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Common Spelling Rules, Prefixes, and Suffixes: Grammar Review Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Exercises for this concept can be found at Common Spelling Rules, Prefixes, and Suffixes: Grammar Review Practice Exercises.

Just how important is spelling anyway? Well, it can make the difference between someone understanding and appreciating your idea and someone walking away baffled. How important is that to you? You know, it wasn't that long ago when students had only dictionaries to turn to in order to check their spelling errors, and not the ones on the Internet, but the books on shelves that lined the walls in classrooms and libraries. In this high-tech age, when computers line the walls of classrooms and libraries, and are turning into common household items, many think that dictionaries are becoming a thing of the past—what with the convenience of "spell check" just the click of a mouse away. But don't be too quick to throw that dictionary away just yet! It could come in handy more than you think. Take a look at this.

Ewe mite knot awl weighs sea yore riding miss takes write a weigh, sew ewe halve two Czech care fully. Men knee mite yews tulles, like ay computer, two tri too fined and altar thee mist aches, butt sum thymes it seas write thru them.

The English language has 26 letters in its alphabet (21 consonants and 5 vowels) and 19 different vowel combinations to make up a total of 44 sounds, called phonemes. It would be easy if all you had to do was memorize 44 sounds to help you spell words … but, alas, this is English, and these 44 sounds are spelled in almost 1,000 different ways, thus making the household dictionary not obsolete, but a necessity. Spelling rules and patterns can help you learn to spell many words, although you must keep in mind that you'll regularly run into rule exceptions. Let's take a look at some basic spelling rules.

Common Spelling Rules

Words with ei or ie

Have you heard this mnemonic before?

Write i before e except after c or when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh.

Inside Track

Following are some exceptions to the rule.

either, neither, seize, seizure, leisure, weird, foreign, height, glacier, ancient, being, feisty, protein, counterfeit, sovereign

Doubling the Final Consonant

When a one-syllable word (bat, can, put) ends with a consonant (bat, can, put) that is preceded by one vowel (bat, can, put), you should double the final consonant before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel (e.g., -ed, -ing, -er). For instance:

bat batting batted batter
can canning canned canner

When a multisyllable word (patrol, forget, occur) ends with a consonant (patrol, forget, occur) that is preceded by a vowel (patrol, refer, occur), and ends with a stressed syllable (pa-TROL, re-FER, oc-CUR), you should double the final consonant before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel (e.g., -ed, -ing, -al, -ence, -ant). For instance:

repel repelling repelled repellant
refer referring referred referral
occur occurring occurred occurrence
Fuel For Thought

If the multisyllable word ends with a consonant preceded by a vowel, but has its final syllable unstressed (TRA-vel, HON-or, REV-el), do not double the final consonant before adding the suffix (e.g., -ing, -ed, -er, -ary). For instance:

travel traveling traveled traveler
honor honoring honored honorary
revel reveling reveled reveler

Also, words ending in -x, -y, or -w do not double the final consonant before adding a suffix. For instance:

mix mixing mixed mixer
crow crowing crowed crower
play playing played player

Last, words whose final consonant are preceded by two vowels do not double the final consonant before adding a suffix. For instance:

reveal revealing revealed revealer
wait waiting waiting waiter

When a prefix being added to a word ends with the same letter the main word begins with, include both letters in the new word. For instance:

mis + spell = misspell

un + necessary = unnecessary

il + logical = illogical

Likewise, when a suffix is being added to a word that ends with the same letter the suffix begins with, include both letters in the new word. For example:

      musical + ly = musically
      open + ness = openness
      even + ness = evenness
Inside Track

According to this rule, eighteen should be spelled eight + teen = eightteen, but it is not.

Finally, when you are making a compound word and the final consonant letter of the first word is the same as the first consonant letter of the second word, include all letters, even if the letters are repeated. For example:

      can + not = cannot
      book + keeper = bookkeeper
      news + stand = newsstand
Inside Track

According to this rule, pastime should be spelled past + time = pasttime, but it is not.

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