ENGLISH SPELLING RULES
Short and Long Vowels

1. To spell a short vowel sound, only one letter is needed:

at red it hot up

2. To spell a long sound you must add a second vowel. The second may be next to the first, in the VVC pattern (boat, maid, cue, etc.) or it may be separated from the first one by a consonant in the VCV pattern (made, ride, tide, etc.). If the second vowel is separated from the first by two spaces, it does not affect the first one. This is the VCCV pattern in which the first vowel remains short. Thus, doubling a consonant can be called "protecting" a short vowel because it prevents an incoming vowel from getting close enough to the first one to change its sound from short to long:
maid, made, but madder; dine, diner, but dinner.

Spelling the Sound /k/
This sound can be spelled in any one of four ways:
  • 1. c 2. cc 3. k 4. ck
1. The single letter, c , is the most common spelling. It may be used anywhere in a word:
|| cat || corn || actor || victim || direct || mica ||
scat
bacon
public
cactus
inflict
pecan


2. Sometimes the letter c must be doubled to cc to protect the sound of a short vowel:
|| stucco || baccalaureate || hiccups ||
Mecca
tobacco
buccaneer
occupy
raccoon
succulent


3. The letter k is substituted for c if /k/ is followed by an e, i, or y.
|| kin || make || sketch || poker || kind || risky ||
skin
token
skill
keep
liking
flaky


(Boring examples? How about kyphosis, kylix, keratosis, and dyskinesia?)
4. Similarly, the spelling ck, is substituted for cc if the following letter is an e, i, or y:
|| lucky || picking || rocking || finicky ||
blackest
mackintosh
frolicked
ducking
Kentucky
picnicking
stocking
Quebecker


5. The letters, k and ck are more than substitutes for c and cc. They are used to spell /k/ at the end of a monosyllable. The digraph, ck, ALWAYS follows a short vowel:

|| sack || duck || lick || stick || wreck || clock ||


(Forget about yak. Your student will never need it.)

The letter, k, follows any other sound:
|| milk || soak || make || bark ||
tank
peek
bike
cork
tusk
hawk
duke
perk


The Sound, /j/
The sound, /j/ is spelled in three ways: j ge and dge.

1. The letter j is usually used if the sound if followed by an a, o, or u.
|| just || jam || jungle || injure || major || adjacent ||
jog
jar
Japan
jury
job
Benjamin
adjust
jacket
jolly
jaguar
jump
jalousie


2. Since the letter g has the soft sound of /j/ when it is followed by an e, i, or y, it is usually used in this situation:
|| gentle || ginger || aging || algebra ||
Egyptologist
gem
origin
gym


2. If /j/ follows a short vowel sound, it is usually spelled with dge. This is because the letter j, is never doubled in English.
|| badge || ridge || dodge || partridge || gadget ||
judge
edge
smudge
judgement
budget


The Sound, /ch/

The sound /ch/ has two spellings: tch after a short vowel, ch anywhere else:
|| witch || sketch || botch || satchel ||
catch
hatchet
kitchen
escutcheon

Exceptions:
Which, rich, much, such, touch, bachelor, attach, sandwich, and ostrich.
The Sound, /kw/
This sound is ALWAYS spelled with the letters, qu, never anything else.

Using -le
Words ending in -le, such as little, require care. If the vowel sound is short, there must be two consonants between the vowel and the -le. Otherwise, one consonant is enough.
|| li tt le || ha nd le || ti ck le || a mp le ||
bo tt le
pu zz le
cru mb le
a ng le


|| bugle || able || poodle || dawdle || needle || idle || people ||


Odds and Ends
1. The consonants, v, j, k, w, and x are never doubled.
2. No normal English words ends with the letter v. A final /v/ is always spelled with ve, no matter what the preceding vowel sound may be:

|| have || give || sleeve || cove ||
receive
love
connive
brave


Adding Endings
There are two kinds of suffixes, those that begin with a vowel and those that begin with a consonant. As usual, the spelling problems occur with the vowels:

|||| Vowel Suffixes || |||| Consonant Suffixes ||
- - - age
- - -ist

- - - ness
- - - cess
- - - ant
- - - ish
- - -less
- - -ment
- - -ance
- - -ing
- - -ly
- - -ty
- - - al
- - -ar
- - -ful
- - -ry
- - -ism
- - -o
- - -hood
- - -ward
- - -able
- - -on
- - -wise

- - -an
- - -ous


- - - a
- - -or


- - -es
- - -ual


- - -ed
- - -unt


- - -er
- - -um


- - -est
- - -us


- - -y
- - -ive




1. Words that end in the letter y must have the y changed to i before adding any suffix:

|| body - bodily || marry - marriage ||
many - manifold
family - familiar
happy - happiness
puppy - puppies
beauty - beautiful
vary - various
company - companion
fury - furious
plenty - plentiful
merry - merriment


2. In words that end in a silent e you must drop it before you add a vowel suffix. The silent e is no longer needed to make the preceding vowel long as the incoming vowel will do the trick:

|| ride - riding || cure - curable || use - usual || age - aging ||
fame - famous
force - forcing
refuse - refusal
slice - slicing
pure - purity
ice - icicle
nose - nosy
convince - convincing
globe - global
race - racist
pole - polar
offense - offensive


3. Words that end in an accented short or modified vowel sound must have the final consonant doubled to protect that sound when you add a vowel suffix:

|| Quebec - Quebecker || remit - remittance || confer - conferring || refer - referred ||
upset - upsetting
shellac - shellacking
occur - occurred
concur- concurrent


Note that this doubling is not done if the accent is not on the last syllable. If the word ends in a schwa, there is no need to "protect" it.
|| open - opening || organ - organize ||
focus - focused
refer - referee


4. Normally you drop a silent e before adding a vowel suffix. However, if the word ends in -ceor -ge and the incoming vowel is an a, o, or u, you cannot cavalierly toss out that silent e. It is not useless: it is keeping its left-hand letter soft, and your a, o, or u will not do that. Thus:
|| manage - manageable || peace - peaceable ||
courage - courageous
revenge - vengeance
surge - surgeon
change - changeable
notice - noticeable
outrage - outrageous


Gorgeous George bludgeoned a pigeon noticeably! Tsk.


5. Adding consonant suffixes is easy. You just add them. (Of course you must change a final y to i before you add any suffix.)

|| peace - peaceful || harm - harmless || age - ageless ||
pity - pitiful
child - childhood
rifle - riflery

/sh/
When this sound occurs before a vowel suffix, it is spelled ti, si, or ci.
|| partial || cautious || patient || vacation ||
special
deficient
suspicion
suction
inertia
delicious
ratio
pension
musician
physician
optician
quotient
electrician
nutrition
statistician
expulsion
/ee/ before a vowel suffix

When /ee/ precedes a vowel suffix, it is usually spelled with the letter i:
|| Indian || obvious || medium ||
ingredient
zodiac
material



Spelling Determined by Word Meaning

1. Mist and missed sound alike, as do band and banned. To determine the spelling, remember that -ed is a past-tense tending.
  1. The mist drifted into the harbor.
  2. I nearly missed my bus.
  3. The movie was banned in Boston.
  4. The band played on.
2. The endings of dentist and finest sound alike. Deciding which one to use can be tricky. One rule helps but doesn't cover all cases:
  1. --ist is a suffix meaning someone who does something:
    artist - machinist - druggist
  2. --est is the ending used on superlative adjectives:
    finest - sweetest - longest
3. The sounds at the end of musician and condition sound alike. but....
  1. cian always means a person, where...
  2. tion or sion are never used for people.

4. How do you tell whether to use tion or sion?

  1. If the root word ends in /t/, use -tion: complete, completion
  2. If the root word ends in /s/ or /d/, use sion: extend, extension
    suppress, suppression
  3. If the sound of the last syllable is the "heavy" sound of /zhun/ rather than the light sound, /shun/, use s: confusion, vision, adhesion
Exception: The ending, --mit becomes -mission:
|| permit - permission || omit - omission ||
submit - submission
commit - commission


The Hiss

1. The letter s between vowels sounds like a z:
|| nose || result || noise ||
present
partisan
tease
preside
resound
reserve


2. The light "hissy" sound is spelled with either ss or ce. Predictably, ss, like any proper doubled consonant, follows accented short vowels. Soft c is used anywhere else. (A soft c is one that is followed by e, i, or y).


|| notice || reticent || massive || bicycle ||
recent
gossip
russet
rejoice
essence
vessel
discuss
pass


3. The plural ending is always spelled with a single letter s unless you can hear a new syllable on the plural word. In that case, use -es:

|| loss, losses || bank, banks || twitch, twitches || tree, trees ||
box, boxes
list, lists
judge, judges



No compendium of spelling rules would be complete with the most important rule of all:
WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK (or look it up)