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Sorting Out Spelling Rules!
( 9/23/15 )

word version


"By the age of ten or twelve, most children reach a fairly mature level of spelling ability. They are familiar with the most frequently used spelling patterns; they understand how to form plural nouns (book, books; box, boxes) or to change verb tenses (raise, raised, raising); they know how to form contractions (don't) and compound words (classroom ); they have learned many words that have unusual spellings (neighbour, sight ); and they can distinguish between words with the same sounds but different spellings and meanings (right and write or wood and would ). (Katy Independent School District,

Here are several spelling rules. There are many ways you can study spelling words and here are a few suggestions:

1.    list other words that follow the rule or are exceptions

2.    look for other 'rules' that the spelling words follow  e.g. deceive (i.e. rule; VCV rule)

3.    go to the list of Frequently Misspelled Words and see if you can say the rule, check to see if you are correct

4.    make up flashcards of the spelling words

5.    make up flashcards with words following a rule on one side, and the rule printed on the other side

6.    try to use these words in your daily writing

7.    go to Puzzlemaker and use spelling words you have trouble with to create word search 

8.    go to Basic Skill Practice Games to practice you overall spelling skills

9. also check out this list of words we frequently misuse Fun With Words



For more ideas that you can run off, go to





Quick links:



apostrophes (possessives)


CVCC and CVC (Inflected Endings)


CVCe, CVCV, CVVC & igh (long vowels)


CC or CCC (Blends, Complex Consonants)


compound words






gh and ph = 'f' sound


hard and soft c and g






plural nouns




ie or ei


r controlled vowels


silent letters


vowels (vowels including y)


vowel digraph


vowel diphthong (e.g. ow, ou, oi, oy)


vowels: other vowel sounds (short o sound e.g. al, aw, au, wa)


Assimilated Prefixes


Affixes (simple suffixes)

Unaccented Final Syllables

Affixes (complex suffixes)

-ence, ance




" CVCC" and CVC

"when a single vowel is followed by consonants the vowel makes a 'short' vowel sound"
- shop                      - hip
- effect                     - across
- went                      - bump
- blend                     - stand








Inflected Endings 1 "if a word has a short vowel sound followed by one consonant, we usually double the consonant before adding a suffix, that begins with a vowel, in order to keep the 1st vowel short e.g.

Pattern 1: adding ed, ing or er to hop becomes hopping (doubling is needed or else it says hoping)

Pattern 2: adding ed, ing or er to soap becomes soaping (doubling is not needed)








2) Inflected Endings 5

- when a word ends with an 'e', sometimes we drop the 'e' before adding a suffix and sometimes we do not

- if the suffix begins with a vowel, we drop the 'e' before adding it e.g. suffixes such as 'ing', 'ed', 'est' (if we did not drop the 'e', the word would contain two vowels in a row e.g. hopeing)

* examples for when we drop the 'e'

- bake .........baking                    fine........finer, finest         (or else it reads fineest)
- bike ...........biked, biker           wipe..........wiped, wiping
    (or else it reads wipeing)


- if the suffix begins with a consonant, we do not drop the 'e' e.g. hope, hopeful

 * examples for when we don't drop the 'e'

- hope.......hopeful                     home......homeless     























" Long Vowel sounds: * four typical patterns (VCV, VV, CV, igh)

1) VCV "a single vowel followed by one consonant followed by one vowel usually makes a 'long' vowel sound...vcv. (* when at the end, the second vowel is often an 'e')
- home, bake, wise, cube,
hobo, basic, human, ruby, final, mutate, rotate, tiny


2) VV two vowels side by side
- goat, seat, moan, coach


3) CV a single consonant followed by a by a single vowel
- no, go, b


4) igh
- sigh, fight, right


* prefixes usually spell their long-vowel sound with only one letter, regardless of the next letters
- preschool











" 2) CVVC"

"when two vowels go walking (side by side), the first one does the talking (makes the long sound) "
- leaves, wheat, sleep, rain, teaching, peach, reap, boat, coal

-  bread, said, wealthy, death


3) CVVC"

when 'igh' come together in a word, the 'i' is long
- light, bright, sigh, fright, delight, twilight, knight

-  eight, weight, freight









"CC" or CCC separate sound (phonics terminology)

* a blend is when two or more consonant are together and you can hear their two sounds
- small
- blend
- flee
- drop
- slid
- stop

- swing
- spend
- bleed
- free
- please
- bring
- crop










Complex Consonants (sometimes there are three consonants together, or one consonant is silent)
- tch as in 'batch'
- dge as in 'badge'
- scr as in 'scrub'
- squ as in 'squawk'
- kn
as in 'know' (the 'k' is silent)










double consonant in the middle of a word (sometimes you will see a double consonant in a word so that the first vowel stays short)

* think about what the first vowel would say if there was only one consonant

- funnel
- funny
- shutter
- tweezer









"CC" or CCC one sound (phonics terminology)

a digraph is when two or more consonant sounds are pronounced together as one sound
- thing
- where
- chug
- duck
- cash
- shore








" i.e."

"i before e except after c or when it sounds 'ay' as in neighbour or weigh"
i before e

- belief
- believe
- chief
- experience
- relief
- chief

after c
- perceive
- receipt
- receive

sounds like 'ay'
- neighbour
- weigh

- height
- weird
- their

* names usually follow the exception (Booth, Jack and Linda Booth, Spelling Essentials)
- Sheila
- Neil













"we use an apostrophe to show a letter missing or to show possession"

missing letter for a contraction
- can't
can not
- won't
- I'll
- it's
- hasn't

to show possessive nouns not its as in 'its home'














possessives: we also use an apostrophe to show ownership

possessive singular nouns (something or somethings belong to one noun e.g. one person)
- cat's whiskers

- car's hood
- boy's hair
- John's coat

possessive plural nouns (things belonging to a group of people, animals or things)
- cats' climbing tree (the climbing tree belongs to many cats)

- cars' horns (the horns of more than one car)
- boys' team (more than one boy belongs on the team)
- pigs' pen

possessive exceptions (the apostrophe in 'it's' is used only for the contraction for 'it is')
- its colour

- its battery












"plural nouns" plural, more than one

* Inflected Endings 3 : adding s or es
The most common way to form a plural noun is to add 's'.
add s
- helmet............helmets
- flower
- apple ..............apples

When the noun ends in ch, sh, ss or x, we add 'es'.
add es
- lunch...............lunches
- dish................dishes
- box..................boxes
- church ............churches
- fox ...................foxes
- dress ..............dresses
- ax ....................axes


* exception: If there is a vowel just before the y, we just add 's'.

- day ......days
- relay ......relays
- boy ......boys























* Inflected Endings 2: changing last consonant to make it plural

Pattern 1 When the noun ends in 'y', change the 'y' to an 'i' and add 'es'. 

- bunny ......bunnies
- penny ......pennies
- candy ......candies


Pattern 2 When the noun ends in f, change the 'f' to a 'v' and add 'es'.  

- leaf ...........leaves
- loaf ...........loaves
- shelf .........shelves
- wolf ..........wolves


Pattern 3 exceptions: if there is a vowel just before the y or the f, add 's'

- day ......days
- relay ......relays

- belief ...........beliefs


Irregular Plurals: sometimes the entire word changes

- child ........children
- mouse .....mice
foot ..........feet
- ox ............oxen

















"hard and soft c and hard and soft g"'

"when 'c' or 'g' are followed by 'e', 'i' or 'y', they make their soft sound "
hard c
- can
- clip
- Cam

soft c
- cent
- cycle
- Cindy

hard g
- go
- game
- gum

soft g
- gentle
- gym
- giant





















" r contolled words: the 'r' controls the sound of the vowel

- car
- bargain
- star


or (sometimes including our)

- born
- fort
- forty
- short

- four
- your

'er' sound

"there are three spellings for the 'er' sound: er, ir, and ur "
- her
- berth ( e.g. a bed on a ship)
- German

- fir (tree)
- shirt
- stir
- thirty

- burn
- fur (hair on a dog)
- hurt
- surprise























"silent letters"

"sometimes, individual letters or groups of letters are silent "
- eighth
- sight
- though
- neighbour
- slough

- write
- wren

- know
- knee
- knowledge


























" contractions"

"two words contracted into one using an ' to mark missing letters; sometimes the first word changes as well"
- cannot ................can't
- will not ................won't
- have not .............haven't
- is not ..................isn't
- I will ....................I'll
- they will ..............they'll
- they are .............they're
- we are ...............we're
























"compound words"

"a compound word uses two smaller words together"
- bathroom
- bootroom
- classroom
- houseboat
- housecoat
- doghouse
- policemen
- backyard






















"homonyms" (see homonyms to see a larger list)

"two or three words can sound the same but are spelled differently"
- allowed, aloud
- bear, bare
- blue, blew
- dear, deer
- fir, fur
- pair, pear
- their, there, they're
- principle, principal
- weather, whether     (although these two words should sound slightly different, they seldom do)























vowels (the alphabet is made up of two types of letters, vowels and consonants)

vowels: a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y

consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z













short vowels

'a' as in 'hat'

'e' as in 'pet'

'i' as in 'pit''

'o' as in 'hot'

'u' as in 'hut'
















long vowels (4 conditions vowels are usually long)

'a' as in 'make''

'e' as in 'lead'

'i' as in 'pile''

'o' as in 'poke'

'u' as in 'tune'













y as a vowel, y as a consonant

'y' as a vowel is when 1) it is in the middle of a word (cycle) or 2) at the end of a word (by or funny)

'y' as a consonant when it is a the beginning of a word, it says 'yeh' as in 'yellow' or 'yam'


















Vowel Digraph (phonics terminology)


"two vowels together that make a single sound are called a vowel digraph as in ' oo' as in look "
- hook
- shook
- brook

"oo as in spoon "
- groom
- balloon
- soon

"ou as in cough "
- trough

"ou as in tough "
- rough
- enough

  "ei as in sleigh "
- weigh
- rein

"ea as in bread"
- tread
- thread


















* sometimes these are confusing, read the paired words below

** note the different ways to spell the same sound

"oo sound as in took "
- took, put

"oo sound as in spoon"
- spoon, tune

"short o sound as in saw "
- 'al' as in all, stall, balk

- 'aw' or 'wa' as in fawn, straw, want
- 'au' as in taught, caught
- 'ou' as in fought, sought, bought



















Vowel Diphthong (two vowels together that make two sounds or a vowel combined with a consonant such as 'w' to make new sounds) (Booth, Jack and Linda Booth, Spelling Essentials) also see phonics terminology

two vowel letters together that are closely blended but where you can hear two sounds gliding together e.g. listen to the glided 'ou' sound and take note of how your mouth changes

'oi' sound:

.........oi together as in oil, toil or

.........oy together as in boy, toy

'ow' sound:

.........2 vowels together as in hour, sour, shout or

.........a vowel + consonant as in now















"ow "

"sometimes a vowel/consonant combination makes two different sounds"

"ow as in cow"
- bow
- brown
- towel

or "ow as in snow "
- know
- flow
- bow














vowels: other vowel sounds

"sometimes when a vowel is paired with another vowel or a specific consonant, it makes a short 'o' sound"
- tall, balk, stalk (al)
- crawl, shawl, dawn (aw)
- fault, taught, thought
(au or ou)
- wasp, fawn, want, raw (with w)


















"q is always followed by u "
- quack
- acquire
- query

















" gh and ph can say ‘f’ "
- graph
- phlegm
- laugh
- cough
















Assimilated Prefixes (some prefixes change the spelling of their final letter in order to make the 'reading' easier

example #1
prefix 'ad' means 'to or toward' change 'ad' to make the word easier to say
adtest attest (changed 'd' to a 't')
adfect affect (changed 'd' to an 'f')
accelerate, allocate, aggression, arrive, assume, accuse, attention, assent


example #2

prefix 'in' means 1) 'in', 'into', or 'on', or 2) 'not' change 'in' to make the word easier to say
inluminate illuminate (changed the 'n' to another 'l')
inrigate irrigate (changed the 'n' to another 'r')
illiterate, import, irrigate, illegal, improper, irregular, irrational, ignoble






Affixes (An affix means to attach. In English we can look a prefixes (something added infront of a word) and suffixes (something added to the end of a word). Prefixes and suffixes usually change the meaning of the rootword (a word without an affix).

Prefixes: below are some common prefixes and their meanings (note the change in meaning of the rootword.

un- means ' not or the opposite of' e.g. tie - untie (the opposite of)

pre- means 'before' e.g. read - preread (to do before, not now)

re- means 'back, again' e.g. paint - repaint (to do again)

multi- means 'many' e.g. task - multitask (many tasks)

cyber- means 'space or internet' e.g. cyberbullying (internet bullying)




Suffixes: below are some common suffixes and their meanings (note the change in meaning of the rootword.

-ate means 'to make or to do' e.g. active - activate (to make active)

-est means 'most' e.g. big - biggest (most big)

-er used to show a comparison 'more. less' e.g. slow - slower (more slow)

-ful means 'full of' e.g. harm - harmful (full of harm)

-ent means 'one who acts' e.g. assist - assistant (the person who assists) est

-ize also means 'to make or to do' e.g. alphabet - alphabetize (to put in alphabetical order)

-tion means 'action or state of being' e.g. starve - starvation (in the state of starving)

-ure means 'state of, act, process) e.g. fail - failure (in the state of failing)









Simple Suffixes

Inflected Endings 4: 'ed' makes three sounds, 't', 'ed' or 'id', 'd'.

jumped......'ed' sounds like a 't'

planted......'ed' sounds like a 'ed' or 'id' (depending on how we pronounce it)

rowed......'ed' sounds like a 'd'


Final Syllables, unstressed:



Final Syllables 2 -le, -al, -el
(at the end of words)
* - le is the most common of the three endings (found on nouns, verbs, adjectives) e.g. table
      - usually after words ending with a stick (b, d, f, h, k, l, t) or a tail (g, j, p, q, y)
      - apple, candle

* -al is usually added to adjective (desciptive words) but a few nouns

* -el is the least common ending and usually on nouns (person, place or thing) and verbs (action words)
      - usually after words not ending with a stick or a tail

      - funnel, travel, vocal, usual









Affixes (complex suffixes)

-ible, able

* if the suffix is added to a base word that stands alone, it is usually –able (comfortable)
* if it is attached to a word root (e.g. ed, aud), it is usually -ible (edible)










-sion, -tion

* if the suffix is added to a base word that ends in –de or -it, we just add –sion (division)
* if the suffix is added to a base word that ends in –te or -ce, the word will end in -tion (reduction)








-ence, -ance

* if the suffix is added to a base word that ends with ‘ent’, the suffix is usually –ence (silent/silence)
* if the suffix is added to a base word that ends with ‘ant’, the suffix is usually –ance (brilliant/brilliance)





















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