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 -ce or -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
inerti delicious  rati 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)

But ask first - it's quicker.

 

 

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