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List of Spelling Rules

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.

Forming Plurals

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.

Proper Names

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.

Forming Possessives

Common Nouns

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.

Personal Pronouns

A personal pronoun adds just s.

EXAMPLES: its, hers, ours, yours, theirs.

Proper Names

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.

Ibefore E or E before I

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.

Adding Prefixes

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)

Meaning: before
Example: antechamber (a room located before another)

Meaning: against
Example: antiseptic (against poisoning)

Meaning: around
Example: circumnavigate (sail around)

com-, con,
Meaning: with, together
Example: concelebrate (celebrate together)

Meaning: down
Example: demote (put down)

Meaning: apart, not
Example: disagreeable

Meaning: over, above, beyond
Example: hyperactive (overactive)

il-, im-, in-, ir-,
Meaning: not
Example: illogical, immoral, indisposed, irrelevant

Meaning: between, among
Example: interview, international

Meaning: within
Example: intrauterine (within the uterus)

Meaning: bad, wrong
Example: misdeed

Meaning: not
Example: nonprofessional

Meaning: in excess
Example: overzealous

Meaning: through
Example: perambulate (travel through)

Meaning: after, behind
Example: postgraduate

Meaning: before
Example: premedical

Meaning: forward, instead of
Example: provide (look forward)

Meaning: back, again
Example: retaliate (fight back, repel (hurl back)

Meaning: under
Example: subway, subtract

Meaning: over, above
Example: superhuman

Meaning: across
Example: transcontinental

Meaning: not
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)

Adding Suffixes

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.

          NOUN                   ADJECTIVE
          admiration            admirable
          application            applicable
          communication     communicable
          damnation            damnable

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.

          NOUN                ADJECTIVE
          combustion        combustible
          destruction        destructible
          digestion           destructible
          digestion           digestible
          perception         perceptible
          reprehension     reprehensible

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.

          ADJECTIVE         ADVERB
          accidental           accidentally
          practical             practically
          real                    really


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

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

Final E

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.

One-Syllable Words

          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.

Self- Words

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.


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