In this lesson, you can learn about English spelling rules, and see some of the most common spelling mistakes that English learners make.
English spelling is famously illogical. Even native speakers commonly misspell words. Interestingly, ‘misspell’ is a word which is often misspelled!
In this lesson, you’ll see four of the most useful rules that can help you to improve your English spelling and avoid spelling mistakes. You’ll also get to test your spelling skills on several of the most common spelling mistakes in English.
QUIZ: English Spelling Rules and Common Mistakes
Test your knowledge of the rules and vocabulary that you saw in this lesson!
The quiz has 20 questions. The first ten are multiple choice questions where you need to choose the correct spelling of a word; for the final ten, you need to write a word in a sentence.
You’ll see your score at the end, when you can click on ‘View Questions’ to see the correct answers.
Time limit: 0
0 of 20 Questions completed
You have already completed the quiz before. Hence you can not start it again.
Look at five words. Which are spelled correctly, and which have mistakes?
There are two mistakes: beginner should have two n’s, and offering should have one r.
Here’s a question: why do you need to double the n in planning or beginning, but not in offering? Why does sitting have a double t, but deciding just has one d?
Spelling mistakes with double consonants are common, but you can avoid them if you remember the rule. Here it is:
If a word ends with a short vowel sound plus a consonant, and the stress is on the last syllable, then the final consonant is doubled if you add an ending which starts with a vowel.
That sounds complicated, although it’s simpler than it looks. Let’s do some examples to make it clearer.
First of all, this rule applies to all one-syllable words which end with a short vowel plus a consonant. For example,
hot -> hotter
jar -> jarring
sad -> saddest
cut -> cutting
win -> winner
Because of the way English spelling connects to English pronunciation, you can think of it like this: if a word has one syllable, and it ends with one vowel and one consonant, then you need to double the final consonant.
But, this depends on sounds, not spelling. So, if the final consonant is w or y, don’t double it:
draw -> drawing
grey -> greyer
Can you work out why this is?
It’s because the words are written with a consonant, but the sound isn’t pronounced as a consonant.
If a word ends with two consonants, or with a consonant plus vowel, then don’t double any consonants:
think -> thinking
write -> writer
If a word has two or more syllables, then you also need to think about the stress. If the stress is on the last syllable, and the word ends with a short vowel plus a consonant, then you need to double the final consonant; for example:
occur -> occurring
commit -> committee
forget -> forgetting
However, if the stress is not on the last syllable, you don’t double the final consonant; for example:
happen -> happening
discover -> discoverer
water -> watery
Remember that for all these words, the rule only applies if the word ends in a short vowel plus one consonant. This is true if you’re talking about words with one, two, three or however many syllables.
Let’s do a quick test. You’re going to hear a sentence. Pause the video and write down the sentence. You’ll hear it twice. Ready?
Could you write down the sentence? Let’s check:
The cooking committee happened to notice that his soup was tastier than last year, but also more watery.
Did you get everything right? No spelling mistakes?
If so, that’s great! Let’s move on to our next rule:
2. IE vs EI
You’re going to see four spelling mistakes. Can you correct them?
The mistakes are all connected with i-e versus e-i.
But, there are exceptions. One of the exceptions has its own rule: e goes before i to make an /eɪ/ sound. For example:
Other exceptions are true exceptions; they don’t follow any rule and you need to remember them. Here are some of the most common exceptions to this rule:
Let’s test your skills! You’re going to hear another sentence. Again, try to write the sentence down. You’ll hear it twice. Ready?
Here’s the answer:
Her weird neighbour weighed out eight pieces of ancient caffeine.
Did you get everything right? No spelling mistakes? If so, well done! If you made some mistakes, you can easily go back and review this section, and then try again.
Let’s look at our next rule:
3. E vs ES in Plurals
Here are five nouns. What are the plurals, and how would you spell them?
Do you know? Here are the answers.
You can see that sometimes, you need to write plurals with es. But, when do you add -es to make a plural, instead of just -s?
It depends on the last letter of the word. If a word ends in -s, -ss, -z, -ch, -sh, or -x, then you make the plural by adding -es. For example:
Okay, but what about tomatoes? That has a plural with -es, but it doesn’t fit the rule you just saw.
There’s one more rule: if a word ends in a consonant plus -o, then the plural is written with -es. For example:
However, if a word ends with a vowel plus -o, then the plural is written only with -s, like this:
All of these rules also apply when you add -s to a verb.
As usual, there are some exceptions, although most of them are uncommon words. The most common exceptions to this rule are logos and pianos.
Let’s do a quick test! Here are five words. How do you spell the plural? Pause the video and write down your answers.
Ready? Here are the answers.
Next, let’s look at one more useful rule to improve your English spelling.
4. Dropping a Final -e
Listen to five words, and try to write them down.
Here are the words; did you spell them all correctly?
This rule is about adding a suffix to a root word which ends with -e.
For example, true ends with -e. When you add the suffix -ly, the -e disappears.
Change also ends with -e, but when you add the suffix -able, the -e doesn’t disappear.
Do you know why this is?
Whether the -e disappears or not depends on two things: the spelling of the root word, and the suffix you are adding.
Firstly, the -e can only disappear if you add a suffix which starts with a vowel, like -able, -ible, -ing, -ity or -ed. For example:
However, if a word ends with -ue, then you can sometimes drop the -e, even if the suffix begins with a consonant. For example:
Even when you’re using a suffix which starts with a vowel, you don’t always drop the -e. If the word ends -ce and the ending has an /s/ sound, or if a word ends -ge and the ending has a /dʒ/ sound, then you might need to keep the -e in order to keep the pronunciation the same.
As always, these rules have exceptions. Even if a word ends -ce or -ge, you still drop the -e when you add an -ing suffix.
One important exception is the word ageing, which can be spelled both ways: with an -e (in British English) or without (in American English).
Also, you don’t drop the -e if this would change the pronunciation. For example, the word agree needs to keep two -e’s in order to keep its pronunciation:
Let’s do a quick test to see how well you can use these rules! Listen to five more words. Write them down carefully. You’ll hear the words twice.
Here are the answers.
How did you do?
Finally let’s look at some words which are very commonly misspelled, even by native English speakers.
5. Commonly Misspelled Words
Look at four words. They all have spelling mistakes; can you correct them?
Here are the four words; did you get them all right?
What makes these words difficult to spell?
In words like accommodation, it’s difficult to know where to put double letters. What other words are like this?
How about committee. How many -m’s? How many -t’s?
What about embarrassed, millennium, possession, correspondence, or harassment?
These are difficult because they aren’t very consistent. Why does embarrass have two -r’s, but harass only has one? It’s not logical; you have to remember them.
In words like conscious or guarantee, the relationship between the spelling and the pronunciation is strange, even by English standards.
It’s rare that the letters ‘sci’ make a /ʃ/ sound. There are many words with the letters ‘sci’, but normally, these letters make a /saɪ/ sound—like science—or a /sɪ/ sound—like discipline.
It’s similar with guarantee. Normally, the /g/ sound is produced by the letters ‘ge’ or ‘gi’. There’s only one other word family where ‘gua’ makes a /g/ sound. Do you know which?
The word guard, and words made from it, like guardian, are the only other words which behave like this.
Again, these spellings are not consistent, and you need to remember them as exceptions.
Finally, what’s the problem with independent?
This is difficult because there are two endings which have the same pronunciation: A-N-C-E and E-N-C-E.
So, you have audience with an ‘e’, but ambulance with an ‘a’; competence with ‘e’, but clearance with ‘a’, interference with ‘e’, but importance with ‘a’.
You can’t hear the difference between these two endings. Again, you have to remember the spellings.
However, it’s not all bad news: there is some logic here. Important is written with an ‘a’, so the noun importance keeps the same spelling. Interfere ends with an ‘e’, so again the noun keeps the same spelling.