Spelling is not always easy, but fortunately, there are spelling rules that can help students improve their spelling.
Because English borrows from many languages and is constantly changing, there is no such thing as a hard-and-fast spelling rule. There are always exceptions. Still, it is important to master some basic spelling rules. Although they might not work every time, they’ll apply often enough to help you succeed.
Every syllable contains a vowel
Every syllable of every word includes at least one vowel. The vowels are a, e, i, o, and u; and sometimes y. This also includes the diphthongs oi, oy, ou, ow, au, aw, oo, and many others.
The consonants are all the other letters that stop or limit the flow of air from the throat in speech. They are b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z, sh, ch, th, wh, qu, wh, ng and gh.
Q is always followed by a u
Besides the occasional exception (such as the country Qatar), the letter q is always followed by u, and we say “kw.” Examples include:
When used in this way, the “u” is not considered to be a vowel.
The Floss Rule is a simple spelling rule that helps students remember when to use a double consonant at the end of a word. The rule states:
• If a word has one vowel only
• The vowel is short
• Ends with f, l, s, and z
• Then double the last letter
• When the final s sounds like z don’t double it: as, is, has, was, and his.
• Some common words that don’t follow the floss spelling rule include bus, gas, pal, if, this, us, plus, and chef.
Although final e is silent, it usually has a job to do.
When a short word (or the last syllable of a longer word) ends in the pattern vowel-consonant-e, it usually makes the vowel sound long and says its alphabet name:
• a = ay;
• i = eye;
• o = oh;
• u = you.
The e remains silent.
Like always we have exceptions, for example, love, glove, above, have, come, some, none, oven, etc., have short vowel sounds.
The “Rabbit Rule” is a commonly taught spelling rule that addresses the double consonant in words like “rabbit” and “parrot.”
The middle consonant is usually doubled in words that meet three criteria:
1. The word has two syllables.
2. You hear a short vowel in the first syllable.
3. You hear one consonant sound between the first and second vowels.
The letter y at the end of a word
The consonant sound of “y” is /y/ like in the words “yum” and “yes.” Typically, at the beginning of the word the “y” makes the consonant /y/ sound.
The “y” also has vowel sounds. Typically, in a one-syllable word the “y” at the end of the word makes the long “i” sound like in by, my, and shy.
Typically, in a two-syllable word, the “y” at the end of the word makes a long “e” sound like in happy and jelly.
Is it ai or ay?
There are many ways to spell the long vowel sound a. Examples are:
• a-e as in mane;
• a as in apron;
• ei as in vein;
• ey as in they;
• ea as in steak;
• eigh as in eight
• aigh as in straight;
• ai as in rain; and
• ay as in day.
We use “ai” in the beginning or middle of the word (aim, rain, pail, train) or syllable (airplane) and “ay” at the end of the word (play, stay, day, May) or syllable (playmate).
Is it -tch or -ch?
When you hear the /ch/ sound at the end of a syllable AND it is immediately preceded by a short vowel (e.g., catch), it is spelled -tch.
There are a few cases where tch comes at the end of the first syllable in a multi-syllable word. One such word is kitchen.
tch will never come at the beginning of a word.
If there is a consonant (e.g., n or r) or vowel team (e.g., ee or ea) before the /ch/, it is spelled -ch.
Exceptions include which, much, such, rich and sandwich.
Is it -k or -ck?
This spelling rule applies to the END of words and is only reliable with single-syllable words.
It states that when you hear the /k/ sound at the end of a word AND the /k/ immediately follows a short vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u), it is spelled ck.
If it is preceded by a consonant (e.g., desk) or vowel team (e.g., creek), it is spelled with a k.
This also applies to the individual parts of compound words (e.g., backpack).
When the letter r follows a vowel, the vowel is usually forced to change its sound. That’s why we call it the “Bossy R.”
In most small words with one vowel in the middle, that vowel has a short vowel sound as in the words cat, hen, sit, and box.
Listen to how the sound of the vowel changes if we replace the last letter of each of these words with the letter r: can changes to car, hen to her, sit to sir, hunt to hurt.
When to pronounce the letter c as /k/ or /s/
In English, the letter c is usually pronounced as /k/.
We can also pronounce c as /s/.
When c comes directly before the letters e, i, or y we use the /s/ sound.
In other cases, we use the /k/ sound.
This is why you will find the letter “c” pronounced differently even in the same words such as circus and bicycle.
When to pronounce the letter g as /g/ or /j/
In English, the letter g is usually pronounced as /g/.
We can also pronounce g as /j/.
When g comes directly before the letters e, i, or y we use the /j/ sound.
In other cases, we use the /g/ sound.
This is why you will find the letter “g” pronounced differently even in the same words such as gorge and grudge.
Is it -ge or -dge?
The letter j is never used at the end of words.
The spelling -dge is used straight after short vowel sounds, e.g., badge, edge, ridge, lodge, fudge, judge, and grudge.
After all other sounds it is spelled -ge at the end of words, e.g., age, cage, page, huge, large, change.
The prefix -al is all minus an l
The word all has two l’s at the end. (And so does ball, wall, tall, fall, stall, and small.)
A prefix is a letter or a group of letters that we add to the beginning of a word. The prefix -al has only one “l.” Words with -al as a prefix include also, almost, alright, and always.
Plural not always -s
The plural of a noun is usually formed by adding -s to a singular noun. However, nouns ending in -s, -z, -x, -sh, and -ch form the plural by adding -es. For example:
• bus – buses
• dress – dresses
• buzz – buzzes
• box – boxes
• wish – wishes
• lunch – lunches
One lady, two ladies
Nouns ending in -y preceded by a vowel are expressed in plural form by adding -s, e.g., one boy and two boys; one donkey and two donkeys. However, nouns ending in -y preceded by a consonant are expressed in plural form by changing -y into -ies:
• lady – ladies
• city – cities
• army – armies
• injury – injuries
• sky – skies
• pony – ponies
• berry – berries
• baby – babies
Apostrophes take the place of missing letters
The apostrophe is used to show that letters have been left out of a word:
• she’s = she is
• I’ll = I will
• it’s = it is
• don’t = do not
• they’re = they are
• wasn’t = was not
Apostrophes are also used in possessives
The basic rule is to add ’s whether the noun is singular or plural.
• The child’s book
• James’s book
• The children’s book
The following possessive nouns do not take ’s:
The snake reared its head.
This kitbag is yours; these are ours. They have already taken theirs.