Help With Spelling Problems for ESL Classes

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Here are the most common spelling rules in English. For exceptions to the rules take a look at Common Spelling Problems.

Capital Letters

Use Capital (T, S, B, etc.) letters for the following types of words:

  • Days, months and public holidays: Monday, January, Christmas
  • Proper names of people and places: Jack, Maria, New York, Germany
  • Titles for people: Ms, Dr, General
  • Nationalities and regions (both nouns and adjectives): Dutch, Swedish, Basque
  • Titles of works of art (content words only): The Last Day of Summer, American Journal of Medicine

When to Double Final Consonants

The final consonant of a word is often doubled when adding -ed, -ing, -er, -est in the following cases:

  • The double final "b, d, g, l, m, n, p, r, and t" at the end of words:
    rob - robbing
    sad - sadder
    big - bigger
    skim - skimming
    win - winner
    pop - popping
    prefer - preferred
    hit - hitting
  • Words of more than one syllable have their consonants doubled only when the final syllable is stressed:
    begin - beginn ing BUT open - opening
    defer - deferr ing BUT offer - offering
  • When words have more than one syllable and end in 'L' British English always doubles the 'L', even in the case of unstressed syllables. In American English, on the other hand, the 'L' is not doubled when the syllable is unstressed.
    British English - travelled
    American English - traveled
    More information on the differences between British and American English.

Here are the most common spelling rules in English. For exceptions to the rules take a look at Common Spelling Problems.

Final -E

Leave off the final 'e' in the following cases:

  • When the word ends in 'e' adding a suffix that begins with a vowel (this is usually the case, although there are exceptions such as 'outrageous'):
    make - making
    note - notable
  • Do not leave out the final 'e' when a word ends in 'ee':
    agree - agreeable
  • Words ending in 'ge' and 'ce' do NOT drop the final 'e':
    encourage - encouragement
    embrace - embraceable

'IE' and 'EI'

This is a common spelling problem, even for native English speakers. Probably the best thing to do is remember this rhyme:

I before E except after C


'Y' and 'I'

When adding an ending to a word that finishes in 'y', the 'y' usually changes to 'i':

  • Most nouns and verbs that end in 'y' have plural or third person singular conjugations that change to 'i':
    party - parties
    hurry - She hurries to work.
  • When changing the word form (for example from adjective to adverb):
    happy - happily
    lazy - lazily
    easy - easier

Do NOT change the final 'y' to 'i' when 'y' is preceded by a vowel:
stay - stays
enjoy - enjoyed


  • say, lay, pay - said, laid, paid
  • Do NOT change the final 'y' to 'i' when followed by '-ing', '-ism', '-ish':
    boy - boyish
    try - trying

'IE' to 'Y'

When a word ends in 'ie' change to 'y' before adding '-ing':
die - dying
lie - lying