What are Mnemonic Devices?

by | Nov 15, 2021 | GrammarSpot, Writing Tips | 0 comments

Before the days of cell phones, people had to either remember phone numbers or flip their way through the alphabet to track down a number in the phonebook. To this day, I still remember my parents’ cell phone numbers…but that’s about it. Mnemonic devices are not only great ways to remember numbers for those emergency situations where you don’t have access to your phone but also useful when it comes to learning and writing the fundamentals of grammar.


What Is a Mnemonic Device?

In short, a mnemonic device is a learning technique used to help someone retain or remember information. Mnemonic devices are memory hacks to help you encode and recall information you deem important. These memory shortcuts are typically created by associating the thing you want to remember with a word, phrase or picture.


What Are Common Ways Mnemonic Devices Are Used?

a mnemonic device is a memory tool

The history of mnemonic devices goes back centuries, but nearly everyone uses them in some way, shape or form. Some of the most popular mnemonic devices out there include:


Acronyms are words created from the first letters of words in a phrase or name. For instance, NBA stands for “National Basketball Association”. Acronyms are typically used as mnemonic devices to help remember a number of words in a certain order. We’ll give examples of these later.


People will use imagery as a mnemonic device by associating an image with the thing they are trying to remember. For instance, if you first meet someone and learn their last name is “Stump”, you may picture a cut down tree to help you remember the name.


Using rhymes as a mnemonic device is a great way to remember important information because it’s acoustically encoded in our brains. If you’re thinking to yourself about what year Christopher Columbus sailed to America while simultaneously imagining the color of the ocean, then you already know what I mean.


Mnemonic Devices vs. Pneumonic Devices

Before we break ground on the site of your brain’s memory palace, I’d like to head confusion off at the pass. In addition to mnemonic devices, you may also have heard of something called pneumonic devices. The latter is a type of medical equipment used to treat the lungs. You can actually use a mnemonic device to quickly differentiate between the two. The m in mnemonic refers to memory while the p in pneumonic refers to pneumonia, a lung infection. Got it? Great, onward!   


Mnemonic Devices for Homophones

a mnemonic device is a

Any grammar aficionado who spends just five minutes scrolling through social media feeds can easily see how many people are in need of the light of clarity to bring them out of the darkness surrounding homophones. As a refresher, homophones are the commonly confused words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Examples include:

  • Weather/whether
  • Their/there/they’re
  • Compliment/complement

Confusing enough? Cue the light of clarity. Weather has the letters ea next to each other, and so does the word eat. The weather often determines if you eat something hot or something cold. As whether refers to the unknown, it’s not specifically here nor there.

With the next three, the easiest to start with is the contraction they’re, which can be broken down to they are. You can refer to the whether example above to remember how to use there, which refers to a specific place. And finally, their contains the word heir. Their is a possessive pronoun that means to own, and an heir is an individual who will one day own something. To untangle compliment vs. complement, remember that a compliment is praise, and when something complements, it enhances.


Mnemonic Devices for Spelling

what is a mnemonic device

If it’s commonly misspelled words you hope to remedy, here are some of the most popular mnemonic devices you can use when using spell check isn’t an option:

  1. Never believe a lie.
  2. Emma faced a dilemma.
  3. It’s hard to embarrass really righteous and serious s
  4. An island is land surrounded by water.
  5. It’s necessary to remember the cesspool in the middle.
  6. Rhythm helps your two hips m
  7. I alone felt Eli‘s loneliness


Don’t Forget About Coordinating Conjunctions

what are mnemonic devices

Before we end our tour of mnemonic devices, let’s swing by the coordinating conjunction community, shall we? The seven coordinating conjunctions that occupy this area of Grammarville are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Their job is to link phrases, words and clauses. To remember coordinating conjunctions, simply think of the acronym FANBOYS, which includes the first letter of all seven conjunctions.


What Ways Have You Used Mnemonic Devices?

One of the many great things about mnemonic devices is that they can be used for more than just spelling and grammar. What are some ways you like to use these magnificent mind melders? Feel free to share with us in the comments.

O'Brian Gunn
Follow him

Get A FREE SEO Content Audit!

Increase rankings & traffic with a custom SEO content strategy!