While spelling used to be taught via simple memorization, experts now believe that understanding key spelling rules is the best way to master new words.
Rules help you learn new spelling words in several different ways. They take the mystery out of spelling by demonstrating patterns among seemingly unrelated words. You can see connections between unfamiliar words and words you already know. Rules offer clues as to how a word is spelled. And they explain how new words are built using prefixes and suffixes.
Ready to build a strong foundation in spelling? Let's get started.
Basic Spelling Rules
Due to the nature of English, there's no such thing as a 100 percent accurate rule. Every rule comes with many exceptions, because English is constantly changing and adopting new words with new rules of their own. That said, there are plenty of consistently reliable rules of thumb that make English spelling easier. They don't work every time, but they absolutely work often enough that every English writer should know them.
- The letter Q is almost always followed by U, as in words like "queen," "earthquake," and "equity." When used in this way, the U is not considered to be a vowel. There are exceptions to this rule, but they're few and far between.
- The letter S never follows X. The letter C often takes its place to achieve the desired sound, as in excise and excite.
- In most words with a short vowel sound, only one vowel is needed. Examples of this rule include "at," "it," "hot," "red" and "up."
- When adding a suffix, you usually need to drop the final E, especially in American English. Many words end with a silent final E, and when adding an ending that starts with a vowel, you should always remove it. In this way, "come" becomes "coming," "hope" becomes "hoping," "race" becomes "racing" and "squeeze" becomes "squeezing."
- The word "all," written alone, has two L's. When used as a prefix, however, only one L is written. Examples of this rule include "almost," "also," "altogether" and "always."
- Generally, adding a prefix to a word does not change the correct spelling. So adding de- to "activate" results in "deactivate," and adding non- to "fiction" becomes "nonfiction."
- Words ending in a vowel and Y can add the suffix -ed or -ing without making any other change. "Jockeying," "journeying," "paying" and "toying" are all examples of this rule.
If you are interested in a rules-based approach to improving your spelling skills, check out the Spelling Rules website. The creator of this site has developed a Spell500 instructional method that uses spelling rules to teach students how to master up to 500 new words per day. By focusing on understanding rules before memorization, this study method proposes to drastically increase your spelling abilities.
Additional Spelling Resources
To learn more about how you can use spelling rules to become a better speller, check out the following helpful links:
- ThoughtCo offers a list of simple rules to help people who are learning English as a second language.
- Dyslexia.org has a list of spelling rules designed to assist learning disabled students in mastering new vocabulary words.
- Guide to Grammar contains spelling rules as well as general tips for mastering new words.
- Say It in English provides a slightly humorous look at the seemingly inconsistent methods of spelling everyday vocabulary words.
- Garden of Praise has clever songs that you can use to help memorize a variety of common spelling rules.
Tricky Word Help
Right here at YourDictionary, we've also put together lists of 100 Most Often Misspelled Words in English and 150 More Often Misspelled Words in English. These include more rules you can use to help spell these tricky words.