Learning orthography rules will help you learn to spell English words with greater fluency. These 18 rules are a good place to start.
Learning standard orthography or spelling rules is one of the keys to learning how to read. Spelling is more than just memorizing the letters in words. It is an understanding of phonics combined with English spelling rules. Fluent readers and good spellers can apply these rules in their daily lives, giving them fluency and good spelling skills. Yet often, they are not formally taught in school. If you struggle to read and spell well, studying these rules can help.
There are many orthography rules in the English language, and condensing them all into one list would not be possible. However, some are very consistent and stand out.
Here are 18 orthography rules you must start with as you learn the English language.
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- 18 Orthography Rules to Study
- 1. I Before E
- 2. Drop the E
- 3. Keep the E
- 4. Adding the Suffix
- 5. Keep the Y
- 6. Double the Final Consonant when Adding a Suffix
- 7. Use a U After a Q
- 8. No S after the Letter X
- 9. GH at the End of a Word Says “F” in Most Instances
- 10. GH at the Start of a Word Says “G”
- 11. Hyphenate Prefixes if the Meaning Could Be Confusing
- 12. Silent E
- 13. Ending in the Long I Sound
- 14. Y or EY
- 15. Ou and Ow
- 16. Oiand Oy
- 17. Ch and Tch
- 18. Double the End Consonant
18 Orthography Rules to Study
Learning orthography rules is complex at first, but they become normal to the individual over time. Those learning spelling for the first time can benefit from studying these rules for themselves.
1. I Before E
The I before E rule is one of the first that students should learn when spelling challenging words. It says, “I before e except after c, or when sounding like ‘a’ as in neighbor and weigh.” In other words, if you have the letters i and e in a word, “I” comes first, unless you are using the -eigh blend, which sounds like a long a, or if you are using a soft letter c or g, in which case the e needs to come first.
2. Drop the E
If you are adding a suffix to a word that ends in a silent e, you will drop the e and add the suffix if the suffix begins with a vowel. For example, if you want to turn the word “ride” into “riding,” you will drop the e and add -ing to the end of the word.
3. Keep the E
If the suffix begins with a consonant and the root word ends in a silent e, the silent e stays. For example, if you add -ment to the word “state,” you will write “statement.” This spelling keeps the long vowel sound in the middle of the word intact.
4. Adding the Suffix
If you have a word that ends in y without another vowel, you will change that y to an i before adding the suffix. For example, if you add “-es” to the root word “fly” to make it plural, you will spell it “flies.” Similarly, if you are adding “-ful” to the word ”beauty,” it becomes ”beautiful.” The exception to this rule is if the suffix starts with i. In that case, you leave the “i” alone, such as in the word ”skiing.”
5. Keep the Y
You will not always change the “y” to an “i” when adding a suffix. If the “y” at the end of a word has a vowel, such as “boy,” you will keep the y and add the suffix. So, when making the word “boy” plural, it is “boys.”
6. Double the Final Consonant when Adding a Suffix
If you have a word with just one vowel and ends in a single consonant, and the last syllable is the accented syllable, you will double that consonant before adding a suffix. For the word “swim,” you will double the m to make “swimming.”
7. Use a U After a Q
In most English words, you will use the letter u with a q every time you write the letters. For example, the word “quack” and the word “queen” use this spelling pattern. The words that break this rule usually come from other languages.
8. No S after the Letter X
The letters s and x never follow one another. If you make a word plural that ends in x, you must use the -es ending. So the word “fox” becomes “foxes.”
9. GH at the End of a Word Says “F” in Most Instances
The digraph “gh” has a couple of different pronunciations. Using it at the end of a word is pronounced like an “f.” So the word “cough” ends in the “f” sound. However, sometimes it is silent, such as the words “high,” “through,” or “borough.”
10. GH at the Start of a Word Says “G”
Though it says “f” at the end of a word, it takes the hard “g” sound if it is at the beginning. For example, “ghost,” “ghetto,” and “Ghana” all start with the hard “g” sound.
11. Hyphenate Prefixes if the Meaning Could Be Confusing
Sometimes adding a prefix to a word can make the meaning confusing. For example, the word “recovered” means to get over an illness, but the word “re-covered” means to cover something again.
12. Silent E
A letter e at the end of a word is almost always silent unless it has another letter with it or the word comes from a foreign source. The letter e often indicates the word takes a long vowel sound in the vowel preceding the e, such as in the words “rake” and “grave,” though there are exceptions such as “live” and “give.”
13. Ending in the Long I Sound
If a word has a long I sound at the end of the word, it almost always uses the letter Y. The words “fly,” “cry,” and “my” show this rule. “Hi” is a rare exception to this rule.
14. Y or EY
If you need to make the long e sound at the end of the word, and the final syllable is not accented, use y or ey. For example, “many,” “honey,” and “money” follow this rule. Single-syllable words, like “key,” can also follow this rule, though sometimes two e’s are used, such as in the word “free.”
15. Ou and Ow
The diphthongs “ou” and “ow” often make the same sound. However, you will use “ou” when writing the letters inside a word, such as in “loud” or “found.” You will use “ow” when the sound ends the word, such as “cow” and “how.” If you add a suffix to a base word, you will not change the root word’s spelling, so the verb “crow” would be “crowed” when making the past tense form.
16. Oiand Oy
Oi and Oy are also diphthongs that make similar sounds. If you need this sound in the middle of a word, use Oi, as in “coin” and “boil.” At the end of the word, use oy, as in “boy” and “toy.” If you add a suffix with oy, you will not change the y.
17. Ch and Tch
When making the “Ch” sound, you can use the letter combinations ch and tch. You will use “ch” at the beginning of the word and the “tch” at the end of the word. If you make the sound in the middle of a word followed by “-ure” or “-ion,” you will shorten it to just the letter t.
18. Double the End Consonant
When a word with a short vowel sound ends in F, L or S, double the end consonant. The words “stress,” “fell” and “fluff” follow this rule. Short vowel, single-syllable words that end in other continents do not have a double consonant at the end, such as “cat” and “dog.”
If you want to use the latest grammar software, read our guide to using an AI grammar checker.
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