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Eight Essential Spelling Rules

This section explains eight spelling rules that you can use to spell hundreds of words correctly

Rule for -ie and -ei

You can avoid most misspellings of words that contain the -ie or -ei vowel combination by . learning the rule that is summarized in the following jingle:

Write i before e
Except after c
Or when sounds like a
As in neighbor and weigh

The rule for ie and ei is in three parts:

  • Usually spell the combination -ie, as in believe.
  • However, spell -ei when the combination follows the letter -c, as in receive.
  • Also, spell -ei when the combination has the sound of a long -a, as in weigh (wa).

Exceptions to this rule include words in which the combination should be spelled -ie but is spelled -ei: caffeine, either, foreign, height, leisure, neither, protein, their, and weird. There are also words in which the combination follows -c and should be spelled -ei but is spelled -ie. In these words, -c is pronounced -sh: ancient, conscience, deficient, efficient, proficient, and sufficient. Remember to spell -ie rather than -ei after c when c spells the sound of -sh.

The Word + Word Rule

The Word + Word Rule explains how to join words to form compound words such as fireworks.

Usually join two words without changing their spellings

Here are some examples of how to use the Word + Word Rule:

  • book + keeper = bookkeeper
  • room + mate = roommate
  • fire + arms = firearms

Exceptions to this rule include almost, already, although, altogether, always, oneself, pastime, and wherever.

The Prefix + Word Rule

The Prefix + Word Rule may used to avoid spelling errors such as mispell (misspell) and unecessary (unnecessary).

Join a prefix and a word without changing the spelling of the prefix or the word.

Here are some examples of how to use the Prefix + Word Rule:

  • mis + spell = misspell
  • un + necessary = unnecessary
  • dis + appear = disappear

There are no exceptions to the Prefix + Word Rule.

The Word + Suffix Rule

You can use this rule and the following rules in this section to reduce or eliminate spelling errors caused by uncertainty about how to join words and suffixes. The first of these is the Word + Suffix Rule.

Usually join a word and a suffix without changing the spelling of the word or the suffix

Here are some examples:

  • usual + ly = usual
  • clean + ness = cleanness
  • poison + ous = poisonous

The word eighteen is one of the exceptions to this rule; according to the rule, it should be spelled eightteen, but it is not. Other exceptions are given in the explanations of the remaining rules.

Final -e Rule

The Word + Suffix Rule is not used when adding suffixes to words that end in silent e.

When a word ends in silent -e, usually drop the -e if you are adding a suffix that begins with a vowel, but retain the -e when you are adding a suffix that begins with a consonant.

Silent -e is an -e such as the one in love, which you do not hear when love is pronounced. Since love ends in silent e and the suffix -able begins with a vowel, drop -e when joining love and -able:

  • love + able = lovable

However, since the suffix -less begins with a consonant, retain the -e in love when joining love and -less:

  • love + less = loveless

Exceptions to this rule include words in which -e should be retained but is dropped: acknowledgment, argument, awful, duly, judgment, ninth, truly, wholly, and wisdom. Other exceptions include words ending in -ce or -ge in which -e is not dropped when you add -able or -ous: courageous, manageable, noticeable, outrageous, peaceable, serviceable, and traceable.

You can eliminate the last nine words as exceptions to the rule by understanding why -e is not dropped from words ending in -ce or -ge when adding the suffixes -able and -ous. The letters -c and -g are usually pronounced -s and -j before the letters -e and -i, but -k and -g before the letters -a and -o. The incorrect spelling noticable would mean that you would pronounce the -c as a -k rather than as an -s (you would say notikable rather than notisable). Similarly, the incorrect spelling couragous would mean that you would pronounce the -g as a -g rather than as a -j (you would say couragous rather than courajous). The -e is retained to preserve the -s and -j pronunciations of -c and -g.

Final -y Rule

The Word + Suffix Rule is not used when adding suffixes to words that end in -y.

When a word ends in -y, usually change the -y to -i when you are adding a suffix if the -y is preceded by a consonant, but do not change it if the -y is preceded by a vowel or if you are adding the suffix -ing.

Notice that the -y in study is preceded by the consonant -d and that they in destroy is preceded by the vowel -o:

study destroy

Since the -y in study is preceded by a consonant, change -y to -i when adding a suffix:

  • study + -ed = studied

On the other hand, since they in destroy is preceded by a vowel, do not change -y to -i when adding the suffix -ing:

  • destroy + -ed = destroyed

In addition, when -y is preceded by a consonant, do not change -y to -i when adding the suffix -ing.

  • study + -ing = studying

If the -y were changed to -i before adding -ing, then studying would be spelled studiing, which you should recognize as incorrect because few words contain the spelling -ii.

Except for daily, the exceptions to the Final -y Rule are words that you are not likely to use when you write: dryly, dryness, shyly, shyness, slyly, slyness, gaiety, and gaily.

Final Consonant Rule 1

The Word + Suffix Rule is not used to join suffixes to words that end in one consonant preceded by one vowel.

Final Consonant Rule 1 and Final Consonant Rule 2 pertain to words such as ship and commit, which end in one consonant preceded by one vowel. Below, the letter c indicates consonants, and the v indicates a vowel:

  c v c
s h i p

 

Final Consonant Rule 1 explains how to join suffixes to one-syllable words that end in the cvc combination.

When a one-syllable word ends in the cvc combination, usually double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel but do not double it when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant.

Ship is a one-syllable word that ends in the cvc combination, so double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel:

  • ship + -ing = shipping

However, do not double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant:

  • ship + -ment = shipment

Final Consonant Rule 1 does not apply to words that end in two consonants preceded by one vowel (vcc) or to words that end in one consonant preceded by two vowels (vvc):

  v c c     v v c
w a r m   n e a t

The rule does not apply to words such as warm and neat because they do not end in the cvc combination.

Final Consonant Rule 2

Final Consonant Rule 2 explains how to join suffixes to words of more than one syllable that end in the cvc combination.

When a word of more than one-syllable ends in the cvc combination and it is accented on the last syllable, usually double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel but do not double it when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant.

Commit is accented on the last syllable and ends in the cvc combination:

      c v c
c o m m i t

Therefore, double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel:

  • commit + -ing = committing

However, do not double the final consonant when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant:

  • commit + -ment = commitment

Final Consonant Rule 2 does not apply to words that end in two consonants preceded by one vowel (vcc) or to words that end in one consonant preceded by two vowels (vvc):

      v c c           v v c
i n t e n d   c o n t a i n

The rule does not apply to words such as intend and contain because they do not end in the cvc combination.

Also, notice that Final Consonant Rule 2 does not apply unless words are accented on the last syllable of the base word after the suffix is added. Confer and refer end in the cvc combination:

      c v c       c v c
c o n f e r   r e f e r

However, confer and refer are not accented on the last syllable after the suffix -ence is added:

  • confer + -ence = conference
  • refer + -ence = reference

Since confer and refer are not accented on the last syllable, their final consonants are not doubled in conference and reference.

Exceptions to this rule include words in which a consonant should not be doubled but is: cancellation, crystallize, equipped, excellence, excellent, and questionnaire. There are also two words in which a consonant should be doubled but is not: transferable and transference.

 

 

Spelling Guide

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