Grammar Mnemonic Devices |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Mnemonic Devices

The human brain contains 100 billion neurons, 400 miles of capillaries, 100,000 miles of axons, and an estimated 100 trillion synaptic connections. Scientists estimate that if the modern human brain were a computer, its storage would be up to 2,500 terabytes (as of 2023, the world’s largest commercial hard drive is 100TB).

During an average day, we might have up to 70,000 thoughts. Over a lifetime, the brain might hold up to 1 quadrillion bits of information. More electrical impulses are generated in one day by a single brain than by all of the telephones in the world.

That’s quite a command center. Yet as some of us may corroborate, human memory can have limitations. Despite the brain’s processing power, its typical short-term memory can retain from five to nine pieces of information at once for about twenty to thirty seconds.

In other words, many of us can benefit from extra help with better memory. In language, we achieve this with mnemonic devices.

What Is a Mnemonic Device?

Originating from the ancient Greek word mnēmonikos (“of memory,” “relating to memory”), a mnemonic device is any technique that increases our ability to retain and retrieve information. It operates on the principle that the human mind more easily remembers information that is personal, spatial, conceptual, physical, experiential, surprising, or humorous than it will information that is rote, abstract, or impersonal.

By encapsulating information in more-relatable ways, mnemonic devices help us encode short term–memory information into our long-term memory bank, where we can then better retrieve it on demand when we need it.

Types of Mnemonic Devices

You can use mnemonics to remember all kinds of information. The following are but a few devices you can apply to help retain what you need or would like to remember.

Acronyms and acrostics (name mnemonics). This method takes the first letters of words and combines them to make a new word (acronym) or phrase (acrostic).

Examples: Acronyms

“Roy G. Biv” for the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet)

“HOMES” for the names of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior)

“FANBOYS” for recalling the coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)


Examples: Acrostics

“Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” (PEMDAS) for the order of operations in mathematics (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction)

“Elephants and Donkeys Grow Big Ears” (EADGBE) for the letters of a guitar’s strings from top to bottom

“I Value Xylophones Like Cows Dig Milk” (IVXLCDM) for the Roman numerals from smallest to largest


A 2022 study found that making your own mnemonic devices can improve your chances of remembering things because the association holds more meaning for you. If acrostics interest you as a device, NASA offers an online tool for forming your own.

Rhymes. Rhymes create a catchy, playful way for the brain to retain and recall information because of their repetition, pattern, and sound.


I before e, except after c.” (for how to spell words such as receive)

“30 days hath September, April, June, and November.
All the rest have 31.
Except February, my dear son.
It has 28 and that is fine.
But in a leap year it has 29.” (for remembering the number of days in the months)

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” (for the year the explorer embarked and discovered the sea route to America)

Chunking. With this mnemonic device, you break down bits of information and learn them separately before reassembling them into the larger whole.

For example, to remember a phone number, instead of trying to memorize the entire number, you might first focus on the learning the area code, followed by the prefix and then the suffix. You could similarly approach remembering your full bank or credit card number by breaking it into divisible chunks you study one at a time.

Music. The attraction to music is innate in most humans. That’s why many of us will tend to better remember information such as a phrase or a concept when it is attached to a song or melody.

For example, the ABC song stays stuck in our memories by pairing the alphabet with the melody for “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Another example is the melodic slogan “Nationwide is on your side” that often appears in the insurance company’s TV and radio ads.

We can use music as our own mnemonic device by relating information we want to learn to music we like or even creating a melody or song of our own.

Spelling. This mnemonic device applies phrases, patterns, or rules to help us remember certain difficult spellings.


Never believe a lie.

The word “separate” includes a rat.

It’s hard to embarrass really righteous and serious students.

Rhythm: Rhythm helps your two hips move.

Alliteration. The ear and mind like repeated sounds. When successive words begin with matching sounds, they form alliteration. These can be used as mnemonic devices for information storage and retrieval.

For example, you might remember a new colleague’s name by forming for yourself alliteration that pairs the name with a quality or fact about the person: Punctual Peter, Smiling Sarah, Baylor U Bahira. If you keep a schedule for doing laundry, you might remember Wash Wednesdays.

Perhaps the mnemonic devices we’ve mentioned will inspire you to establish new ways to further secure some of the quadrillion bits of information you will process in your lifetime. You can also further research other forms of mnemonic devices online.

After all, as the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero once said, “Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”

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4 responses to “Mnemonic Devices”

  1. Bee says:

    As always, an excellent presentation. Thank you.

  2. Dorothy says:

    Great article! Very helpful.

    My ninth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Bradley, used to recite the following:

    “When you come, you must use ‘bring’;
    Will you learn this simple thing;
    When you go, you must use ‘take’;
    Learn this, please, for Bradley’s sake.”

  3. Jessica Ramirez says:

    Are mnemonic devices related to literary devices?

    • says:

      A mnemonic device differs from a literary device. Where a mnemonic device serves to aid memory, a literary device is a technique or element a writer uses to add further depth or dimension to a narrative. Literary devices allow for expression beyond straightforward, descriptive thoughts and information. The motif is but one example of a literary device.

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