Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Common English Spelling Rules

The English language has hundreds of thousands of words. Some come from Latin, while others are borrowed from French or Spanish. Many are simply modern variations of Old English words. The wide variability of English words makes any hard and fast spelling rules nearly impossible – it seems just about every one is accompanied by the phrase ‘with the exception of…’ followed by a list of example words.

Nonetheless, there are several spelling rules which can help with the majority of words. Below are some of the most useful.


  • I before E except after C. This rule is useful, but generally only applies to words where the I and E make a long ‘E’ sound, such as in ‘receive’ or ‘ceiling.’ This does not apply to other words, like ‘science.’
  • U always after a Q. In English, any Q is immediately followed by a U, and together they form a ‘kw’ sound.
  • Y at the end of a word instead of I. Most words that end in a long I-sound end in a Y, and Y becomes the word’s vowel. Examples include ‘cry,’ ‘sty,’ and ‘lullaby.’ There are a few exceptions, including ‘tie.’
  • Add S to make a word plural. Add ES if the word already ends in S. This rule helps us to differentiate between singular and plural words that already end in S. For example, ‘boss’ doesn’t really sound all that different from ‘bosss’ – you’d just draw it out and sound silly. Instead, we say ‘bosses.’
  • To make words ending in Y plural, drop the Y and add IES. This one is pretty self-explanatory and there are very few exceptions to this rule. Prime examples are ‘babies,’ ‘strawberries,’ and ‘ladies.’
  • When adding a suffix to a word ending with a vowel, drop the vowel. This rule is generally correct when changing the tense of most verbs, or making any word an adverb or adjective. For example, ‘care’ becomes ‘caring,’ when the ING suffix is added.
  • Double the consonant at the end of a word when adding a suffix that starts with a vowel. For example, the ING suffix we just used starts with a vowel. For most words that end in a consonant, you double the final letter before adding the suffix. For example, ‘stop’ becomes ‘stopping,’ ‘begin’ becomes ‘beginning,’ and ‘bet’ becomes ‘betting.’ This rule breaks down when a word ends in two or more consonants. For example, the K at the end of ‘park’ does not double when it becomes ‘parking.’
  • S never follows X. S never, ever follows X, so any word that ends in an X automatically takes an extra E when it becomes plural. For example, ‘box’ becomes ‘boxes’, and ‘fox’ becomes ‘foxes.’
  • DGE makes a J-sound when ending a word after a vowel. This one is self-explanatory. Words like ‘badge,’ ‘fudge,’ and ‘lodge’ exhibit this characteristic.
  • L, F, and S are doubled after a vowel at the end of a single-syllable word. This can be seen in ‘full,’ ‘fluff,’ and ‘class.’

Lesson Summary

This lesson discussed just a handful of the countless rules often used and quoted in English spelling, including i before e except after c and u always after a q. As you can see, calling these ‘rules’ is a bit of a stretch, given the number of exceptions to each one. Nonetheless, they can be very useful when figuring out the spelling of new words, and how to make each one plural. Without these guidelines, we might be lost when confronted with a new word. Learn and keep many of these in mind, and there’s a good chance you will spell new words correctly more often!

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