Spelling Rules – Syllables, Suffixes and Vowel Sounds

Learning to spell can be difficult, but learning spelling rules can help improve our spelling. This article looks at concepts that underpin spelling rules.

Most of us can remember being taught ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’,but this is probably the only spelling rule that we really know and, in fact, this rule does not always apply.

There are actually a lot of helpful spelling rules and these rules are used by good spellers. However, before we can learn spelling rules, it is helpful to know some of the concepts that underpin them. These concepts include vowel sounds, syllables, and suffixes.

Vowel Sounds

Most of us know that the vowels are ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, and ‘u’ but do we know about long and short vowel sounds? A long vowel is a vowel that says its name such as the ‘a’ in acorn. A short vowel does not say its name such as the ‘a’ in apple. For many spelling rules, changes are made, within words, according to whether the vowel is long or short.

Spelling Rules and Vowel Sounds

One example of a spelling rule, based on vowel sounds, is how to spell the /j/ sound at the end of a word. In most cases we would end such a word with ‘ge’ such as in ‘bulge’ and’ large’, but for many words with a short vowel (a vowel which does not say its name) the ending becomes ‘dge’ as in ‘edge’, ‘lodge’, and ‘judge’. I have put the vowel sounds in bold so that you can listen to them carefully and notice that they are short, because they do not say their names.

Another, similar, rule, based on the vowel sounds, is used when we want to make a /ch/ sound at the end of a word. In most cases these words would end in ‘ch’ such as the ending of ‘church’ but if there is a short vowel, as described above, then the ending becomes ‘tch’ as we can see in ‘match’, ‘ditch’ and ‘fetch’.

A third example is the /k/ sound at the end of a word or syllable. In this case we use ‘k’ after a long vowel sound, or after two vowels such as ‘stroke’ and ‘squeak’ but we use ‘ck’ when the vowel is short as in ‘quack’ and ‘shock’.

Another easy rule, which relates to short vowel sounds, is sometimes called the ‘Flossy Rule’. This rule relates to words, with short vowels in them, ending in ‘f’, ‘s’, or ‘z’. For these words we usually double the final consonant. Words such as ‘stiff’, ‘bell’, ‘miss’ and ‘fizz’ follow this rule. Note the double consonant at the end of each word and the short vowel sound.

Syllables and Suffixes

Spelling rulesUnderstanding syllables is also important for learning spelling rules. A syllable is a beat, in a word, which can be clapped out, heard or felt (if you put your hand under your chin when you speak). Words like ‘pin’ have one syllable (beat) but words like napkin have two (nap/kin). There are six types of syllable.

Syllables help us to break down words in order to spell them more easily. They are also used in spelling rules relating to suffixes. A suffix is a letter or a group of letters which go at the end of a word and usually change the usage of the word, such as when we add ‘ed’ or ‘ing’.

The ‘Doubing Rule’ is based on an understanding of suffixes, syllables and short vowels. This rule applies when we add a suffix, starting with a vowel, to the end of a word. Think about a word such as ‘hop’. This word has a short vowel, which does not say its name. However, if you simply added the suffix ‘ing’ to ‘hop’ then the word would become ‘hoping’ with a long vowel.

We need to apply the ‘Doubling Rule’, if a suffix begins with a vowel, to keep the vowel, in our original word, short. Therefore, ‘hop’ becomes ‘hopping’ with a ‘pp’ in the middle. This means that we double the final consonant before we add the vowel suffix . Once we remember this rule then it helps us to spell many other words such as ‘shopping’, ‘winning’, ‘wetting’ and ‘batting’.

Once you master vowel sounds, syllables and suffixes you can start to learn and apply spelling rules more easily. The books, noted below, will help you to learn more about these methods.