Spelling in English can be challenging. Several spelling rules exist to navigate the treacherous spelling realm. Once you think you have a handle on one spelling rule, a rule exception throws you off course. Not to mention, many archaic phonetic words are mudding the English language waters.
Have you ever wondered why some words have such peculiar spellings? When you learn the alphabet you learn each letter makes a specific sound. Yet this does not account for when letters are silent. Consider the words knife and knight. The “k” is not sounded. Instead, these words begin with “n” sounds.
Once upon a time, you would have heard the “k” pronounced in “knife”. Engish speakers dropped the pronunciation of the “k” yet the old spellings persisted. With all these elements of chaos thrown in, where do you begin?
English writers begin by learning the rules that govern most English word spellings and their caveats.
Spelling Rules at A Glance
- “I” before “E” except after “C”
- Change the “Y” to an “I” before adding suffixes “ed”, “er”, and “est”.
- “E” can be silent and stress the vowel before it.
- When making plural words add “es” after “s”, “z”, “sh”,”ch”, or “x”.
- Words you add suffixes to usually have double consonants
- “Q” is usually followed by a “U”.
Note: Words in the English language consist of vowels and consonants. Every word and every syllable contain one or more vowels.
How to Apply the Spelling Rules
“I” before E except after “C”
Generally, you write “ie” unless followed by a “c”. Additionally, you write “ei” when a word requires a long “a” sound. Examples of the latter include weight and neigh.
Example of “e” before “c”
- She was fierce.
- She likes to piece together a puzzle.
Example of “ei” after “c”
- I received fifty dollars from her.
- The ceiling fell.
Exceptions to the rules occur. These exceptions include words like weird, height, and either.
Change the Y to an I before adding suffixes beginning with E
When a suffix begins with an “e” and the word ends in “y“ you change the “y” to an “i” before adding the ending. Suffixes that begin with “e” include ed, es, er, and est.
Suffixes beginning with the letter “e”
- Cry + suffix ed = cried
- Sky + suffix es = skies
- Worry + suffix ed = worried
Do not change the “y” to “i” when adding the suffix “ing”
- Change cry into crying.
- Change worry into worrying.
2 consonants with “y” and suffix “ly”
When you have 2 consonants come before “y” it is necessary to change the “i” into a “y” before applying the suffix “ly.”
- Happy + suffix “ly” = happily
- Merry + suffix “ly” = merrily
Note: the word “dry” does not follow this rule when applying the “ly” suffix. You write dryly not drily.
The Silent “e”
When “e” appears at the end of a word followed by a consonant it is silent. The “e” changes how the vowel before the consonant sounds. It makes a short vowel long. In bite, the vowel “i” is long. Remove the “e” and you get a different word with a different sound. The word becomes “bit” with the short “i” vowel.
To add a suffix like “ed” to a word with a silent “e” you usually drop the “e” and add the suffix.
- Care becomes cared.
- Share becomes shared.
Add “es” after “s”, “z”, “sh”, “ch”, or “x”
When pluralizing a word you use “es” after these letters or letter combos: s, z, sh, ch or x.
- Fix becomes fixes.
- Wish becomes wishes.
Most other words will use an “s” in the plural form
- Cow becomes cows.
- Car becomes cars.
Note: some words do not require a change to become plural. Words like fish and sheep are examples of unchanging words in a plural form.
Double Consonants & Suffixes
It is difficult to tell if a word has double consonants or not. They are not usually detected in speech. Many words that have double consonants have suffixes. Tossed, mapped, and ripped are words that all feature double consonants.
The suffixed word pronunciation sometimes changes, but the spelling remains consistent. For example, you can either express “blessed” as one or two syllables.
U follows Q
In almost all English words, the letter “u” follows “q”. You can see the “qu” combo in words like queen, aqua, and quick. In scrabble, there are some correct English words without a “u.” These include “qi” and “said”. However, no one ever uses these words in common discourse.