Spelling: teaching and learning spelling

Colin Harrison and Greg Brooks | View as single page| Feedback/Impact

Five main categories of spelling errors

Omission, Insertion, Substitution, Transposition and Grapheme substitution

Author: Greg Brooks, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Sheffield

Note: Some use is made of phonetic symbols enclosed in forward slashes, e.g. /ə/, which are explained when first used (/ə/ represents the schwa vowel, the first phoneme in about and the last in butter). For more detail on phonetic symbols see Burton (2011). Example words and errors are shown in italics, and graphemes within angle brackets, e.g. <or>.

The five main categories

  • Omission: The error consists in the omission of a single letter, e.g. occuring for occurring
  • Insertion: The error consists in the insertion of a single letter, e.g. off for of
  • Substitution: The error consists in the replacement of a single letter by another single letter, e.g. definate for definite
  • Transposition: The error consists in the misordering of two adjacent letters, e.g. lable for label (Occasionally a single letter may have been misplaced by more than one position in a word, e.g. litgh for light - this should still be counted as a transposition.)
  • Grapheme substitution: The error is not confined to one letter or the transposition of two letters. Rather, the writer has produced a spelling with a plausible but incorrect spelling choice (grapheme), e.g. their for there, or thort for thought. Some grapheme substitutions involve wrong use of a split vowel digraph, e.g. gole for goal.

A first-level count of the errors in a text or on a test within these five categories will reveal the principal tendencies. For an example based on errors on a spelling test used with adult literacy learners see Burton et al. (2010: 23-25).