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ESOL Learners: Learn English Spelling Rules Using These Tips

Blog > Languages > ESOL (English) > Learn English Spelling: Simple Rules to Follow

Why is a star a celestial body but governments are political bodies?

Why not just apply -s to body, like most other plural forms?

How come, in our English classes, we were taught to write admitted, but benefitted is not correct?

Benefited is spelt with only one t.

In spite of the fact that more than two-thirds of the words in the English language can be spelt by how they sound, there are rules to follow when writing words in other than their root form.

To improve your writing skills and overall language skills, your English learning should include principles of proper spelling.

What rules are there for learning English spelling? How to learn them in order to spell words correctly, every time?

Let’s find out!

Learning English: Changing -y to -ies

First, we expound on the fact that the letter Y is considered both a vowel and a consonant, because of the way it is pronounced depending on its position in the word.

The general rule is: Y is a consonant if used as the first letter of any word: young, yet, year.

It is considered a vowel if used in the middle, or at the end of a word: rhyme, cycle, baby.

Understanding that guideline makes it easier to learn why one sometimes changes the -y of some words into -ies to make it plural.

When a word ends with a vowel + y, simply add -s to pluralize.

Thus, a key becomes keys, a ray becomes rays, and the day becomes days.

These words have a VVC – vowel-vowel-consonant pattern.

Conversely, baby has a consonant + y, therefore the plural of the word is spelt babies.

Here are more examples:

difficulty multiplies to difficulties; a company becomes companies, and epiphany transforms to epiphanies.

These words have a VCCV pattern.

This rule is also evident in verbs like fry, try and apply. When conjugated in the present tense, third person singular, they become he tries; it fries, she applies.

Another Y Rule

Many words that end in -y, such as party, beauty and happy undergo a transformation when turned into adjectives, become plural or otherwise receive a suffix.

Party becomes parties, beauty becomes beautiful and happy transforms into happiness.

If a word ends in a consonant + y, the y becomes an i – unless the suffix begins with an i.

Drying, defying and applying are all examples of that exception.

Double consonant for some words to preserve the preceding vowel's sound Doubling consonants maintains vowel sounds (Source: Pixabay Credit: Ulleo)

Learn about different forms of speaking English from BBC English to the Queen’s English.

English Spelling: The Doubling Up Rule

Have you ever wondered why there is a difference in the vowel sound between put and putt?

And why does ‘putting something away’ not sound the same as putting on a golf course?

To understand the difference between put and putt,native English speaker would look up the word origins. Putt is a Scottish word meaning to throw; put is an old English word.

Doubled consonants maintain the preceding vowel’s sound, no matter if it is the same consonant twice, or a pair of mismatched consonants.

To maintain the correct vowel sound in one-syllable words with a vowel-consonant ending, the consonant is doubled.

Put – putting; tap – tapping; shop – shopping; big – biggest; fat – fattest

The rule also applies to longer words with a vowel-consonant ending, but only when the stress is on the last syllable:

occur – occurring; begin – beginning; refer – referral.

The last consonant in the word benefit is not doubled because the spoken stress is on the first syllable.

Spelling in English: Drop the E

Your English teacher has most likely told you that many words in the English language end with a silent -e, there to maintain proper vowel sound in the previous syllable.

This leads to confusion for native English speakers and non-native English learners alike.

Should we simply add the suffix without changing the ending?

In words such as writing, closing and imagination, you will note there is no -e where, in its basic form – write, close and imagine, there is one.

The -e stays if the root word ends in -ge or -ce, in order to keep the ‘soft’ consonant sound.

Outrageous, courageous and noticeable are examples of words that add the suffix to the -e.

English Learning: Turning -f Into -ves

Most words that end in -f change to -ves when they become plural:

  • calf – calves
  • half – halves
  • knife – knives
  • leaf – leaves
  • loaf – loaves
  • life – lives
  • wife – wives
  • shelf – shelves
  • yourself – yourselves

Because they are so commonly misspelt, for some words it is now acceptable to simply add an -s to the singular form of the word to make it plural:

  • scarf – scarfs/scarves
  • dwarf – dwarfs/dwarves
  • wharf – wharfs/wharves
  • handkerchief – handkerchiefs/handkerchieves

And now, the twist: words that end in a double f receive the standard pluralization. One simply adds an -s to:

  • cliff – cliffs
  • toff – toffs
  • scuff – scuffs
  • sniff – sniffs

These words are some of the few that are correctly spelt with three consonants.

Learning English vocabulary can be done several ways. Those who study English as a second language often start out by repeating a series of words their Esl teacher speaks.

Later, the English learner memorizes entire books full of words. They learn to speak them using the International phonetic alphabet, or IPA, to achieve fluency.

As you practise how to speak these words – either in British or American English, often there is no connexion made, by ESL teachers or those who learn English as a second language, about how spelling affects the sound of words.

To improve your English, you should make note of these and other spelling rules.

Modify the ends of words with suffixes The ending of some words can be modified by a suffix (Source: Pixabay Credit: Michitogo)

Learn English Grammar: Words that End in the Suffix -ful

Are you grateful for this tutorial? Are you hopeful in becoming fluent in English?

As you learn to speak English, you will become familiar with how to make adjectives from nouns.

One important distinction to make is between -ful, a suffix, and full – the meaning of the suffix.

Being hopeful means to be full of hope.

At no time should the -l on the suffix be doubled!

Only one -l will make you full is an easy way to remember this rule.

This particular rule will not affect pronunciation, but learning it will certainly improve your score on any spelling quizzes you take.

Be careful, as you learn English as a second language, of all of these rules that, perhaps are never mentioned in any English lesson.

Al- Means All

Just as there is a suffix spelt nearly the same as its meaning, the English language includes a prefix with nearly the same spelling as its meaning.

You should all ways take English lessons – all ways becomes always.

All though you know English grammar, you should take more English courses. All though becomes although.

All right is the lone exception to this rule. In casual conversation, you might ask someone if they are alright. The first form is for more formal English writing.

Probably the only rule you’ve already learned while studying English is:

I Before E, Except After C

This may be the most widely known spelling rule of the English language.

Whereas believe and relieve are spelt with the i before the e, receive and conceive reverse those two letters in order to maintain the ‘s’ sound.

You can read in depth about this particular rule in an article we posted recently.

Good spelling skills increases your overall social competence Mastering English spelling will increase your ability to compete in society (Source: Pixabay Credit: Geralt)

Tips to Master Spelling in English Lessons

The most beneficial way to learn English spelling is to break words down into syllables.

This system will help you in speaking English, as well!

No matter whether you are learning English for IELTS – to enrol in a higher learning institute or whether you are studying business English because of your career in a global firm, speaking clearly and distinctly can only help you.

At the start of this article, we mentioned that more than two-thirds of the words in the English language can be spelt by sounding them out.

Learning how to break words into syllables will help you spell English words more quickly and fluently.

To practice English spelling, you could choose a few phrases each day and spell any new words, ones that are not familiar to you, as you go about your everyday activities.

Slang phrases work particularly well for this exercise, as does the idiom or any new expressions you might pick up in daily conversation.

Many language learning courses make a clear distinction between writing skills and speaking skills, even though they are both considered active skills in language learning philosophy.

We contend that English pronunciation and the writing of English words are closely related.

As writing reinforces vocabulary, which leads to fluency in English conversation, there should be no barrier between any of English’s four main language areas.

To improve your vocabulary, you should remove any distinction between spoken English and spelling.

Only then will your writing skills reflect the progress you make in your language learning classes.

Learn how to perfect your English accent with our guide to pronunciation. Or why not find tutors around the UK for English courses in London, Manchester, Glasgow etc.

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