Verbal Mnemonics: Overview

A **verbal** mnemonic relies on **words** to help you remember. Here are the basic verbal mnemonics.

Use Each First Letter from a List of Words

Often, you have to memorize a list of words or phrases. You can take the first letter of each one, and make those first letters into something else.

A Phrase or Sentence

Perhaps the easiest verbal mnemonic to make is a phrase or sentence. Take the first letter of each word you want to remember, and make those letters into a sentence. (This is usually for lists, but you could also select a list of key words from a text.)

  • The Planets: My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies.
PlanetMnemonic
MercuryMy
VenusVery
EarthExcellent
MarsMother
JupiterJust
SaturnServed
UranusUs
NeptuneNine
PlutoPies
  • Mnemonic Word → First Letter → Fact Word

Apparently, Pluto was recently demoted and lost its planet status. Perhaps the mother should serve “Nachos” instead of “Nine Pies,” at least until the astronomers are in a better mood.

An Acrostic

Sometimes, you can combine the first letters into a single “word” or phrase. This is usually easiest if order doesn’t matter, so you can rearrange the letters.

Gifts of the Holy Spirit: PUFFWCK

GiftMnemonic
PietyP
UnderstandingU
FortitudeF
Fear of the LordF
WisdomW
CounselC
KnowledgeK

Colors of the spectrum: ROY G. BIV.

A classic mnemonic: this one even preserves the order of the spectrum.

ColorMnemonic
RedR
OrangeO
YellowY
GreenG
BlueB
IndigoI
VioletV

If needed, you can visualize these for an added visual mnemonic.

  • PUFFWCK: I imagine “puff wick,” a candle getting snuffed.

So when I ask, “What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?” I find that image of the candle being snuffed. I could even store this on a loci if I needed to, but I don’t.

Use each first syllable

What if only the first letter is not enough? You can also try making a nonsense word (or words) using the first syllable.

For instance, Aristotle described three kinds of science: Natural Science, Mathematics, and Metaphysics. How about a new nonsense word: NatMatMet. True, it doesn’t mean anything, but if you chant it a few times, it may stick.

Spelling

Remembering how to spell words can be particularly tough. Often, the correct spelling hinges on a few key letters in the word.

How do you spell souvenir? “In the South, sir, I got a souvenir.”

The key letters there are sou and ir, so this mnemonic focuses on them.

Another problem is when two (or more!) words sound the same. Take principle and principal. How do you know which is which? Their meanings can give you a clue.

WordMnemonic
principleA principle is a rule.
principalThe principal of a school is your pal (or not)

If you like spelling mnemonics, you’re in luck. There are tons of them out there, at least for English.

Rhyme and Rhythm

The most memorable mnemonics are probably short verses with rhyme and rhythm. There are many excellent books and sites that can give you rhymes that others have already made up. But since making up your own can be a little more work, we’ll cover them separately.

Comparing Verbal Mnemonics

MnemonicMaking: Speed and EaseUsage, and Potential Problems
AcrosticFair to FastLists. What if you forget what the letter stands for?
PhraseFastLists. Same as acrostic..
First SyllableFastLists. Nonsense words sometimes “fall apart”.
Rhyme and rhythmSlow to FairLists, chunks of text. May need visual mnemonics.
Rhythm onlyFair to FastLists, chunks of text. Not as memorable with no rhyme.

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