better English teacher than me...

Lesson: "your" and "you're".
This is an error that I used to make all the time. But ever since I found out about it - and I did so quite late in life I might add - I have been very taboo about making that mistake.

You're probably getting tired of the English lesson by now, and so am I, so I'll cut our last lesson short.

The difference is: "your" is the possesive of "you", whereas "you're" is an abbreviation of "you are".

***If you do not care about all these English grammar terms, as you have every right not to, then please skip to the next paragraph***
Now you're probably wondering, what is a "possessive" and what is an "abbreviation"? Well, a possesive is used when you want to show that something belong to someone, like "He owns that book, so it is his book."
As for the abbreviation, that would be all those shortened words with the apostrophes in them, such as the word "isn't", which is the abbreviation for "is not". Don't use these in formal essays, because they can be considered informal.

Now, "your" should never be mixed up with "you're". "Your" is used as "The book belongs to you, therefore it is your book." You can never say "you're book", because "you're" is an abbreviation of "you are". This means that "you're book" would actually mean "you are book", which is of course completely wrong.

We use "you're" in speech, when we want to shorten the words "you are". For example, "You are very dedicated when it comes to learning English," or in plain speech, "You're very dedicated when it comes to learning English." You can never say "Your very dedicated", because then you would be saying that the "very dedicated" belongs to you, therefore, it is "your very dedicated", which does not make any sense at all.

*In short, whenever you want to use the "your" or "you're", you can try to visualise what role the word plays in the sentence. If you are using it to say that an object belongs to a person, then use "your". If you are using it in the place of "you are", which I believe is allowed in a dialogue in narrative writing, then use "you are".

Advanced lesson: The same applies to "its" and "it's". "Its" is used the same as "your", and "it's" is used the same as "you're".

There will be considerable confusion here, since the possessives of many objects like "the woman's glove" use an apostrophe followed by an "s", but in the case of "its" we just use the "s", as in "The door creaks because its hinges are rusty". In other words, "it" is similar to "he", "she", and "you". He, she, you, it; his, hers, yours, its.

On the other hand, "it's" is used in the place of "it is". Like, instead of saying "It is a monster!", you can just say "It's a monster!", which is a much easier thing to say when you're busy running away in terror.


That would be it for our lesson tonight. Of course, as any teacher would, I hope that everything I've said will be meaningful to someone, and that people will be able to learn from the words that are formed by my lips, or in this case, my fingertips. Well, helpful or no, tonight's English lesson certainly benefited me, if not anyone else, so I am not discouraged from trying again next Thursday, in accordance with the timetable. If you like my English lesson (which would be a dream come true), then you'll know to come back next Thursday night, although Friday might be a better day, since my updates may be quite late at night. Or if you absolutely hated this lecture, which I anxiously expect and am well prepared for, then you'll know not to bother visiting next Thursday. Either way, thank you for reading, and I'm terribly sorry if I made any English errors while trying to teach English - talk about the crab that teaches its child to walk straight - and I hope you'll point them out to me. Thanks for reading, and good night.


  1. very useful indeed, spelling is my weak spot (uh oh I seem to have many weak spots) and of course, my English teacher has noticed that (you have met her, for several times I believe). Now I'm all under her watchful eyes.>.<
    Seriously your English is already good enough to be a teacher, you're too humble.

    1. Wow, thanks... I know that my English is far from perfect, but I try my best. :)
      Your English is still a lot better than most people though.
      Also, there are a few reasons why I can never be a teacher: I can't write on whiteboards, and my English is better in writing than in speech, which is a huge setback for anyone who wants to be a teacher.

  2. You can't write on whiteboard because?...emm your handwriting?

    1. Well, yes. Without guidelines, my handwriting slants all over the place, and can sometimes be much too small, and other times it's too large. My students would get a headache for sure.

    2. the universal problem, don't bother about it.
      Or maybe you should be an art teacher instead, students will know to appreciate that.
      just kidding!