0708-1300/English Spelling

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Spelling!

To speak English well, you need grammar. To write English well, you need grammar, punctuation and spelling.

In Old England words were written as they sounded (phonetically) and so one word could often be spelt in many different ways. In addition English has adopted words from many other languages. Eventually spelling was standardised, and although many English words have irregular spellings there are some rules that can help you. Watch out though, for every rule there are always some exceptions! English has over 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 separate sounds, more than any other language.

How to Improve Your Spelling

1. Keep a notebook of words you find difficult to spell. Underline the part of the word that you find most difficult.

2. Use a dictionary, not a spell-checker! OK use a spell-checker, but don't rely on it. Spell-checkers don't check for meaning, the most common misspelt words I have seen on the net are there and their.

3. Learn words with their possible prefixes and suffixes.

4. Learn the rules, but don't rely on them. As I mentioned earlier for every rule there is at least one exception.

i before e except after c

One of the first English spelling rules learnt in most schools is "i before e except after c". This only works when the pronunciation of the word is like a long ee as in shield.

For example:-

piece, relief, niece, priest, thief

but after c

conceive, conceit, receive, receipt

when A or I is the sound it's the other way round

with an 'a' sound - deign, eight, neighbour, feign, reign, vein, weight

with an 'i' sound either, feisty, height, neither, sleight

Exceptions:

seize, weird, conscientious, conscience, efficient . . .

Silent Letters

What is a silent letter?

A silent letter is a letter that must be included when you write the word even though you don't pronounce it. Over half the alphabet can appear as silent letters in words. They can be found at the beginning, end or middle of the words and, from the sound of the word, you wouldn't know that they were there.

For example:-

a - treadle, bread

b - lamb, bomb, comb

c - scissors, science, scent

d - edge, bridge, ledge

e - see below

h - honour, honest, school

k - know, knight, knowledge

l - talk, psalm, should

n - hymn, autumn, column

p - pneumatic, psalm, psychology

s - isle, island, aisle

t - listen, rustle, shistle

u - biscuit, guess, guitar

w - write, wrong, wrist


Silent e

Silent e is the most commonly found silent letter in the alphabet. There are some hard and fast rules for spelling when a word ends with a silent e. When you wish to add a suffix to a word and it ends with a silent e, if the suffix begins with a consonant you don't need to change the stem of the word.

For example:

force + ful =forceful

manage + ment =management

sincere + ly =sincerely


If however the suffix begins with a vowel or a y, drop the e before adding the suffix.

For example:

fame + ous =famous

nerve + ous =nervous

believable + y =believably

criticise + ism =criticism

Exceptions:

mileage, aggreeable

Prefixes and Suffixes

Adding a prefix to a word doesn't usually change the spelling of the stem of the word.

For example:-

anti + septic antiseptic

auto + biography autobiography

de - sensitize desensitize

dis - approve disapprove

im - possible impossible

inter - mediate intermediate

mega - byte megabyte

mis - take mistake

micro - chip microchip

re - used reused

un - available unavailable


Adding a suffix to a word often changes the spelling of the stem of the word. The following may help you work out the changes. Again there are exceptions, so if you're not sure - look it up in your dictionary.

Words ending in a consonant When the suffix begins with a consonant, just add the ending without any changes.

For example:-

treat + ment treatment

Doubling the consonant

For most words with a short vowel sound, ending with a single consonant, double the consonant when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel, such as er, ed or ing.

For example:-

mop + ing mopping

big + est biggest

hot + er hotter

For words endling in l after a vowel, double the l before adding er, ed or ing.

For example:-

carol + ing carolling

travel + er travelling

Exceptions:

Some words ending in r, x, w or y are exceptions to the doubling rule

tear + ing tearing

blow + ing blowing

box + er boxer

know + ing knowing


And if your main word has two consonants at the end, or more than one vowel, don't double the consonant.

rain + ing (two vowels a + i) raining

keep + er (two vowels e + e) keeper

break + ing (two vowels e + a) breaking

hang + er (two consonants n + g) hanger

Word Endings

Words ending in ce and ge

When you want to add a suffix starting with a or o leave the e in.

For example:-

manage + able manageable

notice + able noticeable

courage + ous courageous

Exceptions:

prestige + ous prestigious

Words ending in ie

When you want to add ing to verbs ending in ie, drop the e and change the i to a y.

For example:-

die - dying

lie - lying

tie - tying

Words ending in y after a consonant

When you want to add suffixes such -as, -ed, -es, -er, -eth, -ly, -ness, -ful and -ous to a word ending in y after a consonant, change the y to an i before adding the suffix.

For example:-

eighty + eth eightieth

duty + es duties

lazy + ness laziness

mystery +ous mysterious

beauty + ful beautiful

multiply + ed multiplied

busy + ly busily

Words ending in y after a vowel

Keep the y when adding suffixes such as er, ing or ed.

For example:-

destroy destroying destroyed

pry prying pried

buy buying buyer

play playing player