Ben Stavis
May 2003

Spell checker is one of the great inventions of this era, but it is not perfect. Its obvious problem is that it can not tell when a properly spelled word is used incorrectly. This happens very often when students mix up words that sound the same but that mean different things and are spelled differently. This error is made in confusing plurals and possessives and in mixing up homonyms.  There are many other challenges and oddities in English spelling.

Close Calls  Homonyms Irregularlities Oddities


Plurual and Possessive

                    SINGULAR             PLURAL

noun             book                         books

possessive     book's                      books'

                    The books about sports are on the second floor.
                    The book's cover is tearing.
                    The books' prices are falling.

noun             country                     countries

possessive     country's                 countries'

                      The countries joined the UN.
                      The country's capital is Paris.
                      The countries' flags are on display at the UN.

 noun              child                        children

 possessive      child's                     children's

Watch out; possessive pronouns do not have the apostrophe because the apostrophe is reserved for contractions:

                    its         is singular possessive
                    their      is the plural possessive. " its' "  DOES NOT EXIST
                    it's         is a contraction for "it is"

                    It's a real  problem.  Its problem is that the apostrophe makes you think it's possessive, when it isn't.

Another helpful spelling resource:

Close Calls

    I advise you not to listen to his advice.

    His actions affected me a lot because they effected a big change in the environment.  One effect was loss of confidence.  He was emotionally disturbed and had no sense of affect.   He affected a British accent.  The effect of this behavior was to leave him further isolated.

    Yugoslavia has seen a succession of secession movements.

   "Doctor, how are my mother's tests?" "Nothing to worry about, all her testes are fine."  (Someone actually made this "typographical error," and spell checker did not save her.)


a part-apart
    After I took apart my watch, I couldn't find a part.

    I really love that Danish ale, but when I drink too much I get an ale ail.

    The general's aide gave him a lot of aid in dealing with foreign cultures.

    He was the son of the inventor of a special furnace.  He was a hot air heir.

    If you have an aisle seat, you can't see the pretty isle on the right.

    The shoemaker makes all thread holes with an awl.

    Quiet, you are not allowed to speak aloud in the library.

    He ate eight donuts.

    That auger has a diamond tip; it augurs well for drilling through hard rock.

    After a wild night ashore, the sailor needed a bale of money to pay the bail.  Finally, to return the the ship, he had to bail out his rowboat.

    The "Raunchy Band" was so raunchy that it was banned in city after city.  It changed its name to the "Banned Band."

    To be a bee or not to be a bee, this is the question for a caterpillar.

    The lake on the side of the mountain had beech trees right up to the beach.  It had a beech beach.

   I hope they put clothes on that teddy bear, because I can't bear to see a bare bear.

    To make  red dye,  first you beat the color out a beet.

    The mouse has been hiding in the potato bin.

    He was such a drunkard, we had to put a bottle of beer on his bier.

    We were a hundred miles offshore, when she went into labor.  We put her in the starboard berth, and she gave birth to a health girl.  After that, we always referred to that bunk as the birth berth.

    He didn't like to bite a bullet because of the lead.   So he took a loop of rope and bit the bight.  It was his bight bite.

    The Soviet Bloc tried to block imperialism.

    I think that hunting wild boar is a real bore.  I shot one and bore the boar on my back all the way back to the parking lot.  I would rather bore holes in wood.

    The Board of Directors is tired of this question.  It is a bored board.

    As soon as he crossed the border, he found a kind woman who took him in as a boarder.

    While the donkey brays in the background, I'll braise some meat for dinner.

   I hope the brake on the car doesn't break.

    The breech of the rifle nestled in his shoulder; he shot and made a hole in his former friend's  breeches.  The shooting led to the final breach of a long friendship.

    Well bred people eat cake, not bread.

    Let's go to the wedding now.  I'll bridle up the horses; you get the box with the bridal gown.

    I want to buy a house that is by the park.

    Cain got old and needed a walking cane.  It was a Cain cane.

    A lot of foreign capital is invested in the capital city.
    The Capitol building is located in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

    The cast of characters in Indian politics includes people from different castes.

    I am sealing the ceiling to stop the leaks.

    After the Germans ceded the land to the French, the French seeded it with flower seeds.

    I want to sell my cell phone.

    A censor must be a very perspective sensor of cultural values.

    He really has a nose for business.  He can sense the scents of a few cents.

    He was peculiar; he always chased chaste women.

     My Czech friend went hunting and found a bear family.  He shot the female bear, but the male   bear caught him and ate him.  The Czech is in the male.  I'll pay his funeral expenses.  The check is in the mail.

    For his last meal before execution, the serial killer asked for ten bowls of cereal.  He went to his death, known as the serial cereal eater.

    The book on cat care has a section on how to cut off the claws.  It can be considered the claws clause.

    I don't have a clue which corner of the sail is called the clew.

     I received a compliment about my fine complement of rare photographs.  This collection complements my old camera collection.

    Peace Corps volunteers returned and got jobs in the agency.  They have matured and been promoted, and now constitute the core of the corps.

    The first course of his dinner was a very coarse blend of cereals.  It was the coarse course.

    We had three crews for the trans-Pacific cruise.

    The crude boat was crudely crewed by a crude crew.

    When the bus driver started the engine, people joined the line.  It was the queue cue.

    Kurds in northern Iran add special spices to their yogurt.  It is Kurd curd.

    Are there any cypress trees in Cyprus?

    I can't recall many details of the time of my "youthful indiscretions."  These were my daze days.

    Despite the ravages of cancer, he retained his spirits and humor.  It was a decent descent.

   The descent from the summit was very dangerous, and within the climbing group there was some dissent about the wisdom of not using safety ropes.

    Because you did not desert me in the desert,  an ice cream dessert is your just desert..

    In the Chinese film Jou Dou,  I was surprised to see the old man die by falling into the dye vat.

    Dew has settled on my brain, so I can't do the paper that is due today.

    I have a scratch in my eye.

    The bus ticket to the fair does not cost much.  The fair fare is fair, said the fair haired girl.

    Let's fete him for the incredible feat of high jumping 8 feet.

    My Finnish wife will never finish taking a sauna.

    It is not true that fur coats are made from a fir tree bark.

    His has a real flair for shooting off flares.

    He ran away to escape the fleas-- the classic flea flee.  He couldn't escape them.

    You make flour from the seeds, not the flower of the wheat plant.

    I forgot to put the chicken in the refrigerator.  It quickly became very foul fowl.

    The duffer warned, "Fore! Watch out for the ball, I've hit four people already today!"

    He brought forth his fourth idea.

    I know the frieze of the building is supposed to be spectacular, but it's so cold now I'd freeze if I went outside to look  It is a frozen frieze..

    Gail is an experienced sailor.  She experienced a whole gale going to Bermuda.

    I gaze at the gays in the Gay Pride Parade.

    The United States sometimes acts like a thousand pound gorilla, and can not react to lightly armed guerilla movement.

    The sewage processing plant has a great grate to separate solids from liquids.
    I have a small cheese grater, but the Kraft cheese company has a much greater grater.

    I retired to a ranch.  As my hair grays, I watch the cattle graze.

    She gave a loud hail, to warn him of the hail.  He was very hale, and didn't worry.

    Waiter, I asked for hare, not hair!

    When the boat was at a sharp angle of heel, I slipped and hurt my heel.  It soon will heal.

    When I am over here, I can't hear the doorbell.

    I heard the herd of elephants miles away.

     The horse whinnied all night, and by morning was a hoarse horse.

    He dug the whole hole by himself.
    They found a bible buried in the earth.  Worms got to it..  It was a wholly holey holy book.

    When the minister retired, we all sang a special hymn to him.

    If you publish your insight about corruption, it  will incite angry protests.

    It's hard to tell its color.
    Its problem is that it's too old.

    The gate to the quay was locked, and I don't have the key.  Who has the quay key?

    I knew that the new edition of the book was needed.

    One's a knight forever, but once a night's enough.

    A granny knot is not a good knot.   A slip knot is almost a not knot.

    It's very hard to know when to say no.
    No, the new knot I know is not the knot he knew.

    The lead fisherman used a lead sinker, which led the bait to the bottom.

    The farmer lets us into his garden, so let's gather some lettuce.

    He told a lie about using lye to get his dog to lie down.

    In that old mine, there still was a big load of valuable lode.

    The maid made the bed.

    I'll mail a letter to a male friend of mine.

  The horse from Maine is the main source of rural energy, and has a very full mane.

    Maize is the international word for what we call corn.  In Iowa, one farmer cuts complex paths in his field and then charges people to explore his maize maze.

    The marshall marshalled many people to marshal the martial arts show.

    Let's meet at the vegetarian restaurant for lunch, because I don't eat meat.

    The mite might leave its host.

    I mince mints and sprinkle them on ice cream.

    We woke up so late, it was no longer misty.  We missed the mist.

    The wild game restaurant has a very unusual moose mousse as a side dish.  When they show their pet mooses at the Alaska Pet Show, they fix their tails with a special moose mousse.

    A mussel muscle is very strong and tasty.

    You can use an oar or a paddle to reach the ore region

    We won one game.

    At my factory that makes palettes for artists, they stack them up on pallets.  When I think of the profits from selling them, my palate waters at the sight of a palette pallet.

    First his face turned pale; then he threw up into the pail.

    I will use a knife to pare the pair of pears.

    I was in great pain when I was cut by the broken window pane.

    Smith passed for five touchdowns in the past three games.

    The doctor was always running slow.  His patients needed a lot of patience.

    He had a job in a company that made restaurant menus, but he was fired when he distributed a menu that listed "pee soup" instead of "pea soup."

    Piece-by-piece, peace will come to the mid-east.  That is the piece peace strategy.  The mediator wrote a proposed settlement; it is the peace piece.

    Every time I cross that road, I glance at the manificent mountain peak.  I take a peak peek.

    The plain was so flat, it looked like a carpenter had used a plane.
    The air plane had no trouble  landing on the plain.
    It was a very plain plane, with no decorations or other amenities.

    I took a poll of people who fish with a pole or a net.

    I watched the sweat pour out of every pore of the poor man.

    I pray I won't become someone else's prey.

    He prays to the Lord and gives praise to Him.

    The prints of the prince were overexposed and out of focus.

    Can a prophet earn a profit?

    The principal was a man of principle.

    Rain reigns. Even God can't rein in the rain clouds.

     We will raze the old building and raise a new building a little differently so that sun rays reach the park.

    Can you please gift wrap that rap CD?

    I'm looking for a book to read about reed baskets.  It should be good reed read.
    In ancient Egypt, when books were made of papyrus, everything was a reed read.

    My child has a toy fishing reel, but I have a real reel.

    My Chinese friends have all read Chairman Mao's little red book.

    His quick reflex reflects years of practice and training.

    In his forthcoming book, Sam Wright will write the right rite for a pet funeral.  My cousin is a playwright.  He keeps the copyright of all his works.

    We rowed our boat down the river, very close to the road on the side.  A man rode his horse along the road, while we rowed.

    I can just roll out of bed in the morning, eat a roll,  and immediately play the role of a professor.

    A travel agent takes people on tours to villages in Europe from where their ancestors migrated.  Her company is called "Routes to Roots."

    I want to buy a new sail for my boat when it is on sale.

    He argued pro se.  Per se, it was a good idea.  But he didn't know what to say.

   He can see the sea from his new house on the point.

    The boat is sinking.  It seems she is leaking at her seams.

    The seaman had no semen; he was sterile.

    Some strange religious sects practice group sex.

    The sole reason to go to Seoul was to inspect the shoe sole factory.   I enjoyed eating spicy sole, and was impressed by the Christian church, where many souls were trying to save my soul.

    I will sew a seed bag, so then I can sow the field.

    It is sometimes difficult to shear sheer silk.
    Shearing sheep is sheer agony.
    Her sharp logic sheared his arguement and exposed his sheer folly.

should of-should've
    " Should of"  should've been spelled out, "should have."

    When I got sick in India, I tried to seek out a Sikh doctor.

    The big truck passed her safely on the left side, and she sighed with relief.

    In math books, sine is abbreviated sin.  So, sin is the sine sign.

    I lost sight of the building's site, but I found its web site and I'll cite it in my paper.

    When we hunt in the winter, we slay animals and load them onto the sleigh to get them back.

    When I soar on my hang glider, my shoulder gets sore.  It is a soar sore.

    My son was out in the sun and got burned.

    That steak was so rare, you needed to but a stake through it to keep it from running off the plate.

    There was a big traffic jam down town.  All the vehicles were stationary, right in front of the stationery store.

    Who would steal a pile of steel?

    The Strait of Gibraltar lets boats go straight from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

    The candy company receives buyers in a room filled with chocolates.  It is called the sweet suite.

    Did you ever hear the tale about how the monkey lost its tail?  Monica's autobiography is rumored to be entitled Tail's Tales.

    The old sailor taught me how to tie the taut line hitch.

    You should not tease him, just because he likes special green teas.

    My daughter's 5 year old soccer team swarms toward the ball.  It is a teem team.

    On my last trip to Asia, I bought this silk Thai tie.

    I tied up the boat, forgetting it was high tide.  The ropes broke when the tide went out.

    Cooking with spices is tricky, especially with thyme.  You have to know when to add it.  It's the thyme time.

    They're out there looking for their bicycles.

    He threw the ball through the window.

    I've been through the throes of a deep depression, and now the economy throws me for a loop.

    The king was thrown off his throne by angry rebelling peasants.

    Seven people are two too many to fit in my car.

    The bell tolled ten times.  It told everyone it was time to sleep.

    In Bermuda they used to punish people by towing them across the harbour by their toes.  It was called the Bermuda toe tow.

    The vale was obscured by a veil-like mist.

    The sailor was so vain, he didn't check the wind vane and hoisted the sail in vain.
    The miner, working in a vein of coal, suffered a severe cut in his vein.

    The whale beached himself.  I was very upset when I heard the whale wail.

    With her new diet, her waist wasted away.  I got fat, my waist expanded, and I threw my old belt into the waste basket.

    I get sea sick, so if I go sailing with you can I waive the wave?  I don't like to wave at people.  Can I get a waver waiver?

    You can't wear stoneware. Where can I find something nice to wear?  The shaft shows a lot of wear where it goes through the bushing.

    The dairy farmer gets a special price for watery part of milk, but it is difficult to measure this.  He is looking for a way to weigh the whey.

    I have felt weak all week.

    Weal and woe revolve like a wheel.

    I don't know whether tomorrow will bring better weather.

    Which witch wore which watch?

    She gave a  romantic wine whine, and I quickly re-filled her glass.

    I'm confused.  Who's going to whose house?

    Wood would be a good material for this.

    I want my students to write in the right way.

    For a circus act they put a yolk on the hen to get her to pull a wagon.  She was so upset that her eggs had no yoke.

    You're looking at your friends.

    You'll enjoy the yule time spirit.

If you got to the end, you win the special prize of sharing a poem by a student of mine:

I have a spelling chequer..
It came with my PC.
It plane lea marx four my revue,
Miss steaks eye ken knot sea.
I've run this poem threw it,
And Yule bee pleased two no,
Its let her prefect in its weigh,
My chequer tolled me sew.

        Gwyneth Congdon (polsci 92, 1999)

If you thought this was fun, check out Al Cooper's  monster homonym list.
Common Mistakes in English
Fun With Words
Word Court and Ms. Grammar


We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes;
but the plural of ox became oxen not oxes.

One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice;
yet the plural of House is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?

If I spoke of my foot and show you my feet,
and I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
and the plural of cat is cats, not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
but though we say mother, we never say methren.

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
but imagine the feminine, she, shis and shim.

Some reasons to be grateful if you grew up speaking
1) The bandage was wound around the wound.
2) The farm was used to produce produce.
3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4) We must polish the Polish furniture.
5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7) Since there is no time like the present,
he thought it was time to present the present.
8) At the Army base, a bass was painted on the head of a
bass drum.
9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
10) I did not object to the object.
11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13) They were too close to the door to close it.
14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer.
16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to
17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18) After a number of Novocain injections, my jaw got
19) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
22) I spent last evening evening out a pile of dirt.


How about this:
If you have a rough cough, climbing can be tough when
going through the bough on a tree!

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither
apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't
invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats
are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are

We take English for granted. But if we explore its
paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing
rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea
nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but
fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't

Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one
amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of
all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian

Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking
English should be committed to an asylum for the verbally

In what language do people recite at a play and play at a
recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses
that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a
wise man and a wiseguy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in
which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you
fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes
off by going on.

Return to  Ben Stavis' home page

Email reply to Ben Stavis