Daily Archives: March 16, 2008

A short take on your spelling blues…


Did you know there are two letters in the alphabet which cause a lot of confusion in the spelling of certain words in the Business English? How many times have you come across emails, documents, letters which makes use of the words advice & advise in the wrong application? or even practice & practise? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you, but, you’ve really got to mind your C’s & S’s ……………….

Let’s analyse two sentences to see how advice and advise is used differently:

  1. Your advice is for him to leave?
  2. You advised him to leave? 

WHY, did I spell it with a  ‘c’ in the first sentence but with an ‘s’ in the second sentence………? 

You see, when you write “Your advice is for him to leave?”, ‘advice’  here is a NOUN, so you spell it with a C. A noun is a name  word and in this case it is the name given for the product/outcome of this particular action. It does not denote the act of advising itself. Do pay attention to the use of the possessive pronoun ‘your’ before the noun! A name word even if it is in abstract terms, like a piece of advice, is something that you can possess or take ownership, just like an object. (That’s an important clue.)

When you write “You advised him to leave?”, the word ‘advised’ is spelt with an S because the word here is a VERB. In other words, the verb represents the action itself i.e. the act of doing it. A verb would probably answer to the question… “What did he/she/I do?”. Note the use of a pronoun ‘you’ before the verb. (Another important clue.)

To put it in a nutshell,

NAME words (spell with a C)

ACTION words (spell with an S)

Follow these 4 easy steps and your spelling blues should be over … (I hope….)

Step 1.

Determine whether the word is a NOUN (name word)  or a VERB (action word)

Step 2. 

Look out for CLUES if you’re not sure ………


i) POSSESSIVE PRONOUNS like ‘my’, ‘your’, ‘her’, ‘his’, ‘their’, etc should be followed by a NOUN.        

Eg. My advice …., Your advice ….

ii) PRONOUNS like ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’, etc should be followed by a VERB.        

Eg. I advised ….., You advised …..

B) WORD CLUES  like ‘the’, ‘some’, ‘any’  should be followed by a NOUN.

Eg. “The advice you gave me was very useful.”

Eg. “Can you give me some advice?”

Eg. “Do you have any advice for me?”

C) PEOPLE / GROUP OF PEOPLE CLUES i.e. Tom, Sara, The Board of Directors should be followed by a VERB

Eg. Tom advised us to keep calm

Eg. Sara is advising the interns on proper office attire.

Eg. The Board of Directors has been advising us to consider a different move.

D) PEOPLE in POSSESSIVE CASE as denoted by the apostrophe S (’s) should be followed by a NOUN

Eg. Tom’s advice, Sara’s advice, The Board of Director’s advice, etc

Step 3.

Use your COMMON SENSE if you’re still not sure, in the absence of Step 2 clues! (For eg. ‘advice slip’ – obviously is a name word because it is the name for the type of form)

Step 4.

By now you would have an idea if the word is a NOUN or a VERB so you can start SPELLING correctly!

Do try to apply these basic steps (especially Step 2 clues)  when you encounter problems and you should be on the right spelling track. OK, given the worst case scenario, you can always depend on the spell check – Oh but then…., you would have to mind your Z’s & S’s for eg. analyze or analyse. Ahahahahahhhh!!!!!! ………. That’s because the American and British spelling systems differ in some areas … ….

But, that merits another blog altogether! Good luck spelling bees 🙂

p.s. Maybe it is not such a short take after all, but it is very important to have a good handle of basic grammatical rules  especially if you are having difficulty understanding the concept of a NOUN and a VERB. There is no short cut to this! You probably need to get a good reference book to help you build this foundation.

I personally use “A Practical English Grammar” by A.J. Thomson & A.V. Martinet. The material is relevant and well laid out in point forms. You can get it in the English Language section of any major bookstore in KL…. or just browse through the section for other Grammar or Business English books which might suit you better.