Glossary of spelling terms

All the terms used in Spellzone are fully explained at each stage of the course, when they are first used. For a quick reference they are also listed here, in alphabetical order:

Definitions of terms in bold print can be found elsewhere in the table




A mark often used to show a short vowel sound e.g.

ă  ĕ ĭ  ŏ  ŭ

Compound word

Two words joined together to form a new word e.g.

seasick      topspin      hotspot   lighthouse    paperwork






Consonant blend



Consonant digraph

The letters: b c d f g h j k l m n p q r s t v w x y z

Note: the letter y can be a vowel or a consonant, depending on its sound:  

y in yellow is a consonant


When two consonants blend together    e.g.

spit    stop    snap    list    sand    sent


When two consonants together make a different sound   e.g.

shop   check   think   phone



A word formed by shortening (contracting) two other words  e.g.

did not > didn’t        they are > they’re      it is > it’s



Words which sound the same but have different meanings and different spellings e.g.

meet - meat      piece - peace      current - currant

These words are called homophones from the Greek words:
homo: the same and phonos: sound.



A mark often used to show a long vowel sound e.g.

ā ē ī ō ū


A device to help the memory: inventing mnemonics can help you remenber difficult spellings e.g. a piece of pie.

(The word mnemonic starts with a silent m. It comes from an ancient Greek word mnemonikos, meaning 'mindful').



Letters added at the start of a word to affect the meaning e.g.   

disagree      incorrect      preview


Root word (or base word)

The main part of a word, without a prefix or suffix  e.g.

landed       camping       hopeless    

return       unhappy       misprint


Schwa sound

The very weak vowel sound often found in an unstressed syllable e.g.

dis - tant     pa - per     station      com - pan - y  

(The word schwa is pronounced ‘shwar’, to rhyme with ‘car’.  It’s a Hebrew word meaning ‘empty’.)  




Vowel suffix


Consonant suffix

Letters added on the end of a word to affect the meaning e.g.   

hand + ed = handed      camp + ing = camping      hope + less = topless


A suffix that begins with a vowel e.g.   -ed   -er   -est   -ing   -able   -y  


A suffix that begins with a consonant e.g.   -less   -ful    -ment   -ly




The number of beats in a word   e.g.

tax-i: 2 syllables,      bi-cy-cle: 3 syllables,     hel-i-cop-ter :  4 syllables

Each syllable has one vowel sound   e.g.

Manchester     hippopotamus      teacher     courageous


Stressed syllables

In longer words, the syllables are not all pronounced with the same strength.  Usually one syllable will be stronger than the rest;  this is the stressed syllable  e.g.

ladder      pilot     hospital      dictionary

assist      attract      collect

Atlantic    computer   independent


Unstressed syllables

A syllable which is not stressed  e.g.

Si - mon      dis - tant      pa - per      pi - lot

Often this syllable will have a very weak vowel sound, called the schwa.







Long vowels


Short vowels



Vowel digraphs

The letters  a   e   i   o   u

Note: the letter y can be a vowel or a consonant, depending on its sound:  

  • y in spy is  a vowel
  • y in happy is  a vowel


The long sound of a vowel is the same as the name of the letter e.g

 age     even     icon     oval     uniform


These are examples of short vowel sounds:

ash     egg     insect     office     upset


Where two vowels, or a vowel and a consonant are used together to make one vowel sound e.g.

train     stay    hb     shirt     horse     coat     room

new    shout     crown      tie    sweet     head     toy



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