SPELLING RULES AND TIPS
There are some tricky English words like necessary, Mediterranean, or
rhythm whose spelling you just have to learn. But plenty of others do follow
Plural of nouns
Most nouns make their plurals by simply adding -s to the end (cat / cats,
book / books, journey / journeys). Some do change their endings, though.
The main types of nouns that do this are:
Nouns ending in -y
If nouns ends with consonant plus -y, make the plural by changing -y to
If the noun ends with -ch, -s, -sh , -x or -z, add -es to the plural form:
There is one exception to this rule, if the -ch ending is pronounced with a
‘k’ sound, you add -s rather than -es:
Nouns ending in -f or -fe:
With nouns that end in a consonant or single vowel plus -f or -fe, change
the -f or -fe to -ves:
Nouns which end in two vowels plus -f usually form plurals in a normal way,
with just an -s:
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.
● Those which have a vowel before the final -o always just add -s:
● Here’s a list of most common nouns ending in -o that are always
spelled with -es in the plural:
● Here are some of the common nouns ending in -o that can be spelled
with either -s or -es in the plural:
Banjo Banjos or Banjoes
Cargo Cargos or Cargoes
Flamingo Flamingos or Flamingoes
Fresco Frescos or Frescoes
Ghetto Ghetto or Ghettoes
Halo Halos or Haloes
Mango Mangos or Mangoes
Memento Mementos or Mementoes
Motto Mottos or Mottoes
Tornado Tornados or Tornadoes
Tuxedo Tuxedos or Tuxedoes
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
-ie- -eiAchieve Ceiling
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 is not pronounced ‘ee’.
Neither does the rule apply to any word without the ee sound, even when
there is no c involved. For example:
-ei- (not 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 is nothing
for it but to learn how to spell these words, checking in a dictionary until you
are sure about them.
Words containing the letter q:
In the spelling of English words, the letter q is always followed by the u, for
Note that this rule does not apply to Arabic words such as niqab.
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 / at
the end. Note that’s it always spelled with just one -l:
- dreadful, faithful, skillful, powerful
cupful, mouthful, spoonful
The relating ending -fully forms adverbs. Remember that this suffix is
always spelled with two l’s:
- dreadfully, faithfully, 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 / finalise, organize / organise , realize / realise
But there is a small set of verbs that must always be spelled with -ise at the
end and never with -ize. The main reason for this is that, in these words,
-ise is part of a longer word element rather than being a separate ending in
its own right. For example: -cise (‘cutting’) in the word excise; -prise
(meaning ‘taking’) as in surprise; or -mise (meaning ‘sending’) as in
promise. 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
Breathstyle dialyse hydrolyse psychoanalyse
In American English, they are all spelled with ending -yze:
Adding endings to words that end in -our:
In British English, when you add endings, when you add the ending -ous,
-lous, -ary, -ation, -ific, -ize or -ise to a noun that ends in -our, you need to
change the -our to -or. For example:
But when you add other endings, the -our spelling stays the same.
Adding endings to words that end in -y:
When adding the endings to words that end with a consonant plus -y,
change the final y into 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
The 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 ending to words that end in a double ‘I’:
You need to drop the final / from words that end with a double / before
adding endings that begin with a consonant (e.g. -ment, -ful, -ly):
The ending -ness is an exception to this rule:
Words ending in -able or -ible:
These endings are found in adjectives that usually mean ‘able to be …’. For
Available: able to be used or obtained
Audible: able to be heard
Breakable: able to be broken
Visible: able to be seen
Words ending in -able:
As a general rule, there are lots more adjectives ending in -able, but here
are some tips to help you make the right choice:
● When the word ends in -able, the main part of the word (i.e. the bit
that comes before the -able ending) is usually a complete word in
itself. For example: bearable (from bear), readable (from read), and
acceptable (from accept). This is also true when the base word ends
in an e that’s dropped before the -able ending is added (e.g. advise,
advisable or inflate, inflatable) or where it ends in a consonant that’s
doubled when the ending is added (e.g. forget; forgettable or regret;
● If the main part of the word ends with ‘hard’ c (pronounced like c in
the cab) or a ‘hard’ g (pronounced like the g in the game) then the
ending is always -able. For example: navigable, oramicable.
Here are some common words that end in -able:
Likeable, peaceable, debatable, pleasureable, adaptable, inimitable,
capable, adorable, desirable, justifiable, preferable, disposable,
knowledgeable, amiable, durable, laughable, reliable, fashionable,
excitable, lovable, believable, excusable, manageable, tolerable,
serviceable, measurable, sizeable, payable, noticeable, suitable,
changeable, objectionable, comfortable, impressionable, conceivable,
Words ending in -ible:
● When a word ends in -ible, it’s less likely that the part before the
ending will be a recognizable English word. Take permissible or
audible, for example: ‘permiss’ and ‘aud’ are not English words.
● This is only a guideline and there are exceptions to the general
principle. For example: accessible and collapse both end in -ible even
though they are formed from the recognizable words access and
Here are some common words ending in -ible:
Illegible; responsible; eligible; incredible; reversible; invincible; suggestible;
contemptible; feasible; negligible; susceptible; flexible; tangible; gullible;
terrible; horrible; plausible.
Nouns ending in -acy and -asy:
The ending -acy is much more common than -asy. Here are some of the
most nouns ending in -acy:
Accuracy, conspiracy, intimacy, piracy, legacy, primacy, adequacy,
delicacy, supremacy, legitimacy, aristocracy, pharmacy, privacy,
democracy, lunacy, bureaucracy, literacy, supremacy, immediacy,
numeracy, fallay, obstinacy.
There are only four nouns in standard English which end in -asy. It’s best to
just remember these:
Apostasy, fantasy, ecstasy, idiosyncrasy.
Words ending in -ance and -ence:
These two endings are both used to make nouns from verbs (e.g.
performance from perform) or nouns from adjectives (e.g. intelligence from
In general, you’ll need to remember how to spell these words (or else
check their spelling in a dictionary. Here are some tips to help you
Words ending in -ance:
● If the word is formed from a verb that ends in -y, -ure, -ear, then the
ending will be spelled -ance. For example: alliance (from ally),
endurance (from endure), or appearance (from appear).
● If the main part of the word (i.e. the bit before the ending) ends in a
‘hard’ c (pronounced like c in cab) or a ‘hard’ g (pronounced like g in
game), then the ending will be spelled -ance. For example: elegance
● If the noun is related to a verb in -ate, then the ending is likely to be
-ance, e.g. tolerance (from tolerate).
Here are some common nouns ending in -ance:
Clearance, guidance, acceptance, relevance, ignorance, importance,
resemblance, instance, allowance, insurance, distance, substance,
maintenance, appliance, disturbance, nuisance, balance, fragrance,
circumstance, grievance, dominance, attendance.
Words ending in -ence:
● If the verb is formed from a verb ending in -ere, then the ending will
be spelled -ence. For example: reverence (from revere), adhere (from
adhere), or coherence (from cohere).
Note that the word perseverance is an exception to this rule.
● If the main part of the word ends in soft c (pronounced like c in cell) or
a soft g (like g in gin), then the ending will be -ence. For example:
adolescence or emergence.
Note that the word vengeance is an exception to this rule!
Here are some common nouns ending in -ence:
consequence, absence, preference, influence, presence, innocence,
difference, audience, recurrence, silence, conference, existence,
experience, patience, confidence, coincidence, sequence, evidence,
essence, affluence, sentence, insistence.
Words ending in -ancy and -ency:
These endings are also used to form nouns and they behave ve
Words ending in -ancy and -ency:
These endings are also used to form nouns and they behave very much
like -ance and -ence. For example:
● Nouns made from verbs ending in -ate have the spelling -ancy.
E.g. hesitancy (from hesitate) or vacancy (from vacate)
● Nouns with a soft c or g before the ending are spelled -ency.
E.g. emergency or complacency
Here are some common nouns ending in -ancy:
discrepancy, infancy, redundancy, expectancy, militancy, tenancy,
occupancy, consultancy, pregnancy, ascendancy, accountancy,
There are some common ones that end with -ency:
agency, fluency, sufficiency, frequency, tendency, proficiency, consistency,
efficiency, urgency, leniency, constituency.
Words ending in -ant and -ent:
These endings are used to form nouns (such as deodorant or adolescent)
or adjectives (such as arrogant or convenient). Similar rules apply to these
words as to words ending in -ance and -ence, or -ancy and -ency.
Here are some common nouns and adjectives ending in -ant:
Abundant, contestant, defiant, ignorant, relevant, radiant, assistant,
consultant, fragrant, pleasant, hesitant, observant, important, distant,
attendant, instant, dominant, redundant, brilliant, elegant, tolerant,
expectant, significant, reluctant, vigilant, applicant.
These are some common words ending in -ent:
Different, present, interest, innocent, prominent, efficient, eloquent,
insolent, recent, lenient, prudent, intelligent, competent, transient,
permanent, persistent, incident, confident, continent, resident, evident,
Words to watch:
One or two words can end in both -ant or -ent. They are both nouns and
adjectives and the spelling depends on their parts of speech. The main
Dependant or dependent Dependent
Pendant Pendent or Pendant
Remember that independent is always spelled with -ent at the end, whether
it is being used as an adjective or a noun.
Words ending in -ary, -ory and -ery
It can be difficult to know which of these endings is correct. Here are a few
Words ending in -ary:
● Words ending in -ary can be nouns (e.g. boundary, anniversary),
adjectives (e.g. ordinary, customary), or both (e.g. contemporary,
● If the part of the word before the ending isn’t a recognizable English
word in itself, then it is often (but not always!) the case that the
ending will be -ary (e.g. vocabulary, library).
Here are some common words that end in -ary:
Arbitrary, disciplinary, solitary, dictionary, extraordinary, adversary,
necessary, beneficiary, summary, temporary, commentary, voluntary,
imaginary, honorary, visionary, complementary, reactionary, intermediary,
Words ending in -ory:
● Words ending in -ory can be nouns (e.g. category, lavatory) or
adjectives (e.g. derogatory, satisfactory).
● They’re sometimes related to nouns endings in -or.
For example: contributory (from contributor) and rectory (from rector).
● Many words ending in -ory are related to English words ending in
For example: introductory (from introduction) and preparatory (from
Here are some common words that end in -ory:
accessory, derisory, promontory, inventory, laboratory, depository,
inflammatory, directory, conservatory, mandatory, sensory, contradictory,
explanatory, memory, factory, territory, history, victory, predatory, theory.
Words ending in -ery:
● Words ending in -ery are nearly always nouns and they are often
related to words ending in -er. For example: brewery (from brewer)
and machinery (from machine).
● As well as nouns, there are some adjectives that end in -ery, and they
are also mostly based on words that end in -er (e.g. blustery,
● If the part of the word before ending is a recognizable English word in
itself, then it is often (but not always!) the case that the ending will be
-ery. For example: mockery (from mock) and trickery (from trick). This
is also true when the base word ends in an e that is dropped before
the -ery ending is added (e.g. brave, bravery or forge, forgery) or
where it ends in consonant that is doubled when the ending is added
(e.g. distil, distillery or rob, robbery).
Here are some common words ending in -ery:
gallery, nursery, cemetery, slippery, jewellery, feathery, crockery, lottery,
celery, pottery, recovery, cutlery, bakery, delivery, discovery, artery,
scenery, battery, misery, flattery, stationery, surgery, monastery, snobbery,
Words ending in -efy and -ify:
Most verbs of this type end with -ify. Some of the most familiar are listed
Rectify, intensify, justify, modify, certify, signify, clarify, mystify, simplify,
classify, amplify, exemplify, falsify, notify, pacify, specify, purify, qualify,
unify, fortify, identify, terrify, diversify, verify, horrify, ratify.
There are only four common verbs that end in -efy:
Liquefy, putrefy, rarefy, stupefy.
fore – or for-?
If you’re wondering whether to spell a word with for- or fore-, it is helpful to
think about the meaning of the word you have in mind.
Words beginning with for:
● For- is generally added to words to convey the meaning of ‘banning’,
‘neglecting’, ‘doing without’, or ‘giving up’. For example:
Forbid = ‘refuse to allow’
Forbear = ‘stop yourself from doing something’
Forfeit = ‘give something up’
● For- is much less common than fore-. Here are some common words
that begin with for-:
Forgive, forgiveness, forlorn, forbearance, forsake, forget, forsake,
Words beginning with fore-:
● Fore- is used when the meaning is ‘before’, ‘in advance’, or ‘in front
of’. It is used to form words such as forecourt (= an open area in front
of a building) or forecast (=say what will or might happen in the
There are far more words beginning with fore- than those beginning with
for-. Here are some of the most common:
Forefront, foresight, forearm, foreman, foregone, foreboding, forestall,
foreground, foretaste, forehead, foretell, foresee, forethought, forefather,
foreshadow, forefinger, forewarn, foreshore, foreword.
There are some words beginning with for- and fore- that sound identical
when they are spoken and this can understandably cause confusion. For
example, to forbear means ‘to stop yourself from doing something’ while a
forebear is an ancestor. If you are in any doubt about which spelling to use,
always check in a dictionary.
Words ending in -ious and -eous:
Both of these endings are used to form adjectives (e.g. cautious or
hideous). Words ending with -ious are far more common than those ending
in -eous, but unfortunately there are no set rules which can help you
choose the correct one.
Here are some common adjectives in -ious:
Ambitious, previous, curious, anxious, delicious, rebellious, religious,
serious, envious, superstitions, notorious, glorious, conscious, various,
ferocious, obvious, studious, tedious, victorious.
And here are some of the most important ones that end in -eous:
gorgeous, curvaceous, nauseous, courteous, erroneous, plenteous,
simultaneous, miscellaneous, spontaneous, gaseous.
There is a small group of adjectives that take the spelling -eous when the
ending -ous is added. This is because the word they are formed from ends
in -ge and keeps the final -eso as to be pronounced with a soft ‘ge’ sound.
The most important of these are :
● Advantageous , from advantage
● Courageous, from courage
● Outrageous, from outrage
Words ending in -sion, -tion and -cion:
These endings are part of many everyday English nouns but people often
have problems with their spelling. Her are some guidelines to help you
choose the right one:
Words ending in -sion:
● If the ending is pronounced as in confusion, then it should be spelled
-sion. Here are some examples:
Collision, division, revision, persuasion, explosion, decision, seclusion.
● When the ending comes after an -I, it is always spelled -sion:
Compulsion, revulsion, expulsion, emulsion, propulsion.
● When the ending follows an -n or -r, it is often spelled -sion,
especially if the word is related to one that ends in -d or -se. For
example: immersion (from immerse),comprehension (from
comprehend). Here are some more examples:
Aversion, conversion, apprehension, impression, succession, extension,
● Nouns based on words that end in -ss or -mit always end in -sion:
permission comes from permit and discussion comes from discuss.
Here are some more examples:
Commission, expression, aggression, admission, succession, impression,
Words ending in -tion:
● If the ending is pronounced as in station, then it is spelled -tion. For
Addition, duration, nation, solution, ambition, edition, caution, position.
● If the noun is related to a word ending in -ate, then the ending will be
-ation, e.g. donation (from donate) or vocation (from vocate). Here
are some examples:
Accommodation, location, creation, rotation, education, mediation.
● If the ending comes after any consonant apart form -I, -n or -r, then
the ending is spelled -tion:
Action, connection, reception, affection, interruption, description, collection,
● After -n and -r, the ending can be -tion or -sion. It is more likely to be
-tion if the word is related to another one that ends in -t or -tain, e.g.
assertion (from assert) or retention (from retain). Here are some
Exertion, distortion, abstention, invention.
Words ending in -sion:
These are just two common nouns that end in -cion: suspicion and
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:
● If the adjective has two syllables and ends in -y, then you need to
replace the final -y with -ily.
● If the adjective ends with a consonant followed by -le, replace the
final -e with -y on its own.
Adjectives that end in -ly, such as friendly or lively, van’t be made into
adverbs by adding -ly. You have to use a different form of words, e.g. ‘in a
friendly way’ or ‘in a lively way’ instead.
Forming 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
warm warmer warmest
quick quicker quickest
tall taller tallest
Adjectives with one syllable ending in e:
If the objective has one syllable in a silent e, drop that e and add -er or -est.
late later latest
nice nicer nicest
large larger largest
Adjectives with two syllables:
Adjectives with two syllables vary. Some add -er / -est:
feeble feebler feeblest
Some use the words ‘more’ for the comparative and ‘most’ for the
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 adjectives 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
Some one-syllable adjectives that end with a single consonant (e.g. big,
wet, sad, fat) 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. happy, greedy 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 (most dictionaries also give these spellings if you
are not sure):
bad worse worst
good better best
little(of a quantity) less least
much more most
Correct spelling Spelling advice Common
two cs, two ms
i before e
-ant and -not
ends with -ance
no e after the u
two double s’s
ends with -ally
double n after the -ing
i before e
one z, double -r
begins with busi-
-ar not -er
one r, two bs
ends with -ery
ends with -eur
-ea- in the middle
double m, double t,
ends with -ely
-sc- in the middle
-os- in the middle
-ite- not -ate-
-mm- not -mnone s, two ps
one s, two ps
ends with -sy
two rs, two ss
n before m
ends with -ence
begins with fahrends with -iar
begins with fluor
e before i
begins with forebegins with for –
begins with fori before e
begins with furbegins with g-
-mor- in the middle
n before m
begins with gua
ends with -ened
one r, two s’s
-nor- in the middle
-mor- in the middle
ends with -asy
ends with -ely
ends with -ally
ends with -ent
ends with -ible
remember the d
remember the second
i: liaisi in the middle
double i, double n
ends with -thal
one c, two s’s
remember the middle e
two cs, one s
two cs, two rs
two cs, two rs, -ence
ends with -ent
ends with -aoh
i before e
ends with -cian
ends with -guese
two s’s in the idle and
two at the end
begins with propaends with -cly
e before i
ends with -gious
-mem- in the middle
ends with -ance
ends with -se
-par- in the middle
i before e
two cs, two s’s
ends with -sedebegins with surtwo ts, two os
ends with -ency
ends with -fore
one h in the middle
one m, two rs
begins with ton-, ends
remember the e after
ends with -ely
one i at the end
e before i
one e in the middle Wierd