Spelling rules

Plurals of nouns

Most nouns make their plurals by simply adding –s to the end (e.g. cat/cats, book/books, journey/journeys). Some do change their endings, though.  The main types of noun that do this are:

Nouns ending in -y

If the noun ends with a consonant plus -y, make the plural by changing -y to -ies:

singular plural
berry berries
activity activities
daisy daisies

 

Nouns ending in -ch, -s, -sh, -x, or -z

If the noun ends with -ch-s-sh-x, or -z, add -es to form the plural:

singular plural
church churches
bus buses
fox foxes

There’s one exception to this rule. If the -ch ending is pronounced with a ‘k’ sound, you add -s rather than -es:

singular plural
stomach stomachs
epoch epochs

 

Nouns ending in -f or -fe

With nouns that end in a consonant or a single vowel plus -f or -fe, change the -f or -fe to -ves:

singular plural
knife knives
half halves

 

Nouns ending in -o

Nouns ending in -o can add either -s or -es in the plural, and some can be spelled either way.

  •  As a general rule, most nouns ending in -o add -s to make the plural:
singular plural
solo solos
zero zeros
avocado avocados

 

  •  Those which have a vowel before the final -o always just add -s:
singular plural
studio studios
zoo zoos
embryo embryos

Here’s a list of the most common nouns ending in -o that are always spelled with -es in the plural:

singular plural
buffalo buffaloes
domino dominoes
echo echoes
embargo embargoes
hero heroes
mosquito mosquitoes
potato potatoes
tomato tomatoes
torpedo torpedoes
veto vetoes

Here are some of the common nouns ending in -o that can be spelled with either -s or -es in the plural:

singular plural
banjo banjos or banjoes
cargo cargos or cargoes
flamingo flamingos or flamingoes
fresco frescos or frescoes
ghetto ghettos or ghettoes
halo halos or haloes
mango mangos or mangoes
memento mementos or mementoes
motto mottos or mottoes
tornado tornados or tornadoes
volcano volcanos or volcanoes

i before e except after c

Most people know the spelling rule about i before e except after c, as in the following words:

-ie- -ei-
achieve ceiling
belief conceit
believe deceit
chief deceive
piece perceive
thief receipt
yield receive

The rule only applies when the sound represented is ‘ee’, though. It doesn’t apply to words like science or efficient, in which the –ie- combination does follow the letter c but isn’t pronounced ‘ee’.

There are a few exceptions to the general i before e rule, even when the sound is ‘ee’. Examples include seize,weird, and caffeine. There’s nothing for it but to learn how to spell these words, checking in a dictionary until you are sure about them.

Comparative and superlative adjectives

The comparative form of an adjective is used for comparing two people or things (e.g. he is taller than me), while the superlative is used for comparing one person or thing with every other member of their group (e.g. he was the tallest boy in the class).

Adjectives make their comparative and superlative forms in different ways, depending on the base adjective itself. Here’s a quick-reference guide to the spelling of comparative and superlative adjectives:

Adjectives with one syllable

In general, if the adjective has one syllable, then the letters -er or -est are added:

warm               warmer              warmest

quick               quicker              quickest

tall                    taller                   tallest

 

 

Adjectives with one syllable ending in e

If the adjective has one syllable and ends in e, just add -r or -st:

late                   later                  latest

nice                  nicer                 nicest

large                larger                largest

 

 

Adjectives with two syllables

Adjectives with two syllables vary. Some add -er/-est or -r/-st:

feeble                feebler               feeblest

Some use the words ‘more’ for the comparative and ‘most’ for the superlative:

famous           more famous            most famous

Many can do either, like clever:

clever                cleverer/more clever       cleverest/most clever

Adjectives with three syllables or more

If the adjective has three syllables or more, then the words ‘more’ and ‘most’ are used:

interesting         more interesting             most interesting

attractive           more attractive               most attractive

 

Adjectives that change their spelling

Some adjectives change their spelling when forming the comparative and superlative:

  • Some one-syllable adjectives that end with a single consonant (e.g. bigwetsadfat) double this consonant before adding –er or –est: 

big                   bigger               biggest

wet                  wetter              wettest

sad                   sadder             saddest

  • If the adjective ends in y (e.g. happygreedy, or tidy), change the y to an i and add –er or –est: 

happy               happier             happiest

greedy              greedier           greediest

tidy                    tidier                 tidiest

  • Some common adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms that you just have to learn: 

bad                                        worse              worst

good                                      better               best

little (of a quantity)        less                    least

much                                     more                most

Forming adverbs

Many adverbs are formed from adjectives and end in -ly. Here are some tips to help you form adverbs and spell them correctly:

  •  The basic rule is that -ly is added to the end of the adjective:
adjective adverb
quick quickly
sudden suddenly
straightforward straightforwardly
  •     If the adjective has two syllables and ends in -y, then you need to replace the final -y with -ily:
adjective adverb
happy happily
hungry hungrily
lazy lazily
  •    If the adjective ends with a consonant followed by -le, replace the final -e with -y on its own:
adjective adverb
terrible terribly
comfortable comfortably
incredible incredibly

Adding -ful or -fully

The suffix –ful can form nouns or adjectives, like plateful or cheerful. People sometimes make the mistake of spelling this type of word with a double l at the end. Note that it’s always spelled with just one -l:

dreadful, faithful, skilful, powerful

cupful, mouthful, spoonfuls

The related ending –fully forms adverbs. Remember that this suffix is always spelled with two l’s:

dreadfully, faithfully, skilfully, powerfully

-ize, -ise, or -yse?

Many verbs that end in -ize can also end in -ise: both endings are correct in British English, though you should stick to one or the other within a piece of writing. For example: finalize/finaliseorganize/organiserealize/realise. This website spells these words with the -ize ending, but the main dictionary entries for the verbs show that the -isespelling is also correct.

But there is a small set of verbs that must always be spelled with -ise at the end and never with –ize. Here are the most common ones:

advertise compromise exercise revise
advise despise improvise supervise
apprise devise incise surmise
chastise disguise prise (meaning ‘open’) surprise
comprise excise promise televise

There are also a few verbs which always end in -yse in British English.

analyse catalyse electrolyse paralyse
breathalyse dialyse hydrolyse psychoanalyse

In American English, they are all spelled with the ending -yze

You can read more about the use of ‘ize’ and ‘ise’ on the Oxford Dictionaries blog. Here you will find more information about the historical usage of ‘ize’ and ‘ise’ and the difference between the two in the context of British English and American English.

Adding endings to words that end in -our

In British English, when you add the endings –ous, -ious, -ary, -ation, -ific, -ize, or -ise to a noun that ends in –our, you need to change the –our to –or. For example:

humour humorous
glamour glamorous
labour laborious

But when you add other endings, the –our spelling stays the same:

colour colourful
favour favourite
odour odourless

This rule doesn’t apply to American English: see more information about the differences between British and American spelling.

Adding endings to words that end in -y

When adding endings to words that end with a consonant plus -y, change the final y to i (unless the ending in question, such as -ish, already begins with an i). For example:

pretty:  prettier, prettiest

ready:  readily

beauty: beautiful

dry: dryish

This rule also applies when adding the -s-ed, and -ing endings to verbs ending in -y:

defy: defies, defying, defied

apply: applies, applying, applied

Adding endings to words that end in a double ‘l’

In American English, adding endings such as –ment, –ful, or –ness to words that end in a double ‘l’ poses no spelling problems. You just add the endings to the basic word:

install    installment

skill       skillful

small     smallness

If you are adding –ly, though, you do need to drop the final ‘l’ before adding the ending:

chill       chilly

frill        frilly

In British English, the situation is different: words ending in double ‘l’ drop the final ‘l’ when the endings – ment or –ful are added:

install    instalment

skill        skilful

Verb tenses: adding -ed and -ing

The basic form of a verb is called the infinitive. It normally occurs with the word to as in ‘I want to ask you a question.’ Verbs may change their spelling according to which tense is being used.

The past tense refers to things that happened in the past. To make the past tense of regular verbs, the ending -edis added to the infinitive (‘I asked her a question’). The present participle refers to things that are still happening. To make the present participle, the ending -ing is added to the infinitive (‘I am asking her a question’).

Often there’s no need to make any other spelling changes when you add -ed and -ing to the infinitive but there are some cases when it’s necessary to do so. Here are some rules to help you get it right:

Verbs ending with a silent e

If the verb ends with an e that isn’t pronounced (as in bake or smile), then you need to drop this final -e before adding -ed and -ing:

verb past tense present participle
bake baked baking
smile smiled smiling

A very few verbs keep the final -e when adding -ing to distinguish them from similar words. For example, singebecomes singeing rather than singing (which is the present participle of sing).

Verbs ending with a vowel plus -l

If the verb ends with a vowel plus -l (as in travel or equal), then you need to double the l before adding -ed and –ingin British English:

verb past tense present participle
travel travelled travelling
distil distilled distilling
equal equalled equalling

 

This rule doesn’t apply in American English: see more information about the differences between British and American spelling

Verbs ending with a single vowel plus a consonant

If the verb ends with a single vowel plus a consonant, and the stress is at the end of the word (e.g. refer), then you need to double the final consonant before adding -ed and –ing:

verb past tense present participle
admit admitted admitting
commit committed committing
refer referred referring

If the verb ends with a vowel plus a consonant and the stress is not at the end of the word, you don’t need to double the final consonant when adding -ed and -ing:

verb past tense present participle
inherit inherited inheriting
target targeted targeting
visit visited visiting

If the verb has only one syllable and ends with a single vowel plus a consonant (e.g. stop), then you need to double the final consonant before adding -ed and -ing:

verb past tense present participle
stop stopped stopping
tap tapped tapping
sob sobbed sobbing

 

Verbs ending with two vowels plus a consonant

If the verb ends with two vowels plus a consonant, you should generally not double the final consonant:

verb past tense present participle
treat treated treating
wheel wheeled wheeling
pour poured pouring

 

Verbs ending in -c

 

If the verb ends in -c (e.g. panic), you need to add a -k before adding -ed and -ing, and also -er.

verb past tense present participle related noun
picnic picnicked picnicking picnicker
mimic mimicked mimicking mimicker
traffic trafficked trafficking trafficker

Using capital letters

You should always use a capital letter in the following situations:

 

In the names of people, places, or related words

Use a capital letter when you are writing the names of people, places, and words relating to them:

Africa, African

Buddha, Buddhism

Shakespeare, Shakespearean

 

At the beginning of a sentence

Use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence:

The museum has huge potential. It will be a great boost to the area and we are really excited about it.

 

In the titles of books, films, organizations, etc.

Use a capital letter in the titles of books and other publications, films, organizations, special days, etc. In such cases, you need a capital letter for all the main words but not for the connecting words such as aantheorand, etc.:

Pride and Prejudice

Christmas Day

the Houses of Parliament.

 

In abbreviations

If you’re using the first letter of the abbreviated words, every letter should be a capital, e.g.:

BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)

USA (United States of America)

MP (Member of Parliament)

 

See more about writing abbreviations.

People often don’t use capital letters when they’re writing emails or other informal messages, but it’s important to use them in formal writing.

 

 

Common misspellings

Here’s a quick-reference guide to the top misspellings according to the Oxford English Corpus – an electronic collection of over 2 billion words of real English that helps us to see how people are using the language and also shows us the mistakes that are most often made.

The table gives the correct spelling of the word, handy tips on getting it right, and also the most common misspellings that we’ve found in our research, so you can check to see if any of the same mistakes have been tripping you up.

Correct spelling Spelling advice Common misspelling
accommodate, accommodation two cs, two ms accomodate, accomodation
achieve i before e acheive
across one c accross
aggressive, aggression two gs agressive, agression
apparently -ent not -ant apparantly
appearance ends with -ance appearence
argument no e after the u arguement
assassination two double s’s assasination
basically ends with -ally basicly
beginning double n before the -ing begining
believe i before e beleive, belive
bizarre one z, double -r bizzare
business begins with busi- buisness
calendar -ar not -er calender
Caribbean one r, two bs Carribean
cemetery ends with -ery cemetary
chauffeur ends with -eur chauffer
colleague -ea- in the middle collegue
coming one m comming
committee double m, double t, double e commitee
completely ends with -ely completly
conscious -sc- in the middle concious
curiosity -os- in the middle curiousity
definitely -ite- not –ate- definately
dilemma -mm- not -mn- dilemna
disappear one s, two ps dissapear
disappoint one s, two ps dissapoint
ecstasy ends with –sy ecstacy
embarrass two rs, two s’s embarass
environment n before the m enviroment
existence ends with -ence existance
Fahrenheit begins with Fahr- Farenheit
familiar ends with -iar familar
finally two ls finaly
fluorescent begins with fluor- florescent
foreign e before i foriegn
foreseeable begins with fore- forseeable
forty begins with for- fourty
forward begins with for- foward
friend i before e freind
further begins with fur- futher
gist begins with g- jist
glamorous -mor- in the middle glamourous
government n before the m goverment
guard begins with gua- gaurd
happened ends with -ened happend
harass, harassment one r, two s’s harrass, harrassment
honorary -nor- in the middle honourary
humorous -mor- in the middle humourous
idiosyncrasy ends with -asy idiosyncracy
immediately ends with -ely immediatly
incidentally ends with -ally incidently
independent ends with -ent independant
interrupt two rs interupt
irresistible ends with -ible irresistable
knowledge remember the d knowlege
liaise, liaison remember the second iliais- liase, liason
lollipop i in the middle lollypop
millennium, millennia double l, double n millenium, millenia
Neanderthal ends with -thal Neandertal
necessary one c, two s’s neccessary
noticeable remember the middle e noticable
occasion two cs, one s ocassion, occassion
occurred, occurring two cs, two rs occured, occuring
occurrence two cs, two rs, -ence not -ance occurance, occurence
pavilion one l pavillion
persistent ends with -ent persistant
pharaoh ends with -aoh pharoah
piece i before e peice
politician ends with -cian politican
Portuguese ends with –guese Portugese
possession two s’s in the middle and two at the end posession
preferred, preferring two rs prefered, prefering
propaganda begins with propa- propoganda
publicly ends with –cly publically
really two ls realy
receive e before i recieve
referred, referring two rs refered, refering
religious ends with -gious religous
remember -mem- in the middle rember, remeber
resistance ends with -ance resistence
sense ends with -se sence
separate -par- in the middle seperate
siege i before e seige
successful two cs, two s’s succesful
supersede ends with -sede supercede
surprise begins with sur- suprise
tattoo two ts, two os tatoo
tendency ends with -ency tendancy
therefore ends with -fore therefor
threshold one h in the middle threshhold
tomorrow one m, two rs tommorow, tommorrow
tongue begins with ton-, ends with -gue tounge
truly no e truely
unforeseen remember the e after the r unforseen
unfortunately ends with -ely unfortunatly
until one l at the end untill
weird e before i wierd
wherever one e in the middle whereever
which begins with wh- wich

Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/spelling

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