Spelling Rules


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Some Spelling Rules

This page has generated considerable interest in visitors to the site, and led to some additions and amendments as a consequence.  These pages are updated regularly, so if you have comments or advice, please let us know.

The most recent correspondence has been with Margaret Ward, an ESL tutor, on the subject of "-ance or -ence" endings.  Click on the link to see the reply from Gladys Glascoe, which also contains some useful advice on tackling spelling in general.

Click on the link to go the Spelling Rule of your choice:-

bullet"q" is always written as "qu"
bulletWe double "l, f, and s"
bulletRegular plurals
bulletThe sound of "ee"
bullet"y" and not "i"
bulletA silent "e"
bullet"ck" may only be used
bulletTo form plurals of words with a hissing ending
bulletWords ending in an "o"
bulletNouns ending in a single "f"
bulletIf a word ends in a consonant plus "y"
bulletWhen "w" comes before "or"
bulletWords ending in both a single vowel and a single consonant
bulletWhen "c" is followed by "e", "i" or "y", it says "s"
bulletWhen "g" is followed by "i", "e" or "y", it says "j"
bulletDrop the final "e" from a root word
bullet"ti", "ci" and "si" are three spellings most frequently used to say "sh"
bullet"i" comes before "e" when it is pronounced "ee"
bullet"all" and "well" followed by another syllable
bullet"full" and "till" joined to another root syllable
bulletAlmost no English words end in "v" and none in "j"
bulletFor words ending in a single "l"
bulletIf a word of more than one syllable ends in a "t"
bullet"ous" at the end of a word often means "full of"
bullet"al" at the end of a word often means "to do with"
bullet"er" or "or" endings
bullet"ery" or "ary" endings
bullet"ise", "ize" or "yse" endings
bullet"ceed", "sede" and "cede"
bullet"able" or "ible" endings
bullet"able" endings
bullet"ible" endings

bullet"q" is always written as "qu". It never stands by itself.
bullete.g. quick, queen, quarrel.

bulletWe double "l, f, and s" after a single short vowel at the end of a word.
bullete.g. call, tall, toss, miss, stiff, stuff.
bulletExceptions: us, bus, gas, if, of, this, yes, plus, nil, pal.

bulletRegular plurals are made by adding "s".
bullete.g. animals, horses, monkeys, and cliffs.

bulletThe sound of "ee" on the end of a word is nearly always "y".
bulletExceptions: committee and coffee.

bullet"y" and not "i" is used at the end of an English word and is usually pronounced as a short "i".
bulletExceptions: macaroni, spaghetti, vermicelli (Italian), and taxi (short for taxicab).

bulletA silent "e" on the end of a word makes the vowel in front say its own alphabetic name.
bullete.g. hate, ride, cube, bake, shire, mare, lobe.
bulletExceptions: done, come, some, give and have.

bullet"ck" may only be used after a single vowel that does not say its name at the end of a syllable or root word.
bullete.g. track, pick, rocket, wreckage.

bulletTo form plurals of words with a hissing ending, add "es".
bulleti.e.after "s, x, z, sh, and ch".
bullete.g. buses, foxes, buzzes, wishes and churches.

bulletWords ending in an "o" preceded by a consonant usually add "es" to form the plural.
bullete.g. potatoes, volcanoes.
bulletExceptions: pianos, solos, Eskimos

bulletNouns ending in a single "f" change the "f" to a "v" before adding "es" to form the plural.
bullete.g. leafleaves; wolfwolves.
bulletExceptions: dwarfs, roofs, chiefs.

bulletIf a word ends in a consonant plus "y", change the "y" to and "i", before adding any ending. Except: "ing".
bullete.g.
bulletpartyparties;
bulletheavyheaviness
bulletmarrymarried;
bulletfunnyfunnily
bulletcarrycarriage;
bulletprettyprettier
bulletbut;
bulletcrycrying;
bullethurryhurrying

bulletWhen "w" comes before "or" it often says "wer" as "worm".
bullete.g. worship, worst, worth, work.
bulletExceptions: worry, worried, wore.

bulletWords ending in both a single vowel and a single consonant always double the last consonant before adding an ending.
bullete.g. stop, stopped, stopping.
bulletflat, flatter, flattest.
bulletswim, swimmer, swimming.
bulletExceptions: fix, box, fox, mix.
bullet"x" is the same as "ck"; that is it counts as a double consonant ending.

bulletWhen "c" is followed by "e", "i" or "y", it says "s". Otherwise it says "k".
bullete.g. centre, ceiling, circle, cycle.
bulletcottage, cave, cream, curious, clever.

bulletWhen "g" is followed by "i", "e" or "y", it says "j". Otherwise it says "g" as in gold.
bullete.g. gentle, giant, gymnastic.
bulletgallon, gold, guide, glass, grow.
bulletExceptions: get, got, begin, girl, give, gear, geese, gift, girth, geyser, giddy.

bulletDrop the final "e" from a root word before adding an ending beginning with a vowel, but keep it before a consonant.
bullete.g. love, loving, lovely.
bulletdrive, driving, driver.
bulletsettle, settled, settling.
bulletgrace, graceful.

bullet"ti", "ci" and "si" are three spellings most frequently used to say "sh" at the beginning of all syllables except the first.
bullete.g. national, patient, palatial, infectious.
bulletgracious, ancient, musician, fiancial.
session, admission, mansion, division.
bulletExceptions: "ship" as a suffix, e.g. "worship".

bullet"i" comes before "e" when it is pronounced "ee", except when it follows "c" – or when sounding like "a" as in "neighbour, or weigh".
bullete.g. brief, field, priest.
bulletreceive, deceive, ceiling.
bulletExceptions: neither, foreign, sovereign, seized, counterfeit, forfeited, leisure.

bullet"all" and "well" followed by another syllable only have one "l".
bullete.g. also, already, although, welcome, welfare.

bullet"full" and "till" joined to another root syllable, drop one "l".
bullete.g. useful, cheerful, until.

bulletAlmost no English words end in "v" and none in "j".
bulletSince publishing this page on the Web, Alistair Ewan of the University of East Anglia  has reminded us of the word "spiv".

bulletFor words ending in a single "l" after a single vowel, double the "l" before adding a suffix, regardless of accent.
bullete.g. cancelled, traveller, signalling, metallic.

bulletIf a word of more than one syllable ends in a "t", preceded by a single vowel, and has the accent on the last syllable, then double the final consonant.
bullete.g. permit; permitted.
bulletadmit; admitted.
bulletregret; regretted.
bulletBut, if the accent is on the first syllable, don’t double the "t".
bullete.g. visit; visited.
bulletbenefit; benefited

bullet"ous" at the end of a word often means "full of".
bullete.g. famous: full of fame.
bulletglorious; full of glory.
bulletgracious, ridiculous, furious, dangerous.

bullet"al" at the end of a word often means "to do with".
bullete.g. musical:to do with music.
bulletcriminal:to do with crime.
bullethistorical:to do with history.

bullet"er" or "or" endings. The most common everyday words end in "er".
bullete.g. baker, painter, teacher.
bulletIf in doubt, use "or", when the meaning of the word is "one who" or "that which".
bullete.g. author, director, instructor, indicator, conveyor, escalator.

bullet"ery" or "ary" endings. Words ending in "ery" are often obvious.
bullete.g. very, brewery, flattery, bakery, nursery.
bulletIf in doubt, use "ary".
bullete.g. dictionary, secretary, commentary, stationary.
bulletSeven words ending in "ery" that might cause trouble.
bullete.g. distillery, confectionery, millinery, cemetery, dysentery, monastery, stationery (paper).

bullet"ise", "ize" or "yse" endings. Most of these words end in "ise".
bullete.g. sunrise, surprise, supervise, exercise, disguise, unwise, surmise, advertise.
bulletOnly two common words end in "yse".
bulleti.e. analyse and paralyse.
bulletOnly two common words end in "ize".
bulleti.e. prize and capsize.

bullet"ceed", "sede" and "cede".
bulletThree "ceed" words; succeed, exceed, proceed.
bulletOne "sede" word; supersede.
bulletAll others "cede"
bullete.g.intercede, antecede, precede.

bullet"able" or "ible" endings.
bulletUse "able":
bulletAfter root words.
bullete.g. available, dependable.
bulletAfter root words ending in "e".
bullete.g. desirable, believable, usable (drop the "e").
bulletAfter "i".
bullete.g. reliable, sociable.
bulletWhen other forms of the root word have a dominant "a" vowel.
bullete.g. irritable, durable, abominable.
bulletAfter a hard "c" or "g".
bullete.g. educable, practicable, navigable.
bulletExceptions: formidable, inevitable, memorable, probable, portable, indomitable, insuperable.

bulletUse "ible"
bulletAfter non-root words.
bullete.g. audible, horrible, possible.
bulletWhen the root has an immediate "ion"form.
bullete.g. digestible, suggestible, convertible.
bulletAfter a root ending in "ns" or "miss".
bullete.g. responsible, comprehensible, permissible.
bulletAfter a soft "c" or "g".
bullete.g. legible, negligible, forcible, invincible.
bulletExceptions: contemptible, resistible, collapsible, flexible.

bullet

E-mail to Margaret Ward

Dear Margaret,

"-ance or -ence" endings

Thank you for your enquiry. I'm afraid I have only cold comfort to offer. If you or your students are interested in words and their history it may interest you to do some dictionary research, noting the origins of words ending in -ance, -ence. You will find that most of these words derive from Old French and the French words derive from Latin and are -a words or -e words according to the declension of Latin origin. If you have a copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, page xiv, paragraph 6, you will find a good example of this.

In general, I find that teaching spelling rules is only helpful when the student has enough knowledge to have formed the concept before you put a label on it. For example, cat and cot and cut show a hard 'c', city and celery show a soft ‘c’. The rule is that c is hard before a back vowel and soft before a front vowel, the vowel being 'front' or ' back' according to the position of the tongue. I defy anyone to learn the rule in advance of knowing the words, but knowledge of the rule can be a useful reference in case of doubt. Similarly, the 'i before e' rule. My personal downfall has always been 'accommodate' and 'recommend'. If I hesitate I must reach for the dictionary.

Could I suggest that what I have found most useful for poor spellers is to advise that they cultivate a friend who is a good speller who will vet their writings before they reach final stage? This will tend to avoid too much reinforcement of the incorrect version. Another good dodge is to keep an indexed book in which the student collects his problem words, initially in pencil. These they can practice at odd times by simply tracing the letters on a table or their knee. This relives the pressure of hand and eye co-ordination and helps to reinforce the kinaesthetic image or muscle-memory, which will hold the word firmly. This is better than reciting spellings aloud as, I am told, that what goes in last come out first, as in packing a box; hence reversals. Harking back to the indexed notebook, when the word is thoroughly known the student can go over it in ink.

Forgive me if I have given you more than you asked for. I have always had the good fortune to spell well and have trained myself to focus on the content rather than the form but spelling is important if only because those who have prejudices in that field are usually well able to enforce them. Good luck with your students' spelling!

With best wishes,

Gladys Glascoe

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