Spelling Rules In English

Words ending in –ise and –ize

Many English verbs can be spelt with either –ise or –ize. In American English –ize is preferred in these cases.

realize/realise (GB)
realize (US)
mechanize/mechanise (GB)
mechanize (US)
baptize/baptise (GB)
baptize (US)

Most words of two syllables, and some longer ones have –ise in both British and American English. Examples are:

surprise
exercise
advise
comprise
despise
compromise
improvise
supervise
televise
advertise

Notes

Capsize has –ize in both British and American English.

Spelling – Adverb formation

We normally change an adjective into an adverb by adding –ly.

slow – slowly
real – really
right – rightly
careful – carefully
beautiful – beautifully
complete – completely
hopeful – hopefully
right – rightly

There are some exceptions to this rule.

true – truly (NOT truely)
due – duly (NOT duely)
whole – wholly (NOT wholelly)
full – fully (NOT fullly)

Adjectives ending in y

-y changes to –i when we make adverbs from adjectives.

happy – happily
easy – easily
dry – drily or dryly
gay – gaily

Exceptions

shy – shyly
sly – slyly
coy – coyly

Adjectives ending in consonant + le

-le changes to –ly after a consonant.

idle – idly
noble – nobly
able – ably

Adjectives ending in -ic

If an adjective ends in –ic, the adverb ends in –ically.

tragic – tragically
ironic – ironically
phonetic – phonetically

Exception

public – publicly (NOT publically)

Doubling final consonants

The final consonant of a word is sometimes doubled before adding -ed, -er, -est, -ing, -able, -y (or any ending that begins with a vowel).

stop – stopped
sit – sitting
big – bigger

Which consonants are doubled?

We double the following letters.

b: rub – rubbing
d: sad – saddened, sadder, saddening
g: big – bigger
l: travel – travelling
m: slim – slimming
n: win – winning
p: stop – stopped
r: prefer – preferred
t: sit – sitting

Notes

We only double consonants that come at the end of the word.

Compare:

hop – hopping
hope – hoping
fat – fatter
late – later

We only double the final consonant when the word ends in a vowel + consonant.

fat – fatter
fast – faster
bet – betting
beat – beating

We only double final consonants in stressed syllables. We do not double final consonants in longer words that end in unstressed syllables.

up’ set – up’ setting
‘visit – ‘visiting
be’ gin – be’ ginning
‘open –opening

In British English, we double –l at the end of a word after one vowel letter, even in unstressed syllables.

‘travel – travelling
‘equal – equalled

In American English, words like this are normally spelt with one l: traveling

Words ending in e

When a suffix beginning with a vowel (e.g. –ing, -able, -ous) is added to a word that ends in –e, we usually drop the –e.

make – making
hope – hoping
fame – famous
note – notable

Some words have two possible forms before –able and –age. Note that the form without –e is more common in most cases.

love – loveable or lovable
like – likeable or likable
move – moveable or movable

When final –e is not dropped

Final –e is not dropped from words ending in –ee, -oe, or –ye.

agree – agreeable
see – seeing
dye – dyeing

Final –e is not dropped from words ending in a consonant + e.

definite – definitely
complete – completely
excite – excitedly
excite – excitement

Exceptions

Final –e is dropped from words ending in –ue.

true – truly
argue – argument
argue – arguably

In words that end with –ce and –ge, we do not drop –e before a or o.

replace – replaceable
courage – courageous

Judg(e)ment and acknowledg(e)ment can be spelt with or without the –e after g.

Spelling and pronunciation

In many English words, the spelling is different from the pronunciation. Here is a list of some difficult words with their pronunciations. The letters in brackets are usually not pronounced.

Asp(i)rin
ev(e)ning
om(e)lette
bus(i)ness
ev(e)ry
rest(au)rant
choc(o)late
marri(a)ge
sev(e)ral
diff(e)rent
med(i)cine
comf(or)table
temp(e)rature
int(e)resting
us(u)ally
secret(a)ry
veg(e)table

Silent letters

The letters in brackets are usually not pronounced.

clim(b), com(b), dum(b)
mus(c)le
han(d)kerchief, san(d)wich, We(d)nesday
champa(g)ne, forei(g)n, si(g)n
bou(gh)t, cau(gh)t, ou(gh)t, thou(gh)t
dau(gh)ter, hei(gh)t, hi(gh), li(gh)t, mi(gh)t, nei(gh)bour, ni(gh)t, ri(gh)t, strai(gh)t, throu(gh), ti(gh)t, wei(gh)
w(h)at, w(h)en, w(h)ere, w(h)ether, w(h)ich, w(h)ip, w(h)y
(h)onest, (h)onour, (h)our
(k)nee, (k)nife, (k)nob, (k)now
ca(l)m, cou(l)d, ha(l)f, sa(l)mon, shou(l)d, ta(l)k, wa(l)k, wou(l)d
autum(n), hym(n)
(p)neumatic, (p)sychiatrist, (p)sychology, (p)sychotherapy
cu(p)board
i(r)on
i(s)land, i(s)le
cas(t)le, Chris(t)mas, fas(t)en, lis(t)en, of(t)en, whis(t)le
g(u)ess, g(u)ide, g(u)itar
(w)rap, (w)rite, (w)rong
(w)ho, (w)hose, (w)hole

Words ending in y

When we add a suffix to a word that ends in –y, we usually change the
–y to –i.

hurry – hurried
fury – furious
merry – merrily, merriment
marry – marriage
easy – easily, easier
busy – business
happy – happily, happiness

Generally nouns that end in –y have plural forms in –ies.

story – stories
spy – spies

Verbs that end in –y usually have third person singular forms in –ies.

worry – worries
hurry – hurries
try – tries

When we add a suffix beginning with –i to a word ending in –y, we do not change the –y to –i.

try – trying
baby – babyish

The final –y is not changed to –i after a vowel letter.

buy – buying
play – playing, played
enjoy – enjoyment

Exceptions

say – said
pay – paid
lay – laid

We change –ie to –y before –ing.

die – dying
lie – lying

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Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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