The Top 4 Spelling Rules (With Exceptions)

[W]e’ve become stricter about spelling, . . . thanks to editors, publishers, lexicographers, and schoolteachers. In Shakespeare’s day you could get by with a little variation in spelling, even of your own name, but not now. So we find ourselves today with so many different spelling rules, and so many exceptions even to those rules, that nearly everyone fails to be a perfect speller.
(Allan Metcalf, "Spelling Out the Consequences." The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 17, 2015)

Spelling rules are a bit like weather forecasts: we may pay attention to them, but we really can't depend on them to be right 100% of the time. In fact, the only foolproof rule is that all spelling rules in English have exceptions. Still, many writers find that certain rules help them remember how to spell particular types of words, especially those formed by adding suffixes (or word endings). Here we'll look at four popular spelling rules that may be helpful to you.

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Using I Before E

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Use i before e, except after c, or when sounded as "a" as in "neighbor" and "weigh."
EXAMPLES: believe, chief, piece, and thief; deceive, receive, weigh, and freight
COMMON EXCEPTIONS: efficient, weird, height, neither, ancient, caffeine, foreign

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Dropping the Final E

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Drop the final e before a suffix beginning with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) but not before a suffix beginning with a consonant.
ride + ing = riding
guide + ance = guidance
hope + ing = hoping
entire + ly = entirely
like + ness = likeness
arrange + ment = arrangement
COMMON EXCEPTIONS: truly, noticeable

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Changing a Final Y to I

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Change a final y to i before a suffix, unless the suffix begins with i.
defy + ance = defiance
party + es = parties
pity + ful = pitiful
try + es = tries
try + ing = trying
copy + ing = copying
occupy + ing = occupying
COMMON EXCEPTIONS: journeying, memorize

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Doubling a Final Consonant

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Double a final single consonant before a suffix beginning with a vowel when both of these conditions exist:
(a) a single vowel precedes the consonant;
(b) the consonant ends an accented syllable or a one-syllable word.
stop + ing = stopping
admit + ed = admitted
occur + ence = occurrence
stoop + ing = stooping
benefit + ed = benefited
delight + ful = delightful


Put these rules to the test by taking this Spelling Review Exercise.