A bully is not a good friend. Bullies are never good friends.

Why don't we add -s to bully in the same way as we do to friend to make the plural?

When we're learning English, why is committed correct, but visitted is marked incorrect?

To spell visited, you only need one t.

Writing words how they sound works perfectly well for over two-thirds of the words in the English vocabulary but for the other third, apart from when they're still word roots, you need to learn some basic rules if you want to spell them correctly.

If you're serious about improving your English skills, both in the area of writing and your language skills in general, you need to know the principles of English spelling.

How do you set about learning English spelling rules so you can automatically spell new words correctly?

Keep reading!

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English Spelling Rule #1 — Change -y to -ies

The most important thing to remember is: when you're thinking of the English alphabet in terms of vowels and consonants, the letter Y can be both. The position of a Y in a word determines both its classification and pronunciation.

The basic rule for Y is: it's a consonant at the start of a word and a vowel in the middle or the end of a word.

For example: yacht, yard and yes (Y is a consonant); rhythm, foyer and lady (Y is a vowel)

Your first step is to understand that general rule, then you can focus on what happens when you change a -y word into a plural and why there is a difference.

Look at the final few letters of the word. A word ending in:

  • vowel + y — just add -s to make it plural, i.e. toy becomes toys, way becomes ways, and guy becomes guys.
  • consonant + y — replace the -y with -ies, i.e. lady becomes ladies, and ruby becomes rubies.

These two rules also work for longer words.

  • monkey — monkeys, display — displays
  • century — centuries, community — communities

When writing verbs in present tense (third-person singular), the same rules apply.

  • enjoy — she enjoys, obey — he obeys
  • carry — he carries, empty — she empties

More -y Rules

Transforming words ending in -y and making them into their adjective form by adding a suffix follows the same rules. So does conjugating a verb — with an exception.

For example:

  • beauty — beautiful
  • empty — emptiness
  • hurry — hurried


  • hurry — hurrying
  • buy — buying

If the suffix begins with i (-ing), the -y is kept.

When do you need to double a consonant in English spelling?
To keep the vowel sound, double the final consonant. (Source: Pixabay Credit: Ulleo)

If you are learning English, you will already know spoken English has many different forms. Occasionally, the rules for spelling are different too.

Rule #2 For Spelling in English: Double It Up

Say these words out loud — put and putt. Did you notice the difference in the sound of the vowel U?

And then if we're 'putting something down' why isn't it pronounced like 'putting' in golf?

Native English speakers will often check the origins of the word to help with understanding the reasons for pronunciation and spelling differences. Incidentally, putt has Scottish origins, while put comes from Old English.

Keeping the sound of the vowel requires the use of the double up rule.

In a single-syllable word, with a vowel-consonant (VC) ending, double the final consonant to maintain the sound of the vowel.

For example: putting, skipping, fittest, bigger

Two-syllable (or more) words with VC endings also apply this rule but only if the final syllable is stressed.

For example: committing (-t is doubled because the spoken stress is on 'mit') but not targeting (-t is not doubled because the stress is on the first syllable, 'tar').

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Rule #3 as You Learn English Spelling: Remove the -e

In English lessons, young native speakers learn about 'the bossy e who makes the vowel say its name'. In ESL classes, you may hear it called the silent e. Either way, the function of this -e, which you'll see in many words, is to maintain the proper vowel sound (that is, the long vowel sound), e.g. mat v mate.

This -e confuses everyone — second language learners as well as the fluent native speaker.

What do we do with a suffix? Can we just add it on without changing anything?

The simple answer is not quite so simple — but there is a rule to guide you. Consider the following words:

  • state — stating; pollute — pollution (These words 'drop their final e' before adding the suffix.)
  • knowledge — knowledgeable; service — serviceable; advantage — advantageous

Rule: if the base word ends with -ce or -ge, do not drop the -e when adding a suffix.

Spelling in English Rule #4: Change -f Into -ves

If you want to pluralise a word ending in -f or -fe, most of the time you exchange the -f for -ves.

  • roof — rooves
  • thief — thieves
  • wolf — wolves
  • dwarf — dwarves
  • life — lives
  • yourself — yourselves

However, this rule seems to be confusing, and -ves words are frequently misspelt. Over time it has become increasingly acceptable to just add an -s instead. You can choose:

  • dwarfs or dwarves
  • roofs or rooves
  • knifes or knives

But beware, the regular 'just add an -s' rule applies to words ending in a double f.

  • cuff — cuffs
  • cliff — cliffs
  • scoff — scoffs

You can learn English vocabulary in multiple ways. 

At first, during your English as a Second Language lessons, you may just repeat lists of words after your teacher.

As you progress in your language learning, you may decide to commit words and phrases to memory.  Many English learners learn to speak English and develop reading fluency by using the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).

It is important, while you practise your English speaking, that you consider the connection between the way words sound and their spelling. It doesn't matter if you are taking online lessons, using private tutors, or taking English courses — or if you are learning Australian, American or British English — spelling knowledge will help with grammar and English pronunciation.

If your plan is to learn English and become fluent, knowledge of spelling rules is vital.

What suffixes are the most important to learn English?
Modifying words by adding suffixes will improve your English vocabulary. (Source: Pixabay Credit: Michitogo)

A Few English Grammar Pointers

Try not to overthink English grammar, sometimes it's easy to remember!

The Suffix '-ful' Means Full

Has this post been helpful so far? Do you feel more hopeful about improving your English fluency?

As you continue to learn English, you will notice how many adjectives are derived from nouns with the addition of a suffix.

Sometimes suffixes are spelt in a similar way to their meaning, e.g. -ful is a suffix which means full.

Has this post been full of help? Are you full of hope about your fluency?

The most important thing to remember is: don't double the -l on the suffix!

You can remember this rule by thinking:

Just one -l makes me full.

This rule does not affect your pronunciation, but remembering it will make your English writing appear more professional.

It's worthwhile to be mindful of the fact that many of these rules are not specifically mentioned in English lessons.

The Prefix 'Al-' Means All

While some suffixes are spelt almost the same as their meanings, some English words have prefixes where the spelling and meaning are nearly the same.

All though (although) not all English spelling and grammar rules are explained in English classes, you should all ways (always) ask your English teacher questions about these.

As usual, there is one exceptionall right and alright. In informal English conversation, you might say 'Are you alright?' However, if you're writing formally, it's best to use all right.

'i Before e, Except After c'

It is likely this rule is the only one you've learned in your English classes.

This would be because it is, by far, the most commonly known English language spelling rule.

What is the reason behind this rule?

Put simply, reversing i and e allows the 'c' to keep its 's' sound.

So — belief and niece, but deceive and ceiling.

Of course, there are exceptions, but we'll save that for another time.

Does good spelling affect your social standing?
Improving your English spelling will make you more competitive in the job market and more confident in society. (Source: Pixabay Credit: Geralt)

How Can You Become a Competent Speller When You're Learning English?

Breaking words into syllables is the most efficient way to improve your English spelling.

As an added bonus, it will improve your speaking skills too!

Whatever your motivation to learn English, whether it's to pass IELTS or TOEFL, further study or for your career, there's little doubt that speaking with clarity is an advantage.

Do you recall reading that over two-thirds of English words can be sounded out?

If you want to accurately and quickly spell words, learn how to break them into syllables.

Once you've done that, your daily spelling practice is as simple as choosing 2-3 phrases and working on spelling new, unfamiliar words.

Have some fun, and really improve your English vocabulary, by using slang words, idioms and expressions you've heard.

You may find that foreign language courses separate writing skills from speaking skills.

Conversely, we believe that to learn English effectively, pronunciation and writing belong together.

An understanding of vocabulary in context is gained by writing. Increased vocabulary means improved conversational fluency. There should be no differentiation between the four language skill areas.

To get the most out of your vocabulary study, make the connections between the spoken English word and its spelling.

With this connection, your written skills will testify to your progress.

Why not start by working on your English accent and pronunciation? Or search for tutors and English courses in Australia; you'll find them in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane etc.


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Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.