15 Common Spelling Rules [with Exceptions and Myth-Busters]

22 May 2021
SpellQuiz

Teaching English spelling is a daunting challenge, especially to the kids. A lot of it has to do with the mismatching correlation between the spellings and the pronunciations.

For example, let’s consider the word “knee.” It might sound like “nee” but it spelling suggests something like “kuh – nee!”

We, adults, are already familiar with unusual spellings — we know that there’ a silent K in knife and knee. But kids are only getting to know these rules and laws.

So today, we would try to talk about some of the established spelling rules.

 

How Many Spelling Rules Are There in the English Language?

You should understand one thing — there is no fixed number of hard and fast rules when it comes to English spelling. Linguistic experts have only identified and categorized some spelling patterns.

That’s why you’re seeing different numbers online!

Some are preaching 5 Spelling rules, some talk about 31 spelling rules, and so on. Also, the English language has its fair share of exceptions when comes to spelling grammar.

How so?

There is a common spelling rule that says English words don’t end in I. If that’s true, what about the words — alumni, broccoli, or graffiti? Some may argue that these words are originated from other languages.

True! But it’s also true that the English language has picked these words.

As we’re talking about exceptions, let’s talk about the doubling consonant issue. Some suggest that while adding suffixes, like -ed or -ing after a verb, you should double the final consonant.

Thus, refer becomes referred, or incur becomes incurring following this rule.

Nice! Oh wait, there’s an issue!

What about enter?

It doesn’t become enterred or enterring! Rather, it becomes entered or entering.

This why many experts refrain from making every spelling pattern a rule. And, that’s why we don’t have a fixed of spelling rules in the English language.

So, while studying the English spelling rules, you should always keep in mind that — rules are made to be broken!

But mastering the common spelling rules will help the language users in many ways. You can stop yourself from making common and silly mistakes.

 

7 Basic Spelling Rules for Kids

1. Every Syllable (And Word) Must Have One Vowel

Example: It, cat, old — all have a vowel.

2. I, E, or Y Changes the Sound of C to /s/

The letter C has two sounds — /s/ or /k/. If C is followed by I, E, or Y, it sounds like /s/. in all other cases, it sounds like /k/.

Example: City, cement, and cyber (C followed by I, E, or Y) have the /s/ sound — but cold, catch, or cool has the /k/ sound.  

3. I, E, or Y Changes the Sound of G to /j/

Similar to the previous rule, the letter G has two sounds — /g/ or /j/. So, if G is followed by I, E, or Y, it sounds like /j/. Otherwise, it has the /g/ sound.

Example: Gist, gem, and gyro (G followed by I, E, or Y) have the /j/ sound — but game, get, or good has the /g/ sound. 

4. Q and U Are Used in Pairs! (Has Exceptions)

The letter Q is almost always paired with the letter U in the English language. So, blindly put a U after every time you spell anything with a Q.

Example: Queen, Quit, Quite, Quill — all of these words have Q and U paired together.

Exceptions: faqir, cinq, qi – these words don’t follow the QU pairing rule. However, all of these words have different etymological roots.

5. -CK Is Used Only After a Short Vowel

There two ways to create the sound /k/ at the end of the words — using -CK or -K. Which one should you use?

Remember one thing — -CK is used only after a short vowel!

So, after short vowels, that sound like — -ah, -eh, -ih, -oh, and -uh, you’ll use -CK. But we use -K after long vowels.  

Example: Sack, deck, pick, rock, buck — these words have at the end -CK as there are short vowels. But words like meek, milk, book, hook — these words have -K at the end.

6. F, L, And S Doubles at the End of Mono-Syllable Words

Mono-syllable or one-syllable words are the words with one vowel. Now, if such a mono-syllable word ends with the letters F, L, or S, they become double!

Example: Riff, spell, fuss — are mono-syllable words ending with F, L, and S.

Exceptions: Bus, sis.

7. Capitalize Proper Nouns

Proper nouns, meaning the names of people, titles, places, or things must be capitalized.

Example: Jerry, Tom, President, London, Bitcoin — these proper nouns have capital letters in the beginning.

 

5 Spelling Rule for Adults

1. I Before E, Except After C [*Not A Rule but A Spelling Tip!]

This is perhaps one of the most well-known spelling rules of the English language. And, there is a strong reason behind this. Despite the age, a large portion of English users often get confused with the IE or EI issue.

Let’s be honest, even you got confused while spelling words like believe or receive without any auto-correct tool.

So, the extended version of this spelling rule goes like this — I before E, except after C, or sounds like A.

That makes everything simple, write?

Despite having a three-layer guideline, there a number of words that don’t follow this spelling pattern. For example, weird, foreign, or leisure don’t follow the spelling pattern.

Example: Field, believe, lie, piece — I before E. Receive, ceiling, deceit — uses EI as there is a C. Neighbor, beige, weigh — sounds like A so EI is used.

Exceptions: As we said earlier, this is one of the spelling tips, not a concrete rule. There is a long list of exceptions to this spelling tip. This list should help you out (try to memorize them if you can) —

Exceptions of the I before E, except after C rule

Seize

Weird

Height

Foreign

Leisure

Conscience

Counterfeit

Forfeit

Neither

Science

Species

Sufficient

 

2. Spelling Rules for Adding Suffixes After the Words Ending with Y

Words ending with Y change in different ways as you add suffixes to them. So, we’d break this one rule multiple layers —

2(A). e-Based Suffixes (-er, -est, -ed, -es) Change the Y to I

Example: Cry > cried (-ed), dry > dried (-ed), baby > babies (-es), story > stories (-es), ugly > uglier (-er) > ugliest (-est).

2(B). -ing Suffix Doesn’t Change The Y

Example: Cry > crying, dry > drying, fry > frying.

2(C). -ly Suffix Changes the Y to I

Example: Happy > happily, merry > merrily, sloppy > sloppily, scary > scarily.  

Exceptions: Dry > dryly, shy > shyly.   

2(D). -ment Suffix Doesn’t Change the Y

Example: Employ > employment, enjoy > enjoyment, repay > repayment, deploy > deployment.

Exception: Merry > merriment.

3. Spelling Rules for Plural Nouns (-s or -es?)

This is another confusing spelling issue for the adults. Should we be using -s or -es for nouns?

Follow this one rule — add -es for words ending with -s, -sh, -x, -z, or -ch.

Everything else uses -s.

Example: Boss > bosses, dish > dishes, box > boxes, batch > batches — has -s, -sh, -x, -ch in the end. Monkey > monkeys, boy > boys.

Exceptions for the Spellings of Plural Nouns (Ending with -es or -s)

Singular

Plural

Mango

Mango/Mangoes (both are correct!)

Tomato

Tomatoes

Dwarf

Dwarves/Dwarfs (both are correct)

Knife

Knives

Wife

Wives

Embargo

Embargoes

Torpedo

Torpedoes

Volcano

Volcanos/Volcanoes (both are correct)

Echo

Echos/Echoes (both are correct)

 

4. Only Use Double Consonant While Adding Suffix for One-Syllable Words

There are many arguments regarding whether to use double consonant or not while adding the -ed or -ing suffixes.

To be on the safer side, you should only double the ending consonant for one-syllable words.

Example: Gut > gutted, rub > rubbed, rob > robbing, mop > mopping.

Exceptions: Burn > burning.  

5. Drop the Silent E in the End While Adding a Vowel Suffix

A lot of English words have silent E in the end. As you add a suffix, this silent E gets dropped.

Example: Bite > biting, care > cared, race > racing, come > coming.  

Expectations: Noticeable, truly.

Common misconceptions and False spelling rules

Many sources strongly enforce different spelling rules that are baseless and can easily be debunked. Here are some of these false spelling rules —

1. No English word has double I in it!

Proof that it’s false: Radii, skiing, shiitake.

 

2. English words don’t end in I, U, V, or J.

Proof that it’s false: Hi (ends in I), Emu (ends in U), Rev (ends in V), Hajj (ends in J)  

 

3. Consonant suffixes don’t the spelling.

Proof that it’s false: Argue > argument, judge > judgment/judgement (both are correct).

 

4. The silent E in the end always gets dropped while adding a suffix.

Proof that it’s false: Mile > mileage, canoe > canoeing.

 

5. In a compound word (room and mate form roommate, house and keeper form housekeeper), spellings of the separate words always remain unchanged.

Proof that it’s false: Past + time > pastime, where + ever > wherever.

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