A Guide to Common Spelling Rules – 18 Effective Tips and Concepts
Correct spelling is important in the modern world. Not only does it allow you to convey your ideas in an effective manner, it also makes it appear like you take great pride in your work and that you ensure it is both accurate and engaging.
Knowing how to spell words correctly also helps with reading and writing as it avoids misunderstanding in regards to similarly spelled words. Listed below are some of the most common spelling rules of the English language, along with exceptions to the rule followed by general spelling tips.
The Big Four Spelling Rules
1. Using I before E
This is one of the very first spelling rules that you will learn and it even comes in an easy to remember saying; “I before E except after C”. This rule does not apply however when the ‘ei’ combination sounds like an ‘a’, such as ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’.
Examples: ‘believe, chief, grieve, weigh’
Exceptions: ‘ weird, eight, seismic, height, feint’
2. Dropping that final E
You should drop the final ‘e’ when the suffix (ending to a word) begins with a vowel. Typical suffixes include ‘-ing, -ance, -age, -able and -ation’. If the suffix begins with a consonant then you need not apply this logic, save for one or two exceptions!
Examples: ‘riding, guidance, storage, definable, illustration’.
3. Changing the final Y to an I
This rule once again uses suffixes. You should change the final ‘Y’ to an ‘I’ unless the suffix begins with an ‘I’, because that looks rather odd to say the least.
Examples: ‘defiance, babies, hobbies, hurried, happily’
Exceptions: ‘journeying, memorize, daily’
4. Doubling final consonants
There are two parts to this rule and both should be applied to your spelling. Part 1 is that if a single vowel precedes the consonant, then you should double said consonant as shown below. Part 2 is that the consonant must end on an accented syllable or one syllable words. Only when these two work in tandem should they be applied.
Examples: ‘stopping, admitted, shopping, batted’
Exceptions: ‘transiting, profiting, meditating’
6 General Spelling Rules
1. Plural of nouns
As a general rule, most nouns will just add an -s to form the plural. One of the various exceptions are nouns that end in -y. Simply change -y to -ies to make the plural. The Oxford Dictionaries have listed more common rules to make and spell the plural of nouns correctly.
2. Verbs ending in -ise, -ize or -yze?
Verbs are a hugely important part of the English language and ensuring that you spell them correctly is a must as they often form the focal part of many sentences. Many of the verbs that end in ‘-ise’ can also be spelt like ‘-ize’, and it is down to you as the author which one you choose. There are however several verbs requiring an exact spelling to be grammatically correct and these are listed below:
Examples ‘-ise’: ‘advertise, advise, apprise, chastise, comprise, compromise, despise, devise’
Examples ‘-yze’: ‘analyze, breathalyze, catalyze, dialyze, electrolyze, hydrolyze, paralyze’
3. Words containing the letter Q
A quick rule but an important one nevertheless. Words that contain the letter ‘q’ stemming from the English language are always followed by the letter ‘u’. The only time this is not the case is when you use words native to other cultures not of an English origin (in the majority of cases).
Examples: ‘queue, acquaintance, squash, frequent, tranquil’
4. Words ending in ‘-ious’ and ‘-eous’
Both of these word endings are utilized to form adjectives, words that modify a person or object within a sentence. This is something of an anomaly within the English language, as there is no set rule for how each adjective is spelt, the only crumb of comfort we can take from this is that the ‘-ious’ spelling is far more common than the ‘-eous’ spelling.
Examples ‘-ious’: ‘ambitious, previous, religious, envious, notorious, ferocious, victorious’
Examples ‘-eous’: ‘curvaceous, nauseous, courteous, simultaneous, spontaneous’
Examples ‘-ous’ is added to an ‘e’ to make ‘-eous’: ‘advantageous, courageous, outrageous’
5. Words ending in ‘-ant’ or ‘-ent’
An ‘-ant’ or ‘ent’ is added to a word to form a noun or an adjective, dependent upon the word it is attached to. The same rule applies to words ending ‘-ency’ or ‘-ancy’ which is very handy.
Examples ‘-ant’: ‘abundant, contestant, dominant, instant, tolerant, expectant, reluctant’
Examples ‘-ent’: ‘different, present, insolent, eminent, intelligent, confident, transient’
Words to watch out for: One or two words in the English language can end in either ‘-ant’ or ‘-ent’ due to them being both nouns and adjectives. There are two words currently that do this. ‘Dependant: dependant or dependent as a noun, dependent as an adjective’ and ‘Pendant: pendant as a noun, pendent or pendant as an adjective’.
6. Words ending in ‘-ful’ or ‘-fully’?
‘-ful’ is added to words to turn them into nouns and adjectives, and it is always spelled with just one ‘l’, never two. The ending ‘-fully’ forms an adverb and, opposite to the ‘-ful’ version, is always spelt with two ‘l’s. Which one you choose to use is dependent upon the context of your sentence!
Examples ‘-ful’: ‘dreadful, skilful, powerful, cupful, mouthful, spoonful, faithful’
Examples ‘-fully’: ‘dreadfully, faithfully, skilfully, powerfully’
Learning How to Spell Using Software
You can use software to learn spelling rules, practice them and play spelling games in order to implement them into your daily writing. A good tutor should offer printable spelling worksheets, a step-by-step guide, ability to create your own lessons, import of individual material and lots of spelling activities.
If you prefer to learn with an online program or desktop based software you may want to read our round-up of the best spelling software 2016.
8 Effective Tips to Apply Spelling Rules
1. Decide on the English version you wish to use
Although the differences can be subtle, there are key changes between standard English and American English. If you constantly swap between the two throughout your work it breaks continuity and can make people believe that you copied sections from the internet straight into your work without modification. Therefore, decide on the one you are going to utilize right from the start, to get yourself into the habit and thus reduce spelling issues!
ServiceScape is a good introduction regarding the main differences, and can be used in conjunction with more informal sites such as this one, which enforces learning via brief word games.
2. Get a good, in-depth dictionary
Most dictionaries by-and-large will contain roughly the same number of words and variations in how to spell them. The best dictionaries will also give you examples in everyday use, as well as inform you just how the word is spoken and broken down, alongside other useful hints. The official Oxford Dictionary or Webster Dictionary is a great starting point. Other good online resources include their official sites, found here for Websters and here for Oxford.
3. Utilize the spell checker on your computer
There are numerous programs available that can check your spelling for you on a regular basis. From the spell check in Microsoft Word to the one found in Google Chrome, in the majority of cases they will inform you where you have gone wrong and suggest other words for you to utilize. They are not foolproof and you must ensure that the dictionary that the spellchecker runs off is set to your preferred language. If not, you may start inventing new words that no-one else will understand.
4. Create a list of the words you struggle with
Lists really are the bees knees when it comes to detailing information in a legible, informative manner and should be utilized wherever possible when there are words you struggle with. Memorize the list and try recalling it. If you struggle the first time? Not to worry, everyone learns at their own pace. Eventually you will begin to see your spelling ability shoot onwards and upwards as you memorize more and more details and tips! A great online resource to do this frequently used by teachers and tutors is SchoolExpress.
5. Say the word before you write it down
Many people learn best when they hear an instruction or valuable nugget of information, and spelling is no different. Without consulting a dictionary, say out loud some words you struggle with and break them down into bite size sections. More often than not you will find the spelling correct. And if not, try the technique given below, Mnemonics!
6. Utilizing Mnemonics
Children remember nursery rhymes and sayings because they repeat them time and time again due to their funny, light-hearted content. So if you find yourself struggling with spelling, try creating a memorable sentence or rhyme with the first letter of each word you have issues with. Every time you repeat the sentence or hear those words individually, it reinforces your memory and ensures that you remember the words you just taught yourself! MnemonicGenerator is an easy to use, free tool that can help you on your way.
7. Practice makes perfect
This old adage applies heavily to the field of spelling. There is a reason why at school you wrote out line after line of the same sentence. Putting words you have trouble with into regular use via reading and writing will only make you better at spelling them in the long run.
8. Play some games and have fun
Enjoying yourself is central to learning, that is why at school everyone has favorite subjects that they do well in. Apply this same logic to your spelling. There are numerous websites devoted to spelling games and these should all be used as part of your learning. FunBrain is a simple and fun way to do this. For something a little more varied and in-depth, try this place.
Correct Spelling: A Final Word
Thanks for reading all the way down. We think that improving spelling on all fronts goes along with benefits not only for your writing but also on your reading experience. If you know how words are spelled correctly you can imagine them in your head. This approach will ease visualization of your reading too.
Spelling is something that takes time and a lot of practice. Once you have mastered this skill however, it opens up other worlds of opportunities for you to explore, be they in your professional or personal life.
If you have any further queries regarding spelling or are just interested in expanding your word pool further, feel free to utilize Oxford Dictionaries and SpellingTime to your heart’s content. Note with Spelling Time that you will need to create an account before you gain access to their tools.
Please Note: This post focuses on the most common spelling rules. We didn’t aim to list all of the existing rules but rather want to provide a platform to get started and compile a list with specialized resources to keep reading and learning.