14 Spelling Rules in English with Examples - A Complete Guide

No matter how old we grow and how many years we have been using a language, knowing the right spelling of all the words is a challenge. The English language, especially, has words that are spelled nothing like they are pronounced. There are also many phonetically similar sounds which can take different spellings. So, how can one really learn and remember the spellings of words? Knowing spelling rules is the only way; otherwise, you will have to sit down and memorise the whole dictionary, which is not possible or advisable. Go through the article and learn how the different words are spelled.

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Important Spelling Rules in English

When ‘see’ and ‘sea’ both have the same pronunciation and when ‘through’ and ‘trough’ have two different pronunciations, it is not that easy for a new language learner to understand why it is so. It is to help with such scenarios that we have spelling rules. Not everything can be made sense of using spelling rules. For some words (no matter how much you try to reason out), it is just the way it is. However, here are some of the most important spelling rules to help you understand how a particular word should be spelt.

Adding Prefixes

In most case scenarios, the spelling of the base word does not change when adding prefixes. Prefixes like un-, in-, dis-, im-, re-, pre-, post-, mis-, under-, over- and non- are merely added to the words without changing its spelling. Understanding which prefix to use can also be a challenge at times. Take a look at the following examples to understand how prefixes work.

Unsatisfactory Undecided Unorganised Unethical Unplanned
Unemotional Unemployed Unintentional Unobtrusive Underline
Underrated Overrated Misunderstand Mislead Misplace
Non-smoker Non-alcoholic Indisciplined Impotent Impatient
Insane Independent Reassure Prepone Postpone
Postmodern Preproduction Rejoin Underestimate Reiterate
Overconfidence Discourage Discomfort Preview Overlay

Adding Suffixes

You have to be careful when adding suffixes. Unlike prefixes, there would be a change in the spelling of the word to which the suffix is added, though not always. Take a look at the following table and analyse how the words are spelt.

Fatter Reddish Swimming Sadness Pollution
Propeller Cancelled Pavement Adorable Sizeable
Dying Courageous Manageable Seeing Lately
Beautiful Buyer Brotherhood Happiness Movement
Friendship Betterment Invention Falsehood Amusement

‘Ei’ or ‘Ie’?

The decision to use ‘ie’ or ‘ei’ might be one of the most confusing things you will come across when learning English spellings. Even a person who is fluent in the language might end up being confused which one to use every now and then. If you are wondering how these spellings work, here is how.

  • In words that have a ‘c’, make sure you use ‘e’ and then ‘i’. For example: receive, deceive, perceive, ceiling, etc.
  • For words where ‘ei’ is used as a diphthong (pronounced as ‘a’), ‘e’ comes first. For example: neigh, neighbour, eight, reign, freight, weight, sleigh, weigh, feisty, etc.
  • For all other words, ‘i’ comes first. For example: thief, friend, belief, chief, priest, field, grief, etc.
  • However, there are some words which do not fall into any of these. For example: weird, conscience, science, either, neither, leisure, sufficient, species, seize, height, foreign, forfeit, heist, their, sovereign, etc.

Silent Letters

There are times when you would wonder why a particular alphabet is part of the word when it is not pronounced. Haven’t you? Letters such as ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘e’, ‘g’, ‘h’, ‘k’, ‘l’, ‘n’, ‘t’, ‘u’, ‘w’ come under that category. Take a look at the following examples.

Words with Silent ‘A’

Encyclopaedia Ready Orthopaedic Instead
Steady Bread Peacock Sea
Peace Spread Lead Read

Words with Silent ‘B’

Debt Dumb Lamb Crumb
Womb Doubt Numb Comb
Subtle Thumb Limb Succumb

Words with Silent ‘C’

Descend Ascend Crescent Scent
Scenery Scene Science Disciple
Obscene Scenario Muscle Fascinate

Words with Silent ‘D’

Badge Ledger Edge Budget
Budge Handsome Hedge Bridge
Handful Grandson Sandwich Wednesday

Words with Silent ‘E’

Bake Take Plague Vegetable
Breathe Like Desire Envelope
Shine Kite Fire Excite

Words with Silent ‘G’

Foreign Reign Benign Design
Align Resign Sign Gnarl
Light High Gnaw Weight

Words with Silent ‘H’

Hour Honest Honour Anchor
Chorus Architect Technology Ghost
Psychology Ache Echo Chaos

Words with Silent ‘K’

Knife Knee Knowledge Knot
Know Knit Kneel Knack
Knuckle Knead Knock Knell

Words with Silent ‘L’

Calm Alms Balm Almond
Calf Should Could Palm
Talk Walk Half Stalk

Words with Silent ‘N’

Column Autumn Condemn Hymn
Solemn Damn Limn Bedamn

Words with Silent ‘P’

Psychology Psoriasis Pneumonia Pseudopodia
Psalm Psychiatric Pseudonym Psychosis
Cupboard Receipt Raspberry Psycho

Words with Silent ‘T’

Listen Hasten Fasten Witch
Stitch Crutches Patch Stretch
Batch Often Apostle Glisten

Words with Silent ‘U’

Guide Plague Guilty Build
Guitar Biscuit Silhouette Disguise
Building Guilt Rogue Guest

Words with Silent ‘W’

Wrong Wrath Wrap Who
Wholesome Wrestle Whole Wreck
Wrist Write Wrinkle Wreath

‘U’ after ‘Q’, no ‘S’ after ‘X’

Every word that has a ‘q’ in it will be followed by ‘u’. A few examples of this case are given below.

  • Quest
  • Queue
  • Quench
  • Plaque
  • Quality
  • Qualify
  • Quantity
  • Quick

Not a word in the English language will have the letter ‘s’ following ‘x’. Check out the following words.

  • Excite
  • Excitement
  • Excellent
  • Exceed
  • Excessive
  • Excited
  • Exceptional
  • Excellence

No ‘Vs’ or ‘Js’ at the End of Words

This is a peculiar feature of the English language. While there are words ending in every other consonant, you will never find a word ending with the letter ‘v’ or the letter ‘j’.

Words Ending in ‘ck’

Monosyllabic words that have the /k/ sound at the end are seen to have ‘ck’ in their spellings. Examples of such words are given in the table below. Check them out.

Crack Knack Check Rack
Pack Back Hack Tick
Chick Prick Stick Slack
Stack Neck Peck Kick

Similar Phonetic Sounds

Multiple words in the English language seem to have the same/similar pronunciations but different spellings. Homonymshomophones and homographs belong to this category. Here are a few examples.

Homonyms
Word 1 Word 2 Word 1 Word 2
Steel Steal Eyes Ice
Deer Dear Sea Sea
Write Right Knot Not
No Know Whole Hole

Forming Gerunds

Forming gerunds is one of the easiest things to do in the English language. All you have to do is add an ‘-ing’ to the end of the word. However, there are cases in which the last consonant has to be doubled before adding ‘-ing’. Check out the table below for a few examples of this kind.

Shopping Beginning Getting Swimming
Winning Spinning Occurring Letting
Setting Whipping Skipping Running

In other cases, you will have to remove the last ‘e’ from the verb before adding ‘-ing’. Here are a few examples.

Having Achieving Gaming Taking
Managing Receiving Entitling Reciting
Biking Skating Exercising Reducing

There are many more such gerunds. Check out the article on gerunds for more examples.

Change of Spelling with Change of Tense

The change in tense is always indicated by the addition of helping verbs and change in spelling of the main verb. Very few verbs like read, lead, beat, cut, let, put, etc. have the same spelling when used as a past participle or a present participle. Here is a table with some examples.

Verb Past Participle Present Participle
Bring Brought Brought
Sing Sang Sung
Swim Swam Swum
Fly Flew Flown
Spring Sprang Sprung
Teach Taught Taught
Know Knew Known
Grow Grew Grown
Close Closed Closed
Appear Appeared Appeared
Speak Spoke Spoken
Cry Cried Cried

Check out regular verbs and irregular verbs for more examples.

Change of Spelling in the Plural Form

Changing a singular noun into a plural noun also requires a change of spelling in most cases. There are only a few nouns that don’t need to have a change in spelling when used in the plural form. Most probably, a noun is changed to its plural form just by the addition of the letter ‘s’, some with the addition of ‘es’, a few others with ‘ies’ and others with the addition of ‘ves’. Even so, there are some nouns which do not fall in any of these categories. A few examples of nouns with different spellings in the plural form are given below. Go through them and try to understand how it works.

Adding ‘s’ Adding ‘es’
Singular Noun Plural Noun Singular Noun Plural Noun
Table Tables Mango Mangoes
Bed Beds Tomato Tomatoes
Dog Dogs Watch Watches
Place Places Bench Benches
Adding ‘ies’ Adding ‘ves’
Singular Noun Plural Noun Singular Noun Plural Noun
Chilly Chillies Wife Wives
Peony Peonies Loaf Loaves
Daisy Daisies Leaf Leaves
Lily Lilies Knife Knives
Irregular Nouns Nouns that stay the same
Singular Noun Plural Noun Singular Noun Plural Noun
Child Children Furniture Furniture
Ox Oxen Sheep Sheep
Alumnus Alumni Fish Fish
Bacterium Bacteria Scissors Scissors

Double ‘Fs’, ‘Ls’ and ‘Ss’ at the End of Monosyllabic Words

You would have come across multiple words with double consonants in their spellings. Have you ever wondered if there is a logical way to explain why it is so? Well, there is. If you analyse, you will see that monosyllabic words which have a vowel before the last letter, the last letter being ‘l’, ‘f’ or ‘s’ seem to have double consonants. Take a look at the following table to understand.

Words ending with double ‘f’ Words ending with double ‘l’ Words ending with double ‘s’
Sniff Still Miss
Stiff Chill Chess
Puff Till Kiss
Cuff Mill Fuss
Chaff Stall Floss

Doubling Consonants of Monosyllabic Words When Forming the Comparative Degree and Superlative Degree

Every adjective can have three degrees of comparison namely the positive degree, the comparative degree and the superlative degree. While the superlative degree is formed by the addition of ‘est’ to the adjective and the comparative degree is formed by adding ‘er’, there are some adjectives which require a doubling of the final consonant before adding ‘er’ to form the comparative degree. This is mainly the case with monosyllabic adjectives. Given below are a few examples. Check them out.

Fatter Bigger Redder Wetter
Fattest Biggest Reddest Wettest
Hotter Sadder Thinner Slimmer
Hottest Saddest Thinnest Slimmest

How to Keep Track of Your Vocabulary and Spelling?

Is there any way to remember all this? Is that what you are thinking? If you are, know this. Keeping in touch with the language on a regular basis and improving your language skills, especially reading and writing is what will help you remember and use the spellings correctly. Imagine reading a passage with misspelt words; you will not be able to make sense of it. Even if you do, it would most likely take a lot of your time.

In order to be able to use the right spellings and build your vocabulary, all that you need to do is to stay connected to the language constantly. Make reading a habit. Also try writing a journal or a diary so you will make it a point to write about your day regularly.

Frequently Asked Questions on English Spelling Rules

Q1

What are the 5 spelling rules in English?

  • ‘U’ after ‘Q’, no ‘S’ after ‘X’
  • Use ‘ei’ after ‘c’ except when ‘ei’ is used as a diphthong and ‘ie’ otherwise
  • No ‘Vs’ or ‘Js’ at the End of Words
  • Double ‘Fs’, ‘Ls’ and ‘Ss’ at the End of Monosyllabic Words
  • Doubling Consonants of Monosyllabic Words When Forming the Comparative Degree
Q2

Why is it important to know spelling rules?

English is a language with peculiar spelling patterns and not knowing the spelling rules will only make the language tougher. In order to write error-free text passages, make sure to learn the spelling rules in English, so you can avoid silly mistakes.

Q3

How do I teach my child spelling rules?

Teaching a child or any new language learner spelling rules can be done through constant practice, giving dictation words, reading and analysing passages, etc. You can also try teaching spellings with the help of syllabification.