Spelling Tip Number 9 - Knowing Spelling Rules

The Top Ten Spelling Rules

Knowing spelling rules, and the exceptions to the rule, is a great strategy to help you understand why spelling is the way it is and helps you spell. In this lesson we'll look at the top ten spelling rules.

Some people think if they learn a spelling rule they’ll be able to spell. Unfortunately, the trouble with rules is you have to remember the rule! And which words work with the rule and the words that don’t!

But some people like learning rules, get a buzz out of finding out how to use them. It’s always good to know why spelling is the way it, and knowing spelling rules is one of many strategies to help you spell well. So even if you forget the rule, maybe you’ll remember the spelling pattern, and at least you hopefully will know why a spelling is the way it is.

Let's look at the top ten rules in a very basic way with no exceptions just the bare bones of the rule. If you want a more detailed spelling rules course then check out my course on udemy.com/spelling-rules-course for my in-depth spelling rules course with worksheets and exercises.

1. the "i before e except after c" rule
believe - receive
As a basic rule this is great
but what about ancient, leisure, neighbour/neighbor

We have a longer version of the rule:
" i before e except after a long c but not when c is a "sh" sound and not when sounded like 'a' as in neighbour or weigh."
( i before e rule) believe, achieve, (except after c),receive, ceiling (but not when c is sounded like sh) ancient, proficient
not when sounded like 'a' ) eight, beige
But there are exceptions always exceptions so watch out for them.

2. Changing "y" to "ies"
You might not know the spelling rule but you might know the spelling pattern - most people do.

When the word ends in a vowel + y just add ‘s’
key → keys
delay → delays
trolley → trolleys
(because we can't have three vowels in a row delaies x )

If the word has a consonant before the ‘y’:
take off the ‘y’ and add ‘ies’
baby → babies
company → companies
difficulty → difficulties

3. Adding -es to words ending in -s, -ss, -z -ch -sh -x
This was added centuries ago to stop the plural 's' clashing with these letters and it softens the 's' sound to a 'z' sound
bus→ buses
business → businesses
watch → watches
box → boxes
quiz → quizzes

4. 1:1:1 doubling up rule
put - putting, big-bigger, quiz - quizzes, swim - swimming...

When a word has one syllable + 1 vowel next to 1 consonant we double up the final consonant with a vowel suffix:
sit - sitter, big - biggest, tap - tapping, shop - shopper/shopping, fat - fatten, fattening, fatter, fattest...

This happens in longer words when the stress is on the final syllable:
begin (beGIN) - beginner, beginning
refer (reFER) - referring, referred
occur (ocCUR) - occurring, occurred, occurrence

5. Drop the ‘e’ rule
We usually drop the final silent "e" when we add vowel suffix endings, for example:

write + ing → writing
hope + ed = hoped
excite + able = excitable
joke - joker
large - largish
close - closing
sense + ible = sensible
opposite + ion = opposition
imagine + ation = imagination

We keep the 'e' if the word ends in –CE or –GE to keep a soft sound, with able/ous
courage + ous = courageous
outrage + ous = outrageous
notice + able = noticeable
manage + able = manageable

6. Changing the "y" to "i" when adding suffix endings.

If a word ends in a consonant + Y, the Y changes to i (unless adding endings with "i" -ing -ish, which already begins with an i)

beauty+ful > beauti+ful =beautiful, beautify, beautician
happy + ness = - happiness, happily, happier, happiest
angry + er = angrier, angriest, angrily,
pretty: prettier, prettiest but prettyish
ready: readily readiness
dry: dried, BUT drying, dryish
defy: defies, defied, but defying
apply: applies, applied but applying

7. "-f" to "-ves" or "-s"

Most words ending in "-f" or "-fe" change their plurals to "-ves"
calf - calves
half - halves
knife - knives
leaf - leaves
loaf - loaves
life - lives
wife - wives
shelf - shelves
thief - thieves
yourself - yourselves

Some words can have both endings -ves or -s:
scarf - scarfs/scarves
dwarf - dwarfs/dwarves
wharf - wharfs/wharves
handkerchief - handkerchiefs/handkerchieves

Words ending in -ff you just add -s to make the plural.
cliff - cliffs
toff - toffs
scuff - scuffs
sniff - sniffs

Some words ending in -f add -s:
Nouns which end in two vowels plus -f usually form plurals in the normal way, with just an -s
chief - chiefs
spoof - spoofs
roof - roofs
chief - chiefs
oaf - oafs
EXCEPTIONS: thief - thieves, leaf - leaves

8. Words ending in -ful
The suffix –FUL is always spelt with one L, for example:

grate + ful = grateful
faith + ful = faithful
hope + ful = hopeful
beautiful (notice the"y" becomes "i")

9. Adding -ly

When we add -ly to words ending in -ful then we have double letters

We also add -ly to words ending in 'e'
love + ly = lovely
like + ly = likely
live + ly = lively
complete + ly = completely
definite + ly = definitely

BUT not truly (true + ly) This is a common misspelled word.

We change the end 'e' to 'y' in these -le words
gentle > gently
idle > idly
subtle > subtly

10. When we add "all" to the beginning of words we drop the l
all + so = also
all + most = almost
alright (all right as two words is used in more formal English)
altogether (Note that altogether and all together do not mean the same thing. Altogether means ‘in total’, as in there are six bedrooms altogether, whereas all together means ‘all in one place’ or ‘all at once’, as in it was good to have a group of friends all together; they came in all together.)

That's it for my top ten rules and my spelling tip number 9.
It's great to know all about spelling rules. I go into more depth about these rules in my Spelling Rules Workbook (see below or go to spelling tip number 10)

Spelling Rules Course app (Use your phone to learn spelling and really improve it every day with daily misspelled word exercises, short videos on the rules, quick spelling tests and quick revision reads.)
spelling app spelling app

Spelling Rules Workbook
a step-by-step guide to the rules of English spelling
(suitable for British and American users)

American and British spelling


Using this Spelling Rules Workbook gives you an instant "hit" of spelling knowledge.

  • You'll be able to use this knowledge to work out a spelling.
  • You'll know why certain 'strange' letter patterns occur.
  • You'll know why some words are spelt the way they are.
  • You'll know the few exceptions to the rule.
  • You'll see the difference between British and American spellings

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