Spelling Rules

Twelve Top Spelling Tips

Here is our list of the spelling tips we think you will find most useful. They provide an explanation of the English language’s key spelling rules (and their exceptions) and if you can bear them in mind you should be able to improve your spelling.

Adding endings to words ending with a silent -e

A final silent E is dropped when an ending which begins with a vowel is added, for example:

accommodate+ion > accomodat+ion = accommodation
argue+able > argu+able = arguable

This E is retained for the endings –CE or –GE when these letters keep a soft sound, for example:

change+able = changeable
courage+ous = courageous
outrage+ous = outrageous

Adding –ly to an adjective to form an adverb

When the adverb suffix –LY is added to an adjective which ends in a consonant followed by –LE, the –LE is usually dropped. For example:

gentle+ly > gent+ly = gently
idle+ly > id+ly = idly
subtle+ly > subt+ly = subtly

Adding endings to words ending with a consonant

When an ending which begins with a vowel is added to a word which ends in a single vowel plus a consonant, the consonant is doubled if the stress is on the end of the word or if the word has only one part. For example:

admit+ance > admitt+ance = admittance
begin+ing > beginn+ing = beginning
equip+ed > equipp+ed = equipped

When an ending which begins with a vowel is added to a word which ends in a single vowel plus L, the L is doubled. For example:

cancel+ation > cancell+ation = cancellation
excel+ent > excell+ent = excellent
fulfil+ing > fulfill+ing = fulfilling

When an ending which begins with E, I, or Y is added to a word which ends in C, a K is also added to the C to keep its hard sound. For example:

Picnic+ing > picnick+ing = picnicking

An exception to this is arc, arced, arcing

Adding endings to words ending in -our

When the adjective suffix –OUS or –ARY is added to a word which ends in –OUR, the U of the –OUR is dropped. For example:

glamour+ous > glamor+ous = glamorous
honour+ary > honor+ary = honorary
humour+ous > humor+ous = humorous

Adding endings to words ending in -y

When an ending is added to a word which ends in a consonant plus Y, the Y changes to I (unless the ending added already begins with I). For example:

beauty+ful > beauti+ful = beautiful
carry+age > carri+age = carriage
woolly+er > woolli+er = woollier

Forming plurals

The plural of a word which ends in a consonant plus Y is made by changing the Y to I and adding –ES, for example:

accessory > accessori+es = accessories
memory > memori+es = memories
whisky > whiski+es = whiskies

The plural of a word which ends in a vowel plus Y is made by adding S, for example:

jersey+s = jerseys
journey+s = journeys
whiskey+s = whiskeys

The plural of a word which ends in S, X, Z, SH, or CH is made by adding –ES, for example:

bus+es = buses
focus+es = focuses

The plural of a word which ends in –EAU is made by adding S or X, for example:

gateau+s = gateaus or gateau+x = gateaux
bureau+s = bureaus or bureau+x = bureaux

Words beginning with al-

When AL- is added as a prefix at the beginning of a word to make a new word, it is spelt with one L. For example:

al+ready = already
al+though = although
al+together = altogether

Words ending in -ful

The suffix –FUL is always spelt with one L, for example:

grateful
faithful
hopeful

Words ending in –ous

The ‘uss’ sound at the end of an adjective is almost always spelt –OUS, for example:

courageous
courteous
luscious

The I before E except after C rule

The letter I comes before E except after C, when they make the sound ‘ee’. For example:

fierce
niece
relieve

but

ceiling
deceive
receive

Words ending in -ize and –ise

In Britain both -ize and -ise spellings are acceptable. In American English -ize is the preferred ending for many verbs.

emphasize or emphasise
specialize or specialise

Collins, along with all other leading dictionaries, opts for -ize as the primary spelling form, as it reflects the international consensus about the spelling and reflects the Greek origin of the suffix, where zeta (z) was used instead of sigma, or (s). However, some words are always spelt with -ise, especially those where the word could not stand on its own if the ending were removed:

advertise
advise
chastise
despise
devise
revise
supervise
surprise

Be careful of words like analyse and paralyse, which are spelt -yse.

Words that need a capital letter

The name or names of an area on the map begin with a capital letter:

Britain
Mediterranean

The name of a religious group or its teachings begins with a capital letter:

Buddhism

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