Mnemonics Study Guide

Updated on Sep 20, 2011


This lesson gives you a break from learning new words. Instead, you'll find entertaining and helpful ways to remember words you already know, used to know, or wish you knew better!

Have you ever had this experience: You learn a word, its definition, and how to spell it, but a day or a week later, you can't remember part or all of it? Sometimes the spelling stumps you, or the exact definition, or how the word fits into a common grouping. Don't worry—you're not alone. Many people forget them, so useful memory tricks have developed to be passed on from learner to learner.

These memory aids are called mnemonics, an English word from the Greek mnemonikós, which refers to the mind. To pronounce this word, ignore the beginning m and say it this way: nih-MONN-icks. There are several kinds of mnemonics, many of which use rhyme. Following is the mnemonic for remembering how many days there are in each month. You probably already know this one. Research shows that people find it so simple to memorize that they only need to read or hear it once, and it's permanently filed in their brains.

    Thirty days has September,
    April, June, and November;
    All the rest have thirty-one
    Excepting February alone,
    Which has but twenty-eight,
    'Till leap year gives it twenty-nine.

You probably also know this rhyming mnemonic about the discovery of the Americas:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Another common type of mnemonic uses acronyms (AK-ruh-nihmz) to aid memory. An acronym uses the initial letters of a word or phrase as a key. Here are two different acronym mnemonics for remembering the names of the five Great Lakes:

HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior

Sally Made Henry Eat Oranges: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario

See how this works? Here are mnemonic acronyms for remembering the points of the compass:

Never Eat Shredded Wheat: North, East, South, West

Do you want to remember the order for tuning the strings on a guitar? Try

Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears: E, A, D, G, B, E

As you can see, mnemonics are often silly, but that may help you all the more. One of the most nonsensical and universally remembered mnemonics is a sentence that includes every letter of the alphabet, and is often used by people learning to type:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Mnemonics to Help You Spell Correctly

Here are some useful mnemonics to help you remember words with tricky or hard-to-remember spellings:

  1. stationery/stationary
  2. stationery with an e is the word that uses writing paper, pens and envelopes

    stationary with an a is the word that describes something that is parked, not moving

  3. principle/principal
  4. The principal of your school is your pal

    A principle is a rule to obey

  5. capital/capitol
  6. The first letter of a sentence is always spelled with a tall letter.

    The capitol building has a dome on it.

  7. Necessary is a tricky word to spell
  8. Never Eat Chocolate; Eat Salad, Sandwiches, And Remain Young

  9. quiet/quite
  10. Think of E.T., who was a very quiet alien, but quite a sweet one.

  11. cemetery
  12. Remember always that there are three e's in cemetery.

  13. accommodations
  14. Hotel rooms always have two beds that look like two Ms.

  15. desert/dessert
  16. You always want more, so dessert has two Ss.

  17. separate (not seperate)
  18. To remember to spell separate correctly, memorize this mnemonic: Separate is a rat of a word to spell.

  19. Mnemonics is a tricky word to spell.
  20. Mnemonics Neatly Eliminate My Nemesis—Insufficient Cerebral Storage.

    nemesis means an opponent or problem that cannot be overcome

    cerebral means of or relating to the brain

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Mnemonics Practice Exercises

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