Basic Spelling Rules Explained

You can teach yourself to be a better speller. It is important to realize that learning to spell is a process that is never complete. Spelling is something that everyone has to pay attention to and keep working at it.

Basic spelling rules

  • Short-Vowel Rule: When one-syllable words have a vowel in the middle, the vowel usually has a short sound. Examples: cat, dog, man, hat, mom, dad, got. If the letter after the vowel is f, l, or s, this letter is often doubled. Examples: staff, ball, pass.
  • Two-Vowels Together: When two vowels are next to each other, the first vowel is usually long (the sound is the same as the sound of the letter) and the second vowel is silent. Examples: meat, seat, plain, rain, goat, road, lie, pie.
  • Vowel-Consonant-e Pattern: When a short word, or the last syllable of a longer word, ends in this pattern vowel-consonant-e, then the first vowel is usually long and the e is silent. Examples: place, cake, mice, vote, mute.
  • Y as a long I: The letter y makes the long sound of i when it comes at the end of a short word that has no other vowel. Examples: cry, try, my, fly, by, hi.
  • Y as a long E: When y or ey ends a word in an unaccented syllable, the y has the long sound of e. Examples: money, honey, many, key, funny.
  • I before E: Write i before e when the sound is long e except after the letter c. Examples: relieve, relief, reprieve. When there is a c preceding, then it is ei : receipt, receive, ceiling, deceive, conceive.
  • E before I: Write e before i when the sound is long a. Examples: weight, freight, reign. Another way to remember this is: “I before e except after c, or when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh.” When the ie/ei combination is not pronounced ee, it is usually spelled ei.
  • Oi or Oy: Use oi in the middle of a word and use oy at the end of a word. Examples: boil, soil, toil, boy, toy.
  • Ou or Ow: Use ou in the middle of a word and use ow at the end of words other than those that end in n or d. Examples: mouse, house, found, mount, borrow, row, throw, crow.
  • Double Consonants: When b, d, g, m, n, or p appear after a short vowel in a word with two syllables, double the consonant. Examples: rabbit, manner, dagger, banner, drummer.
  • The ch sound: At the beginning of a word, use ch. At the end of a word, use tch. When the ch sound is followed by ure or ion, use t. Examples: choose, champ, watch, catch, picture, rapture.

Suffix and inflection rules

  • Words ending with a silent e: Drop the e before adding a suffix which begins with a vowel: state, stating; like, liking.
  • Keep the e when the suffix begins with a consonant: state, statement; use, useful.
  • When y is the last letter in a word and the y is preceded by a consonant, change the y to i before adding any suffix except those beginning with y: beauty, beautiful; fry, fries; lady, ladies.
  • When forming the plural of a word which ends with a y that is preceded by a vowel, add s: toy, toys; monkey, monkeys.
  • When a one-syllable word ends in a consonant preceded by one vowel, double the final consonant before adding a suffix which begins with a vowel. This is also called the 1-1-1 rule, i.e., one syllable, one consonant, one vowel! Example: bat, batted, batting, batter.
  • When a multi-syllable word ends in a consonant preceded by one vowel, and the final syllable is accented, the same rule holds true—double the final consonant. Examples: control, controlled; begin, beginning.
  • When the final syllable does not have the end-accent, it is preferred, and in some cases required, that you NOT double the consonant. Examples: focus, focused; worship, worshiped.
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