Use this list of common spelling rules in English for Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 elementary, middle school and high school students and kids to learn how to spell correctly and the spelling rules that govern the use of correct spelling.
There is a widespread belief that English spelling is illogical and ungoverned by rules. This is not true. Most English words are spelled according to established rules. There are exceptions to each rule, but they are not as numerous as is commonly believed.
These spelling rules are simple and easily learned. Even better, you will find that you already know many of them and apply them automatically as you write. Also good news -- in some cases two different spellings are acceptable; for example, you may correctly write either cargos or cargoes, referenda or referendums, Tom Williams's son or Tom Williams' son.
If you apply the rules, you will improve your spelling ability greatly, for you will be able to spell correctly two thirds or more of all words.
Most nouns add s to form the plural
EXAMPLES: dogs, houses, papers.
Nouns Ending in a Sibilant Sound
(s, ss, sh, soft ch, x, z)
A noun ending in a sibilant sound adds es.
EXAMPLES: biases, lasses, dishes, birches, boxes, quizzes.
Nouns Ending in o
A noun ending in o adds s (EXAMPLES: autos, pianos, radios) or es (EXAMPLES: heroes, potatoes, tomatoes).
Note: According to Webster, some nouns ending in o may add either s or es to form the plural
EXAMPLES: buffaloes or buffalos, dominoes or dominos, volcanoes or volcanos. In each case, the first form is preferred.
Nouns Ending in f or fe
Some nouns ending in f add s.
EXAMPLES:chiefs, handkerchiefs, roofs, dwarfs.
Some nouns ending in f or fe change the f to v and add s or es:
EXAMPLES: calf, calves; knife, knives; wife, wives.
Nouns Ending in y
A noun ending in y preceded by a vowel adds s.
EXAMPLES: keys, toys, donkeys.
A noun ending in y preceded by a consonant or qu changes the y to i and adds es.
EXAMPLES: rally, rallies; duty, duties; secretary, secretaries; soliloquy, soliloquies.
Letters, Signs, and Digits
A lowercase letter, a sign, a digit, or an abbreviation with periods adds an apostrophe and s.
EXAMPLES: x's, &'s, 2's, Ph.D.'s.
An acronym or other abbreviation without periods, or a date, adds s without the apostrophe.
EXAMPLES: IOUs, 1980s.
Certain Words of Latin or Greek Origin
Some words derived from Latin or Greek retain their original plurals.
EXAMPLES FROM THE LATIN: alumnus (male), alumni: radius, radii; bacillus, bacilli; datum, data; erratum, errata; bacterium, bacteria.
Note: For some common Latin-derived nouns ending in um, the plural may be formed either by changing the um to a or by adding s.
EXAMPLES: curricula or curriculums, memorandums or memoranda.
EXAMPLES FROM THE GREEK: analysis, analyses; crises, crises; criterion, criteria; phenomenon, phenomena.
Other Unusual Plurals
A few nouns add en, change the vowel, or remain the same.
EXAMPLES: child, children, ox, oxen; man men; tooth, teeth; goose, geese; sheep, sheep; moose, moose.
Most proper names add s.
EXAMPLES: the two Amys, three Jennifers, and four Michaels in my class.
A proper name ending in a sibilant adds es.
EXAMPLES: Jones, Joneses; Marsh, Marshes; Larch, Larches; Marx, Marxes; Paz, Pazes.
The possessive case of a singular noun is formed by adding an apostrophe and s.
EXAMPLES: child's, boss's, lady's, boy's, man's, president's.
A plural noun that ends in s adds just an apostrophe.
EXAMPLES: bosses', ladies', boy's, presidents'.
A plural noun that does not end in s adds an apostrophe and s.
EXAMPLES: children's, men's.
A personal pronoun adds just s.
EXAMPLES: its, hers, ours, yours, theirs.
A singular proper name adds an apostrophe and s.
EXAMPLES: Mary's house, Burns's poems, Dicken's novels, Mr. Richards's lawn.
Exception: Two traditional exceptions to this rule are the proper names Jesus and Moses, which add only the apostrophe.
EXAMPLES: in Jesus' name, Moses' leadership.
Note: When a singular proper name has two or more syllables, some writers prefer the possessive forms Dickens' and Richards'.
A plural proper name adds just an apostrophe.
EXAMPLES: the Adamses' garden, the McKenzies' cat.
Multiple versus Separate Ownership
To indicate ownership by two or more persons, an apostrophe and s are added only to the last name.
EXAMPLES: Watson and Crick's discovery; Ann, Lisa, and Jerry's dog.
To indicate separate ownership, an apostrophe and s are added to each name.
EXAMPLES: the secretary's and treasurer's reports, ABC's and CBS's camera crews.
Put i before e.
EXAMPLES: achieve, belief, chief, friend, mischief, piety, quiet, review, series, thievery, yield.
Exceptions: After c, place e before i: ceiling, perceive, receive, receipt.
When the sound is ay, place e before i: freight, neighbor, veil, weigh.
Hint: Memorize this little rhyme which has helped generations of spellers.
Put i before e
Except after c
Or when pronounced ay
As in neighbor or weigh;
And except seize and seizure
And also leisure, weird, height, and either, forfeit and neither.
Note: The word financier is an exception to the rule that c is followed by ei.
There are some other words, not included in the rhyme above, in which e precedes i:
caffeine Fahrenheit protein sovereign
codeine heifer seismic stein
The ending -cede is more common than -ceed or -sede.
EXAMPLES: accede, concede, precede, recede, secede.
Only three words end in -ceed: exceed, proceed, succeed. Notice that they begin with ex-, pro-, and suc-.
Here is a mnemonic that will help you remember them. A boxer is a pro-fessional. When he retires, he is an ex-fighter. Then he has a suc-cessor.
Only one word ends in -sede: supersede.
A prefix is one or more syllables attached to the beginning of a word to change its meaning. When a prefix is added to a word, the spelling of the original word is not changed.
Meaning: away, from
Example: abduct (lead away)
Example: antechamber (a room located before another)
Example: antiseptic (against poisoning)
Example: circumnavigate (sail around)
Meaning: with, together
Example: concelebrate (celebrate together)
Example: demote (put down)
Meaning: apart, not
Meaning: over, above, beyond
Example: hyperactive (overactive)
il-, im-, in-, ir-,
Example: illogical, immoral, indisposed, irrelevant
Meaning: between, among
Example: interview, international
Example: intrauterine (within the uterus)
Meaning: bad, wrong
Meaning: in excess
Example: perambulate (travel through)
Meaning: after, behind
Meaning: forward, instead of
Example: provide (look forward)
Meaning: back, again
Example: retaliate (fight back, repel (hurl back)
Example: subway, subtract
Meaning: over, above
Example: unnatural, unoccupied
Note: Many spelling errors occur when a prefix ends with the letter with which the word begins. Just add the prefix to the word; don't omit a letter.
un + necessary = unnecessary (not unecessary)
mis + step = misstep (not mistep)
pre + eminent = preeminent (not preminent)
A suffix is one or more syllables attached to the end of a word. Examples of suffixes are -able, -ible, -ly, -ness, -ous, -ar, - ery, -ary.
With the exception of -able and -ible, suffixes cause few spelling difficulties. Learn when to add -able and when to add -ible.
Nouns ending in -ation form adjectives by adding -able.
Some other words that do not end in -ation also add -able to form adjectives. All of them are common words.
comfort + able = comfortable
eat + able = eatable
read + able = readable
talk + able = talkable
There is no hard-and-fact rule covering these words. You will have to learn them individually.
Hint: The suffix -able is more common than -ible. If in doubt, use -able, and you will have more than a fair chance of being correct.
When you want to add -able to a word that ends in e, how do you spell the new word? Here's the rule: Drop the final e unless it is preceded by c or g. In that case the e is needed to retain the soft sound.
admire + able = admirable
desire + able = desirable
live + able = livable
enforce + able = enforceable
change + able = changeable
In words ending in -ible, the suffix is often preceded by ss.
accessible permissible transmissible
Words ending in -ible often have a noun form ending in -ion.
Most words with stems ending in soft c or g use -ible to retain the soft sound. The word produce has the adjective producible because adding -able would change the pronunciation of c from its present soft sound to k. Other words in this class are:
conducible deducible eligible
intelligible irascible reducible
Note that in these words the final e of the stem is dropped:
deduce + ible = deducible
When forming adverbs from adjectives ending in -al, simply add -ly to the original word.
When adding -ous to a noun ending in a consonant, do not change the spelling of the noun.
danger + ous = dangerous
hazard + ous = hazardous
marvel + ous = marvelous
riot + ous = riotous
slander + ous = slanderous
Exceptions: When -ous is added to the noun disaster and wonder, the e is dropped:
disaster + ous = disastrous
wonder + ous = wondrous
Nouns ending in f change the f to v when -ous is added.
grief + ous = grievous
mischief + ous = mischievous
Nouns ending in y drop the y and add e before -ous.
beauty + ous = beauteous
pity + ous = piteous
plenty + ous = plenteous
Nouns ending in e drop the e before -ous.
adventure + ous = adventurous
desire + ous = desirous
trouble + ous = troublous
Occasionally the final e is retained before -ous to keep the soft sound of g.
courage + ous = courageous
advantage + ous = advantageous
outrage + ous = outrageous
Only a small number of words end in -ar. Memorize ten of the most common.
beggar collar familiar liar regular
calendar dollar grammar peculiar singular
-ary and -ery
Only two commonly used words end in ery: stationery and cemetery. If you remember that stationery means paper, you will not misspell it. (Anything which is stationary is at a place.)
More than 300 words end in -ary.
Final y preceded by a vowel remains unchanged when a termination is added.
attorney + s = attorneys
portray + ing = portraying
annoy + ed = annoyed
employ + er = employer
convey + ance = conveyance
betray + al = betrayal
Exceptions: lay + ed = laid gay + ly = gaily
Final y preceded by a consonant changes to i when a termination is added.
ruby + s = rubies
icy + est = iciest
mercy + less = merciless
tidy + ness = tidiness
pity + ful = pitiful
Exceptions: Final y is retained before -ing.
carry + ing = carrying
copy + ing = copying
tally + ing = tallying
Drop final e before a suffix beginning with a vowel.
advise + able = advisable
large + est = largest
love + er = lover
desire + ous = desirous
ache + ing = aching
argue + ing = arguing
divine + ity = divinity
Exceptions: When a word ends in oe or double e, the final e is not dropped in order to retain the same pronunciation.
canoe + ing = canoeing
hoe + ing = hoeing
agree agreeable agreeing
see seeable seeing
The e is retained also in singeing (burning) and dyeing (coloring) to avoid confusion with singing and dying.
Note: When -ing is added to a word ending in ie, the e is dropped and the i changed to y before adding the suffix:
die + ing = dying
lie + ing = lying
vie + ing = vying
Retain final e before a suffix beginning with a consonant.
coarse + ness = coarseness
like + ness = likeness
excite + ment = excitement
require + ment = requirement
hate + ful = hateful
care + less = careless
Exceptions: Due, true, and whole drop final e before -ly, duly, truly, wholly.
Some words ending in e drop the e before -ment and -ful, argue, argument; judge, judgment; acknowledge, acknowledgment; awe, awful.
Note: The spellings judgement and acknowledgement are also correct, but the other spellings are preferred.
Words Ending in -IC
Words ending in -ic add k before a suffix beginning with e, i, or y used as a vowel.
frolic frolicked frolicking
picnic picnicked picnicking
Doubling the Final Consonant
When a one-syllable word ends in a single vowel and a consonant, the consonant is doubled before a suffix beginning with a vowel.
hit hitter hitting
spin spinner spinning
A word that has more than one syllable ending in a single vowel and consonant, and is accented on the final syllable, doubles the final consonant before a suffix beginning with a vowel.
Words of More Than One Syllable
occur compel commit omit
occurred compelling committing omitting
Words ending in -ful double the l when -ly is added.
Words Ending in -ful
careful beautiful dutiful
carefully beautifully dutifully
To form a contraction, just insert an apostrophe where one or more letters are left out.
I + am = I'm
we + are = We're
can + not = can't
she + would = she'd
Compound Nouns and Adjectives
Numbers and Fractions
Hyphenate the numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine and fractions used as adjective.
EXAMPLES: thirty-three, one-half pint of milk.
Hyphenate most self- words
EXAMPLES: self-evident, self-made, self-esteem.
Modifiers of Two or More Words
Hyphenate a compound modifier that precedes the noun.
EXAMPLES: four-cylinder car, user-friendly computer, hit-and-run driver.
Exception: Do not hyphenate a compound modifier that precedes the noun but:
a. Consists of an -ly adverb and an adjective
EXAMPLES: carefully designed building, highly paid computer programmer.
b. Includes a comparative or superlative form.
EXAMPLES: a higher salaried executive, the lowest ranked car.
Do not hyphenate a compound modifier that follows the noun.
EXAMPLES: The dam was well constructed.