Words in English are not always spelled as they are pronounced as there are spelling rules. Spelling in English follows some basic rules and the majority of English words (around 75%) follow these rules. You can learn the rules but there are always exceptions to the rules that need to be learned too.
The main basic spelling rules of English relate to: prefixes and suffixes; spelling and plurals; doubling letters; dropping and adding letters; verb forms. This section focuses on British English but also covers some basic differences in spelling between British and American English.
Spelling Rule 1: I Before E, Except After C
The rule goes like this:
I before E, Except after C, unless it sounds like A, as in neighbor or weigh
There are many exceptions to this rule—maybe it’s better to think of it as a guideline—but it can be helpful with words like the ones below.
I before E
Except before C
Unless it sounds like A
Spelling Rule 2: Adding Suffixes to Words that End in Y
When you add a suffix that starts with E (such as -ed, -er, or -est) to a word that ends in Y, the Y usually changes to an I.
- Cry – cried – crier
- Dry – dried – drier
- Lay – laid (note the irregular spelling: no E)
- Baby – babies
- Family – families
- Ugly – ugliest
The Y doesn’t change for the suffix -ing.
If the word in question has two consonants before the Y, change the Y to I before adding the suffix ‑ly.
- Sloppy – sloppily
- Happy – happily
- Scary – scarily
Of course, there are always exceptions:
Spelling Rule 3: The Silent E
Typically, an E after a consonant at the end of a word is silent, but it does affect the way you pronounce the vowel that comes before the consonant. The E makes the vowel sound of the word (or syllable) long (like the I sound in kite) instead of short (like the I sound in kitten). It’s important to get the silent E right, because its presence or absence can change the meaning of a word.
When adding a suffix like -ed, -er or -est, the silent E is usually dropped from the end of the root word.
Spelling Rule 4: Double Consonants
Watch out for double consonants. It can be difficult to hear them when a word is said aloud—especially if the word has only one syllable. Double consonants are frequently found in words that have suffixes added to them:
Some words can be pronounced as either one or two syllables, but the spelling remains the same:
Example: The father blessed his son before the wedding.
In this sentence, blessed is pronounced as one syllable: blest.
Be particularly careful with words where a double consonant can change the pronunciation and the meaning of the word.
Spelling Rule 5: Plural Suffixes
When do you add ‑s and when do you add ‑es to make a plural? It’s not quite as arbitrary as it may seem. The rule is this: if a word ends in ‑s, ‑sh, ‑ch, ‑x, or ‑z, you add ‑es.
For all other endings, add ‑s.
Be careful of words that don’t change when they’re pluralized (e.g., fish, sheep, moose). If you’re unsure, check the dictionary.