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A Selection of Mnemonics

As explained in
What are Mnemonics? there is a number of distinct families into which mnemonic devices fall. Broadly speaking those on this website are: Rhymes and Catch Phrases, Spelling Acronyms, and List Order Acronyms. Examples of all can be found below. A separate section is dedicated to mnemonics used to memorise numbers.

Rhymes and Catch Phrases

The following rhyming phrase helps people to remember how to spell such difficult words as receive.

I before E, except after C.

Unfortunately this rule does not always apply. One common exception is the word weird, which has prompted some people to use the extended version of this mnemonic:

I before E, except after C.
And "weird" is just weird.

Sadly there are many, many more exceptions. Nevertheless this remains a very popular memory aid for spelling. The following adaptation is somewhat better:

I before E, except after C.
Or when sounded "A" as in neighbor and weigh.

Just don't rely on this one for spelling words like weir and seize!

The following mnemonic is used by pilots. If temperature or pressure drops, you will be lower (in altitude) than the aircraft's instruments suggest if they are left uncorrected. On the other hand, a rise in temperature or pressure will result in the opposite effect.

High to Low; look out below.
Low to High; clear blue sky.

This is somewhat reminiscent of these popular rhymes which guide people on what kind of weather red skies and rainbows generally herald depending on the time of day at which they are seen.

Red sky at night: shepherd's delight.
Red sky in the morning: shepherd's warning.

Rainbow in the morning: travellers take warning.
Rainbow at night: travellers' delight.

Rainbows indicate humid air. A morning rainbow is seen in the West – the direction from which storms generally come – and so often appears before bad weather. Evening rainbows, which appear in the East, usually indicate the passing of stormy weather.

Spelling Acronyms

The following mnemonics are sentences or phrases in which the initial letters of the words spell out a word which many people find rather tricky to spell.

BECAUSE
Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants

ARITHMETIC
A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream

GEOGRAPHY
General Eisenhower's Oldest Girl Rode A Pony Home Yesterday

RHYTHM
Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move

NECESSARY
Not Every Cat Eats Sardines (Some Are Really Yummy)

ARGUMENT
A Rude Girl Undresses; My Eyes Need Taping!

OCEAN
Only Cats' Eyes Are Narrow

And a neat way to remember how to spell POTASSIUM: just remember one tea, two sugars. You can use a similar aide memoire to prevent confusion between DESERTS (like the Sahara) and DESSERTS (like Tiramisu) by remembering that the sweet one has two sugars.

List Order Acronyms

This is certainly one of the most popular mnemonic techniques.

Order of colours in the rainbow, or visual spectrum:
(Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet)
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

Order of taxonomy in biology:
(Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species)
Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach.

Order of geological time periods:
(Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, Recent)
Cows Often Sit Down Carefully. Perhaps Their Joints Creak?
Persistent Early Oiling Might Prevent Painful Rheumatism.

Order of Mohs hardness scale, from 1 to 10:
(Talc, Gypsum, Calcite, Fluorite, Apatite, Orthoclase feldspar, Quartz, Topaz, Corundum, Diamond)
Toronto Girls Can Flirt, And Other Queer Things Can Do.

The order of sharps in music, called the "circle of fifths":
(F, C, G, D, A, E, B)
Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.
And in reverse for flat keys the mnemonic can be neatly reversed:
Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father.

The notes represented by the lines on the treble clef stave (bottom to top):
(E, G, B, D, F)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.
And the notes represented by the spaces between the lines:
(F, A, C, E)
Furry Animals Cook Excellently. Or just the word FACE

The notes represented by the lines on the bass clef stave (bottom to top):
(G, B, D, F, A)
Good Boys Do Fine, Always.
And the notes represented by the spaces between the lines:
(A, C, E, G)
All Cows Eat Grass.

The order of planets in average distance from the Sun:
(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)
My Very Easy Method: Just Set Up Nine Planets.

More Mnemonics

Do you know any good mnemonics which you think belong on this page. If you'd like to share them with us, then we'd love to
hear from you.

Also look at our mnemonics to remember numbers, our explanation of mnemonic devices, and our selection of mnemonics books in the online wordplay book store.

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