Help with Spelling Problems for ESL Classes

A woman working at a table, using a digital tablet.
Mint Images - Tim Robbins/ Mint Images RF/ Getty Images

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:

  1. The double final "b, d, g, l, m, n, p, r and t" at the end of words:

    rob - robbing

    sad - sadder

    big - bigger

    travel - traveller

    skim - skimming

    win - winner

    pop - popping

    prefer - preferred

    hit - hitting

  • Double these final letters there is the following pattern "consonant - vowel - consonant" at the end of a word. For example: travel - 'vel' v - consonant - e - vowel l - consonant.
  • 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. 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

    relief

    thief

    believe

    But...

    perceive

    receipt

    ceiling

    '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

      Exceptions

      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