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American English Spelling Rules



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American or U.S. English has many spelling rules that developed over time. In addition to these rules, there are many exceptions which add to the confusion and result in common English words being often misspelled. Even the word 'misspelled' is frequently spelled wrong as 'mispelled' with one 's' in it.

Words often sound differently than the way they are spelled, such as 'rough' (the opposite of smooth) which if spelled the way it sounds would be 'ruff,' an entirely different word that may relate to a type of clothing worn around the neck, or maybe even the sound of a dog barking.

There are some basic spelling rules that can help with the vast majority of words. Unfortunately, you will find lots of exceptions, but with practice you will master them all and become a great speller!

IE or EI Rule

This is probably the most useful spelling rule that will help the most.

Use I before E, Except after C

Examples: friend, believe, fierce, shield, piece, chief

Except after C examples: ceiling, receive, perceive

Long "AY" Exception

The IE rule has another exception. If the word sounds like "AY" such as weigh, neighbor, beige, and sleigh, you put E before I most of the time.

More IE Rule Exceptions

Unfortunately, there are a lot of one-off exceptions you just need to memorize that don't follow the above rules which include:

  • agreeing
  • ancient
  • atheism
  • Beijing
  • being
  • caffeine
  • concierge
  • deicide
  • deify
  • efficiency
  • efficient
  • either
  • foreign
  • forfeit
  • glacier
  • height
  • leisure
  • neigh
  • neighbor
  • neither
  • protein
  • reimburse
  • science
  • seize
  • sleigh
  • society
  • species
  • their
  • weird

Forming Plurals

In English, plurals are used all the time when you have more than one of something. For example, a person might have two dogs, five books, and three cats. A few simple rules will help you spell plurals correctly, but you need to remember the exceptions. Below are basic plural spelling rules.

Add 'S' to form the plural for words NOT ending in -S, -Z, -X, -SH, -CH, or -SS

For most words, all you need to do is add an 's' to form the plural, but only if they don't end in -s, -z, -x, -sh, -ch, or -ss.

Examples: car = cars, boat = boats, phone = phones, toy = toys, chair = chairs

Add 'ES' for words ending in -S, -Z, -X, -SH, -CH, or -SS

Just add 'es' if a word ends in -s, -z, -x, -sh, -ch, or -ss

Example: bus = buses, buzz = buzzes, box = boxes, wash = washes, watch = watches, class = classes

Exceptions to the above rule includes: quiz = quizzes, friz = frizzes, whiz = whizzes

Note the double z used to make these words plural.

Add 'ES' for most words that end in '-o'

echo = echoes, hero = heroes, potato = potatoes

Exceptions to this rule: auto = autos, alto altos, two = twos, zoo = zoos

In some special cases there is more than one way to make a word ending in 'o' plural.

  • cargo = cargoes or cargos
  • ghetto = ghettos/ghettoes
  • buffalo = buffalo/buffaloes/buffalos

=== If a word ends in a consonant + 'Y', change the 'Y' to 'I' and add 'ES' baby = babies, lady = ladies, candy = candies, puppy = puppies, sky = skies

If a word ends in a vowel + 'Y', just add an 'S'

ray = rays, boy = boys, toy = toys

If a word ends in 'F' or 'FE', change the 'F' to 'V' and add 'ES'

knife = knives, leaf = leaves, half = halves, wife = wives, life = lives

Exceptions to this rule that just use 's' at the end without any changes: chef = chefs, cliff = cliffs, belief = beliefs, roof = roofs, chief = chiefs, tariff =tariffs, bailiff=bailiffs

Unique plural rules

There are a class of plurals that don't have any common rule to them. You just need to memorize the following short list of words:

  • child = children
  • mouse = mice
  • person = people
  • tooth = teeth
  • ox = oxen
  • foot = feet

Words that are the same for both singular and plural

  • deer = deer
  • offspring = offspring
  • crossroads = crossroads

Example: The deer crossed the road. There were 20 deer on the hill.

Foreign word plural rules

Certain words that are of Latin or Greek origin have unique spelling rules

  • index = indexes or indices
  • focus = focuses or foci
  • analysis = analyses
  • alumnus = alumni

Suffix spelling rules

When adding a suffix to a word, which is a modifier at the end of it, certain spelling rules apply.

Words ending in 'X' don't change when a suffix is added.

  • mix = mixer
  • mix = mixed
  • box = boxed
  • box = boxer
  • outfox = outfoxed

Doubling the last letter

If a word ends in a single consonant not immediately preceded by one or more stressed vowels (vowel has the loudest sound when read) you double the last letter

  • big = biggest
  • swim = swimming