5 English Spelling Rules to Improve Your Writing

1. I before E except after C, and when sounded like A (usually)

We usually spell things IE and not EI:

  • Correct: believe
  • Incorrect: beleive
  • Correct: friend
  • Incorrect: freind
  • Correct: piece
  • Incorrect: peice

There are two exceptions:

A) When coming after the letter “c,” then it is usually spelled EI:

  • Correct: receive
  • Incorrect: recieve
  • Correct: ceiling
  • Incorrect: cieling

B) When sounding like “A”, for example:

  • Correct: neighbor
  • Incorrect: nieghbor
  • Correct: weigh
  • Incorrect: wiegh

Unfortunately, this rule is not perfect! There are even exceptions to the exceptions:

  • IE occurring even after C: sufficient, glacier, ancient, species
  • EI occurring when not after C: weird, either, seize, leisure

2. When to double the final consonant

When you have a word that ends with a consonant + vowel + consonant, the final consonant can be doubled in some words, but not in others:

  • stop –> stopped (doubled)
  • transmit –> transmitting (doubled)
  • offer –> offered / offering (not doubled)

The final consonant is doubled if the stress falls on the final syllable. It is not doubled if the stress does not fall on it. (Short, one-syllable words always double the final consonant).

  • Short, one-syllable words:
    stop –> stopped
    get –> getting
    bus –> busses
  • Stress on final syllable:
    transMIT –> transmitted
    forGET –> forgetting
  • Stress NOT on final syllable:
    OFfer –> offered
    PEDal –> pedaling

Remember, this is only for words that end in consonant-vowel-consonant. For words with other patterns (like vowel-vowel-consonant), we do not double the final consonant:

Vowel-vowel-consonant words do not double:

  • repair –> repaired
  • clean –> cleaning

Words ending in consonant-consonant do not double:

  • help –> helped
  • print –> printing

3. When to use -US and -OUS

The -us ending is used for nouns, and -ous is used for adjectives:

  • Nouns: genius, focus, virus
  • Adjectives: generous, religious, humorous

Note that both spellings are still pronounced -us. Do not pronounce the -ous ending like in the word “house.” Listen to the audio and note how both -us and -ous endings are pronounced -us.

 

4. Q is always followed by U

In English words, we never have the letter “q” alone – it is always followed by “u.”

In most words, “QU” is pronounced like “KW”:

quick, question, equal, require, liquid

In words ending in QUE, it is pronounced like “K”:

plaque, unique, mosque, clique

 

5. Drop the silent final E when adding suffixes starting with a vowel, but not when adding suffixes starting with a consonant

A lot of words in English have a silent final E:

  • care
  • hate
  • waste
  • late
  • rude
  • pure
  • positive
  • relate
  • erase

Suffixes are endings we add to words to change their function. For example:

  • care (verb/noun) –> careful (adjective)
  • late (adjective) –> lateness (noun)
  • pure (adjective) –> purity (noun)

When adding a suffix starting with a vowel, we usually DROP the silent “e”:

  • care, hate, waste, relate, erase
    caring, hating, wasting, relating, erasing
  • pure, positive, objective
    purity, positivity, objectivity
  • relate, erase, force, collapse
    relatable, erasable, forcible, collapsible

When adding a suffix starting with a consonant, we usually KEEP the silent “e”:

  • care, hate, waste
    careful, hateful, wasteful
  • late, rude, alike
    lateness, rudeness, alikeness
  • blame, noise, shape, use
    blameless, noiseless, shapeless, useless

Should you study English spelling rules?

A lot of students ask me about the “rules” for English spelling, and I have to tell them honestly that English spelling is so irregular that it’s hard to explain the rules. There are some trends and patterns… but as you can see in this lesson, the trends are sometimes very detailed and even they have exceptions. In fact, when native English speakers are children, we specifically practice the subject of “spelling” in school. There are even spelling competitions!

Sometimes the more English learners try to study and memorize the “rules,” the more frustrating it gets. So if you find these rules helpful, great! But if you find them confusing, then don’t worry about them.

Some easier ways to improve your spelling are:

1. Read more, and pay attention.

The more you read, seeing English words spelled correctly, the more likely you are to spell them correctly naturally.

2. Get corrections on your writing. 

You can use the spell-check in programs like Microsoft Word to catch some spelling errors… but it won’t find ALL your mistakes! (For example, incorrect use of words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently, like wait and weight or there and their.)

If you join my Advanced English Grammar Course, you can get my corrections on your writing assignments. I’ll check your spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and whether you’re using the most natural phrases – and then I’ll send you feedback.

Get feedback and correction on your writing in English:

aegc-transparent

Learn more about this course

Related lessons: