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Spelling Rules

Spelling, like its counterparts reading and writing, develops progressively over a few years. As early as preschool, some children write using inventive (unconventional) spelling. As a child completes kindergarten, she begins to spell some words correctly. By the end of first grade, a child should spell three- and four-letter short vowel words correctly. By the end of second grade, a child has progressed from inventive spelling to conventional spelling; a child should correctly spell previously studied words and spelling patterns.

Eight Spelling Rules

The following list contains 8 English spelling rules.

Spelling Rule #1: Every syllable has a vowel sound.

Every word or part of a word needs a vowel sound. A syllable is a part of a word that is pronounced as a unit and it always contains a vowel sound. However, it may not contain a vowel. The word, rhythm, is a great example which is pronounced ri- thum.

Spelling Rule #2: CVC Rule

CVC rule states if a single vowel is surrounded by consonants it usually has a short sound. The following table provides some examples.

Letter Examples
a
bat, cat & fat
e
Ben, den & hen
i
hip, lip & sip
o
hop, mop & top
u
bug, hug & rug

Spelling Rule #3: CVCe Rule

We like to refer to this as the magical “e” rule which states: if the “e” sits at the end of a word, it tells the preceding vowel to say its name. When a one syllable words has an “e” at the end and a vowel in the middle, the first vowel is usually long and the “e” is silent.

Short Vowel Sound
Long Vowel Sound
cap
cape
Tim
time
pop
Pope
cut
cute

Spelling Rule #4: “Qu” Team

The letter “q” is almost always followed by the letter “u” and it most often sounds like /kw/. The following are great examples: quack, quart, quarter, queen, question, quick, quilt & quiz. However, for some words the “qu” sounds like a /k/, e.g., conquer.

Spelling Rule #5: Vowel Team Rule

When two vowels go walking, the first vowel does the talking. The first vowel says it name (long vowel sound) and the second vowel is silent.

Letters
Examples
ai
maid & rain
ee
see, tree & deep
ea
eat, leaf & team
ie
pie & tie
oa
boat, road & soap
oe
toe & doe
ue
glue, blue & Sue

Spelling Rule #6: “C” and “G”

If the letters “c” and “g” precede the letters “a,” “o” or “u”, use their common consonant sound, e.g. cat, goat. However, if the letters “c” and “g” are followed by “i”, “e” or “y”, they produce their soft sound. An example, will best illustrate this point.

Letter
Sound
Example
Rule
c
/k/ – common consonant sound
cake, cold & cup
The letter “c” is followed by
“a”, “o” or “u.”
c
/s/ – soft sound
cent, city & cycle
The letter “c” is followed by
“i”, “e” or “y.”
g
/g/ – common consonant sound
game, go & gum
The letter “g” is followed by
“a”, “o” or “u.”
g
/j/ – soft sound
gem, giraffe & gym
The letter “g” is followed by
“i”, “e” or “y.”


Unfortunately, there are a few exceptions, e.g., give and girl.

Spelling Rule #7: I before E, Except after C

When “i” and “e” are together, the letter “i” normally precedes the letter “e” except if they are after “c.” The following words are great examples: brief, diet, friend, quiet & ceiling. Exceptions: “e” before “i” when it sounds like the letter “a”, e.g. neighbor and weigh.

Spelling Rule #8: Common Suffix Rules

There are several spelling rules for adding endings (suffixes) to a word. Three common rules are as follows:

  • One-syllable CVC Rule: Double the ending consonant before adding an ending that starts with a vowel, e.g. -ed, -ing.
  • Root Word
    Suffix
    Example
    tap
    -ed
    tapped
    tap
    -ing
    tapping
  • CVCe or Magic E Rule: Drop the “e” before the ending.
  • Root Word
    Suffix
    Example
    tape
    -ed
    taped
    tape
    -ing
    taping
  • When a common noun ends with the letter “y,” change the “y” to “i” unless a vowel precedes the letter “y.”
  • Root Word
    Suffix
    Example
    baby
    -es
    babies
    monkey
    -s
    monkeys

Despite spell check and text messaging, learning how to spell words correctly is an important skill that a child will be tested for throughout much of their school years. Learning the above rules, while recognizing there are certain exceptions, will help a child master spelling.

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