• Lucas North

Why you can’t rely on spell checkers/ spell-checkers/ spellcheckers

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Stationary or stationery? Photo by Tim Gouw/ Unsplash

I helped my Uncle Jack off his horse.

I helped my uncle jack off his horse.

My Microsoft Word spellchecker has no problem with those two sentences, despite their embarrassingly different meanings.

You’ve probably seen this example before. But it works well to highlight the fact that spellcheckers couldn’t give a… well, erm, let's just say they don’t care what message you intended to convey. Which is why we see so many spelling mistakes, even in newspapers, magazines and on websites.

The wiggly lines spellcheckers leave as their wake are a useful starting point. But you really should not rely on them to pick up all writing errors.


Homophones are a particular problem. Homophones sound alike but have different meanings. Most of us have seen ‘your’ used instead of ‘you’re’ because of their similar pronunciations. It’s the same with ‘new’ and ‘knew’, ‘to and ‘too’, ‘stationary’ and ‘stationery’ and many others.

One way of choosing the right word is to create a mnemonic for it. A memory aid is especially useful for words you use a lot.

So, you could remember that ‘knew’ is related to ‘knowledge’. Hence it includes the same silent ‘k’. Or you could remember that ‘new’ is related to ‘news’ (which is simply the plural of the same word).

‘Too’ has different denotations. It can replace ‘also’, which is an addition. This may help you remember to ‘add’ the extra ‘o’. Or you could remember that, like ‘too’, ‘also’ has two vowels.

‘Too’ can also be used in sentences like: ‘he was drinking too much’. The fact that this is about more than is needed could remind you that the correct word is the one with the additional ‘o’.

‘Envelope’ begins with an ‘e’ and ‘stationery’ is the right choice for the word referring to office materials.

You can obviously create your own mnemonics to remember the words that sometimes confuse you.

Are you a bit half-hearted about hyphens?

Generally, spellcheckers don’t care about hyphens. And dictionaries differ on which words are and aren’t hyphenated. Some have ‘e-mail’, others ‘email’. The same goes for ‘antidepressant’/ ‘anti-depressant’. And is it ‘nonexistent’ or ‘non-existent’?

I think about two things when it comes to hyphens:

  • Clarity

  • Consistency

You want your readers to understand (immediately if possible) what you meant when you wrote it. So, clarity is really important. If I want to tell people I am trying to get over the most topical virus in the world, I may write: ‘I need some time to recover from coronavirus’.

But, if I was writing about improving the look of my sofa, I would write: ‘it’s time to re-cover my couch’.

Double trouble

For reasons of clarity, I hyphenate to avoid double letters appearing together. So, ‘re-enter’, ‘re-enact’ and ‘anti-inflammatory’ always seem like the right choice, because those words are trickier to read without the hyphens.

As with all other aspects of writing, be consistent, whichever way you go. For example, it’s not wrong to write ‘reenter’, ‘reenact’ or ‘antiinflammatory’. But it would be wrong to hyphenate them elsewhere in the same text.

Ultimately, you want your readers to have a relatively easy, enjoyable experience when they read your copy. By not relying completely on spellcheckers, you demonstrate you’re prepared to go the extra mile to make sure they do.

This kind of quality control is what helps you stand out from your competitors. And standing out from your competitors is a must-have for success.

Get in touch if you want any help creating messages your customers love.

Thanks for reading.


#Copywriting, #Copywriter, #ContentWriter, #Editorial, #EditorialDirection,#ContentMarketing, #Marketing, #writer, #writing,#communication, #WebCopy, #Email, #EmailMarketing, #WritingWorkshops.

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