30 Surprising Spelling Rules Every Writer Must Know

Good spellers know that spelling is more than just memorizing lists of words. The subject involves learning the spelling rules of English and how they apply.

For many American students, spelling is a challenging academic subject.

Without the right spelling strategies, learning to spell requires hours of memorizing lists to be able to pass a spelling test or ace a spelling bee.

Yet good spellers know that spelling is more than just memorizing lists of words.

Rather, the subject involves appreciating why english grammar is important and its impact on spelling rules.

Whether a student is a struggling speller or a teacher needs better ways to explain spelling to a class, the answer lies in spelling rules.

With a foundation comprised of established rules, properly spelling words becomes more natural.

When tricky words roll around, the rules give people the tools needed to decode the spelling with success.

If you're hoping to become a better speller, here are some of the most common spelling rules to learn.

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Spelling Rules Students Need to Know

What spelling rules are most important? Consider this list:

1. A “G” will often soften to the /j/ sound when followed by E, I or Y.

When it is followed by a different letter, G is pronounced /g/.

Examples: Cage (uses /j/), and tag (uses /g/)

2. No words in American English end in I, U, V or J.

Often a silent E is used when a word ends in one of these sounds.

Examples: Give and Hue

3. If a word ends in one vowel and one consonant, double the final consonant at the end of a word when adding the suffixes -ing, -ed, -er, -est, or -adge.

This rule does have some exceptions, such as travel which becomes traveled.

Examples: Run becomes running, and ship becomes shipped.

4. Use I before E except after C or when sounding like /ay/ as in neighbor or weigh.

The well-known I before E rule helps spellers know when to use IE and when to use EI.

Examples: receive and believe

5. When used at the end of a syllable, the vowels A, E, O and U usually sound like their names.

Examples: tree and haven

6. The letter C always softens to /s/ when E, I, or Y come after it.

When other letters follow a C, it sounds like /k/.

Examples: civil has an /s/ sound and category has a /k/ sound.

7. When making the /ɔɪ/ sound, use either OY or OI.

Words ending in the sound use OY, while words that have the sound in the middle use OI.

Examples: boy and boil

 8. A one-syllable word that ends in a Y is pronounced /ī/.

Examples: fly and try

9. I and Y sometimes sound like a long /ē/.

In a word with a silent E at the end, an I takes the long
/ē/ sound. A Y can make this sound only if used in an unstressed syllable at the end of a multi-syllable word. 

Examples: machine and baby

10. The letters AY typically make the /ā/ sound when used at the end of a base word.

Examples: hay and say

11. A silent E at the end of a word makes a vowel takes its long vowel sound.

Examples: Base has an /ā/ sound because of the silent e.

12. A silent E ends singular words that end in S. The silent E prevents the word from looking like a plural.

Examples: horse and license

13. For words that end in Y, change the Y to I when adding an ending that does not begin with I.

The addition of -es to make a plural word is the most common use of this rule.

Examples: Fly becomes flies, and easy becomes easiest.

14. The letter Q does not walk alone.

It is almost always followed by a U.

Examples: queen, quick and quilt

15. Al- is used as a prefix.

This prefix is written with one L, even though it is short for all. 

Examples: almost and already

16. The suffix -ful uses only one l when added to another syllable, even though it means “full.”

Examples: colorful and helpful

17. Add -es to words ending in -ch, -sh, s, -ss, x or z when making a plural word.

Examples: Wish becomes wishes, and cross becomes crosses.

18. The phonographs -augh, -eigh, -igh and -ough are used only at the end of a base word or preceding the letter T.

Examples: eight, sigh, naught and neigh

19. When adding a suffix to a word that has a short vowel and ends in a consonant, double the consonant so the vowel remains short.

Examples: Tan becomes tanned and skip becomes skipping.

20. The ending sound TCH is used only when the word has a single vowel and with a short sound.

Examples: itchtwitch and witch

21. The ending DGE is used only at the end of a word following a single vowel with a short vowel sound.

Examples: pledge and dodge

22. The combination CK is used only following a single short vowel. Other instances of /k/ after a vowel use K.

Examples: brick and duck versus poke and bike

23. When making a base word that starts with /z/, always use Z, not S.

Examples: zebra and zealous

24. The letters F, L and S are often doubled at the end of a single-vowel word.

Examples: huff, hill and hiss

25The combinations TI, CI, and SI will appear only at the beginning of a syllable. After the first syllable, they often make the /sh/ sound.

Examples: station and special

26. SH sounds like /sh/ at the start of a base word or at the end of a syllable. It is never used for /sh/ at the beginning of a syllable except in the ending -ship.

Examples: relationship, shelter and shift

27. The letter S never follows X.

Examples: foxes not foxs

28. When adding a suffix that starts with a vowel to a word that ends in a silent e, drop the e to add the suffix.

When adding a suffix that starts with a consonant, leave the silent e in place

Examples: Hide becomes hiding, and hope becomes hopeful.

29. When a vowel ends a syllable, it makes its long vowel sound.

Examples: musicopen and navy

30. When words have I or O as their only vowel, and the vowel is followed by two consonants, the O or I make long vowel sounds.

Words that have an I or O followed by one consonant make short vowel sounds.

Examples: kind and cold versus kid and cod.

Need more help? Check out our guide to common spelling strategies.

Spelling Rules FAQ

How many spelling rules are there?

The American English language has more than 30 spelling rules. Some estimate 40 or more rules govern the language.

Most spelling rules have exceptions. Knowing these rules will help writers avoid common misspellings and frequent spelling errors. Rules help with adding prefixes and suffixes effectively to base words.

What are the 5 most important spelling rules?

I Before E, except after C. This guideline does have exceptions, but good spellers know it well.

Change Y to I and add -es. This mnemonic helps spellers remember what to do when adding a suffix to a word that ends with Y. It applies not only to -es but also to -ed, -er and -est.

A silent e at the end of a word's final syllable changes the way the other vowels are said. It also changes the meaning of the word, such as bit versus bite.

Words with short vowels that have suffixes added to the end of the word often require double consonants. For example, pop becomes popped, and drop becomes dropping.

When making a word plural, add either an -s or -es after the last syllable. Use -es for words that end in S, SH, CH, X, or Z.

How can I remember spelling rules?

The American English language has more than 30 spelling rules. Some estimate 40 or more rules govern the language.

Most spelling rules have exceptions. Knowing these rules will help writers avoid common misspellings and frequent spelling errors. Rules help with adding prefixes and suffixes effectively to base words.

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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