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The Fortunate Word I Can’t Remember How To Spell In French Posted by on Aug 8, 2018 in Grammar, Vocabulary

L’orthographe (orthography, spelling) has been a weakness of mine since l’école primaire (elementary school). That same faiblesse (weakness) came back when I learned le français.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

Even after graduating en France, there are words I have trouble remembering how to spell en français. Heureusement (fortunately), in the age of computers I can rely on le correcteur d’orthographe ou la correction automatique (spell check or autocorrect) to fix most of mes fautes (my mistakes).

Cela dit (that said), you cannot avoid needing to know how to écrire (spell) things especially dans l’Hexagone (in the Hexagone, “The Hexagone” is a French expression for “France”). En France, you sometimes need to write letters à la main (by hand) for important documents or to make formal requests.

You may also need to tell someone how to write your name. Heureusement, that is an easy task most of the time. Cependant (however), knowing how to write complicated French words without any spell check can be un cauchemar (a nightmare). At least it can seem that bad when you are someone who struggles with l’orthographe like me.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

The word that gives me the most trouble en français is:

Heureusement – Luckily, fortunately, happily

And of course ses cousins aussi (its cousin too):

Heureux – Happy, pleased (masculine)
Heureuse
– Happy, pleased (feminine)
Malheureux
– Unhappy, sad (masculine)
Malheureuse
– Unhappy, sad (feminine)
Malheureusement
– Unluckily, unfortunately

One look at the word heureusement and mon cerveau (my brain) is screaming:

Il y a beaucoup trop de voyelles !
There are way too many vowels!

Taking a second look at le mot (the word) brings up another annoying thought:

Mais on ne prononce pas le h !
But you don’t pronounce the h!

Mes yeux (my eyes) get lost before noticing the easy suffix -ment. By the time I get to la cinquième voyelle (the fifth vowel) my mind’s made up:

Ce mot est trop long !
This word is too long!

All the chatter going on in my brain adds to the difficulty of remembering how to spell le mot. Sometimes I just guess, throwing in as many voyelles as I could fit and hoping for the best. Malheureusement, that never seems to work very well.

In order to remember l’orthographe of heureusement, I decided I needed a plan. I learned how to spell the word a l’envers (backwards) and broke down the normal spelling into easier to remember parts.

Memorizing l’orthographe à l’envers (the backwards spelling) makes it much easier to remember exactly how many and which letters are in the word:

T – N – E – M – E – S – U – E – R – U – E – H

The downside is that l’orthographe à l’envers looks even more like a random jumble of letters. To fix that problem, breaking down the normal forwards spelling into easy to remember parts helps a lot.

HEU – REU – SE – MENT

La prochaine fois (the next time) you come across un nouveau mot (a new word) that you can’t remember how to spell no matter how many times you write it, try these tricks to make l’orthographe stick in your head. It may seem odd, but doing the exercises definitely made me remember – or at least forget less – how to spell heureusement!

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About the Author:John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.