In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. In this series of spelling tips we will be looking at some of the most commonly misspelled words in English and suggesting ways to improve your spelling.
People often misspell therefore, leaving off the final ‘e’ (*therefor).
Therefore is a word where two problematic aspects of English spelling come together. The first is so-called ‘silent letters’. There is no way of telling when you hear ‘therefore’ that it has an ‘e’ on the end, just as when you hear ‘lamb’ you can’t tell it ends with a ‘b’. (Final ‘e’ is not usually regarded as a silent letter, but it’s helpful to regard it as one in this case). Unlike many other words, such as not and note, or hat and hate, the ‘e’ doesn’t even lengthen the preceding vowel sound; it just sits there on the end of the word, waiting to be forgotten.
The other issue is that of homonymy: for, fore and four all sound the same, so how are you to know which one is at the end of therefore? And while we’re on the subject, wouldn’t it be more logical if it was for, which seems much closer to the meaning than fore?
Annoyingly, therefore used to be spelled therefor and continued to sometimes be spelled without the final ‘e’ right up to the 19th century (people sometimes left out the middle ‘e’ as well). Nowadays, though, it has to have that final ‘e’; perhaps the best way to remember is to remind yourself that, just like there in the first part of the word, therefore has to have an ‘e’ on the end.
You can find some information on why English spelling is so difficult, as well as helpful tips on mastering it here. You can search for other posts in this series using the tag ‘spelling tips’.
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