English Spelling Rules

a man with a big pen, trying to spellHere are some of the basic English spelling rules you should definitely know about.

Specific spelling rules for verb tenses

When dealing with tenses, we often need to change the spelling of the verb. 

So here you have the commonly used English spelling rules for verbs:


For general tips and advice read: How to Improve Your Spelling, a Guide for Students

Read the rules and make sure to practice them at the Exercises Section.

Another good way to improve your spelling is reading.

That way you see the words again and again and get familiar with their spelling. So visit the English Short Stories section, too.


Now, let's go over to some more general spelling rules:

Spelling rule #1:  S or ES?

The normal rule to make regular plurals in English, or to change a regular verb to the he/she/it form (also known as the third person singular), is to add S to the end of the word.

For example:
  • One dog --> Lots of dogs
  • I work --> She works
  • A car --> Some cars
  • You like tea --> She likes coffee

But sometimes we need to add ES instead. When the word ends in: CH, SH, X, SS (and ZZ but this isn't common), then we have to add ES.

For example:
  • I watch TV every night. --> He watches TV at the weekend.
  • I have one wish. --> The genie gave him three wishes.
  • Can you fix this? --> A mechanic fixes cars.
  • Give me a kiss! --> She gave her daughter lots of kisses.

Spelling rule #1B: the problem with Y

Students are often confused by the letter Y.

Sometimes it is removed from the end of the word before the word is changed into a plural or third person singular form, and sometimes it isn't.


So what's the rule?

There are two types of letters in English. Vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and consonants (all the other letters)

If a word ends in Y, and before the Y there is a consonant (for example, fly, try, spy) then the Y is removed, and IES is added.

For example:
  • I want to fly a kite. --> A pilot flies a plane.
  • He was a spy. --> The spies were caught.
  • Try this exercise. --> Sarah tries very hard in her lessons.

If the word ends with a vowel then Y (for example, play, tray, toy) then simply an S is added.

For example:
  • I used to play with dolls. --> She plays with other children.
  • He has a new toy. --> The dog has lots of toys.

Spelling rule #2: doubling consonants

Some words which end in consonants double the last letter when suffixes (extra letters) are added to the end of the word.

For example:

  • hot --> hotter
  • swim --> swimming
However, this doesn't always happen.


So what's the rule?

If a word ends in a consonant that has one vowel before it, then the last consonant is doubled.

For example:
  • travel --> traveller (British English spelling)
  • big --> biggest

This does not usually happen with words with more than one syllable ending in ER, or OR. (Of course, there are exceptions!)

For example:

  • fur / furry / furred / furring
  • plot / plotted /plotter
But
  • miser / misery / miserly
  • target / targeted
  • bigot / bigoted
  • travel / traveler (American English spelling)


Be careful!

If a word has two vowels before the last consonant, or there are two consonants at the end, the last letter isn't doubled.

For example:
  • old --> oldest
  • shoot --> shooter

Spelling rule #3: the disappearing E

If a verb ends in E, then the E is removed before adding ING to the end of the word.

For example:

  • make --> making
  • come --> coming
Click here for the complete list of rules on English plural nouns.

Students often make mistakes with spelling in English. There are other English spelling rules, but these are the most basic ones.

Boy writing happily


What's Next?

  1. Practice, practice, practice with the Exercises

  2. Improve your spelling by reading Short Stories

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