Spelling Rules Rule


Back in those rather strange days—the late 60’s and early 70’s—education departments offered some rather strange teacher training classes, and I seemed to end up in the oddest ones. One professor told us that his main goal was, that after his class, we would forever be proud to say, "I studied with Professor ____!" Unfortunately (maybe not), I never remembered his name. In another odd teacher training class, our assignment was to bring something for Show and Tell; something that we felt others would find interesting. I took my live (and unaltered) pet skunk. I then lived on a 50,000 acre cattle ranch, and some of the cowboys had given me the little black and white cutie after its mother had been killed. I was quite interested in unusual pets, and thought that my classmates would have been, as well.

In a stress reduction class, I was expected to tie my wedding band to the bottom of a string then hold the non-ring end of the string to my forehead. We spent a great amount of time leaning over a paper target in an attempt to control the movement and direction of the st(ring) pendulum. We were to make it move up&down; left&right; around&around. Instead of releasing stress, I found the task quit stress inducing. My brain refused to cooperate and instead kept challenging me to think of a way / the way / any way —that this teacher training would benefit a classroom of deaf children. Surely, such an expensive graduate class had a well-designed; well-thought-out; defensible curricular plan and purpose …. Wouldn’t you think? I just wish the professor had told us about it.

In an Every Child Is Born a Prince Until Their Parents Turn Them Into Frogs class, we played a ball game! We were assigned to teams and the room nearly exploded as groups of adults risked life and limb dashing around desks, trying to score. Our prof, as scorekeeper, kept track of points with ticks on the blackboard. He had told us that the name of the game, "Nawr Ulles" (spelled phonetically to his pronunciation) but nothing more. The other team smacked the ball against the blackboard, and the prof yelled, "Two points!" We noted that if the ball hits the blackboard, it is worth two points.

When my team next got the ball, we used that strategy and hit the target–the blackboard. The prof yelled, "Lose three points!" Huh? And so it went…one time a team would earn points for hitting a member of the other team in the head with the ball; then a few minutes later a different player would "Lose 5 points!" for…hitting a member of the other team in the head with the ball. The prof would call Time Outs, during which our teams would meet in huddles and strategize, "What in the heck is the purpose of this stupid game? Can anyone see any consistency in the scoring? Why in the h-ll are we paying good money to spend every Tuesday night for 18 weeks away from our families to do this?!" ("Lose $500!") By the time the prof announced that the game had ended, most of us were quite angry. We became even angrier when Dr. Whoever, who thought he was so cute and so creative, wrote the name of the game on the board: "NoRules." Grrrr

He claimed that the point of the lesson (lesson!?) was to show us how upsetting it is when we do not understand why and how to do something. (No joke, Sherlock!) Now this, indeed, was stress-inducing and brings me to spelling.

"Spell /b/-/r/-/e/-/d/, the teacher says, but when a student writes, "bred," he is corrected to "bread". The teacher tells the class to spell the word /s/-/o/ but counts as wrong, "so" and "sew," wanting "sow" as in grain. After thinking that she carefully taught a lesson on "I before E, except after C" the teacher expects the students to spell vein, veil, skein. When students point out that this does not fit the rhyming rule, the teacher is lost since no one ever taught her the "rest of the story"—"Unless it says A."

For decades now, spelling has been mis-taught by teachers and textbook writers who fail to understand the levels, layers, and depths of the English language. Current spelling (mis)instruction and its (non)applicability to skill development lead to errors, frustration, and less-than-acceptable English skills for life. The absence of rules, whether in a rather silly game, or in important communication and learning skills, brings about confusion and anger while creating a deep distrust of the game, the language, the teachers. (Wow! I did learn something from that class.)

The spelling rules for coding American English from Speech to Print, are stable and vitally important. Learn all 29 and let them guide your thinking and rule your writing. However, do not memorize the rules for rote recitation, and certainly never ask children to memorize them. Study/teach the rules for understanding, then practice makes perfect. Use the rules as tools for logical spelling, then pass that knowledge on to others, especially to children who are suffering through the public schooling experience. Spelling should be taught first! Not reading. If you teach a person to spell, you give them a gift; a tool; that will serve them for their lifetimes.

Many people already know and appropriately use many of the rules, whether they can articulate them or not. Some individuals may have been taught the information by a traditional teacher, a knowledgeable parent, or they may have intuitively discovered usage patterns and spelling techniques. For those who are interested in knowing the rules, I offer the following from The Spalding Reading Method and its teacher manual.

Rule 1) The letter "q" is always followed by a "u" and together they say /kw/ (queen). Note: The "u" is not a vowel here.

**Teach the next two rules together because, although quite similar, they require precision in thought and application. Hint: Remember that there is a difference between a probability and a possibility.

Rule 2) The letter "c" before e, i, or ysays /s/, as in cent, city, and cycle. The letter "c" followed by any other letter—says /k/, as in cat, cot, cut. Note: "Says" suggests the Probability.

Rule 3) The letter "g" before e, i, or ymay say /j/ as in page, giant, gym. The letter "g" followed by any other letter—says /g/ as in gate, go, gust. Note: The letter "e" and "i" following "g" do not always make the "g" say /j/: get, girl, give. Note: "May say" suggests the Possibility.

Quickly read the following words, noting how the vowel that follows the "c" or "g" controls pronunciation, and how pronunciation controls spelling: cork, cark, card, cord, cerd, cork, cerm, cal, cill, cell, cull, cim, carf, cab, card, cif, can, cen, cib, cerd, cuff, cop, cob, cub, cib, ced, cud, cid, cow, caw, gab, geb, gib, gob, gub, gan, gen, gin goin gun (from the Seeing Stars Workbooks by Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell).

Rule 4) is an important rule because it can be used to rapidly improve reading skills. Rule 4 says: When a short syllable ends with a vowel, the vowel generally says its name, its long sound. This rule describes Open Syllables and guides us in pronunciation, word decoding, and spelling. An Open Syllable ends (thanks to that last vowel) with the mouth OPEN so a long vowel is usually the result. However, because of the Latin contributions to English, the letter "i" does not always comply, so stay flexible and be prepared consider other pronunciations for that vowel. Read these syllables Note: "a" will say its name here because these are only syllables. If "a" comes at the end of words, it says /ah/.): gu, ga, da, di, bi, sho, nu, ne, te, fe, du, bo, fo. Read: la/ter, me/ter, ti/dy, ho/tel, tu/lip, ba/con, de/cide, li/lac, do/nate, cu/pid.

Rule 5) The letters i and y usually say short i (big, gym), but may say long i (si lent, my, type).

Rule 6) The letter y, not i, is used at the end of an English word (my, fry, comply).

Rule 7) Involves words ending with a Silent E. Those were explained in article # 142.

Rule 8) Involves the spellings for the /er/ sound which were also explained in the same article.

**The next two rules work in similar ways, so I put them together. Note that the second consonant of the consonant pair is not pronounced!

Rule 9) This is called the "1-1-1 Rule" and is used like this: If a word has 1 syllable; 1 vowel; followed by 1 consonant (example: hop), double that final consonant before adding an ending/suffix that begins with a vowel (hop ping). This rule does not apply to words ending with x. Study: hop/hopping; set/setting; run/running; red/reddish; mud/muddy; flat/flatten; writ/written; ship/shipped/shipper; stop/stopped/stoppage.

Rule 10) This is called the "2-1-1 Rule" and is used like this: When a word has two syllables (be gin) in which the second syllable is accented and works like a 1-1-1 Rule word (gin), double the final consonant before adding an ending/suffix that begins with a vowel (be gin ning). Beware: 1) If that second syllable is not accented (prof it) then do not double the consonant (prof it able). 2) If the suffix begins with a consonant, do not double the last consonant in the 1-1-1 syllable (prof it +s).

Rule 11) This is sometimes called the "Drop E Rule" and is used like this: Words that end with a Silent Final E (de bate) are written without the E when adding an ending/suffix that begins with a vowel (de bat able). If adding an ending/suffix that begins with a consonant, retain the e (state / statement). Note: If you are adding an ending that begins with any letter other than e, i, or y, to a word with a "c" or "g", retain the "e" to soften the pronunciation: manage/managing/manageable; change/changing/changeable

Rule 12) After c use ei (receive). If we say "long a," we use ei (vein). In the list of exceptions, we use ei. In all other words, the phonogram ie is used. For more information, see article #142.

**Rules 13 through 16 are clustered because of separate but similar usages; because of the logic involved in applying these rules to spell accurately. Here there are choices: SH? TI? SI? CI? CE?! It is not as bad as it appears.

Rule 13) The Phonogram sh is used at the beginning or end of a base word (she, dish); at the end of a syllable (fin ish); but never at the beginning of any syllable after the first one except for the ending ship (wor ship, friend ship). To review: Use sh to spell the /sh/ sound at the beginning of a base word (shade, shape); at the end of a base word (fresh, wash); at the beginning of the first syllable (shim mer ing) of a word; and the end of a syllable (ash en); but never to begin a 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th or subsequent syllable in a word except for the suffix ship!

Rule 14) The phonograms ti, si, and ci are the spellings most frequently used to represent the sound /sh/ at the beginning of the…2nd, 3rd, 4th, or subsequent syllable in a base word. (na tion, ses sion, fa cial).

Rule 15) The phonogram si is used to represent the /sh/ sound when the syllable before it ends with "s" (ses sion) or when the base word has an s where the base word changes (tense, ten sion; manse, man sion).

I use this spelling lesson as an opportunity to refresh / reteach / expand knowledge of root words (and thus of vocabulary) When pondering whether to use "ti" or "ci", consider the root, and the spelling of the root. Consider sound, listening for the /s/ at the end of the base, so you remember to use "si".


vacate — va ca tion; infect — in fec tious; nat — na tion; potent — po ten tial;

impart — im par tial; collect — col lec tion; pat — pa tient; torrent — tor ren tial


ses — ses sion; compress — com pres sion; discuss — dis cus sion; depress — de pres sion

tense — ten sion; manse — man sion


face — fa cial; space — spa cious; finance — fi nan cial; music — mu si cian

electric — e lec tri cian; physic — phy si cian


o cean; o ce an ic; o ce an o graph ic (ce is only used in words having to do with—ocean.)

I can hear objections already! Yes, there are words that do not follow these generalizations, but that does not mean that they are rule breakers. Yes, you will have to memorize some, but that will be much easier if you first learn about each word. Remember what I said beforeu2014always consider the ROOT, whether it be a stem or a base word. One evening another homeschooling mother and I tested many words that appear to be rule breakers. We looked each one up, searching for the rationale behind the spellings of the /sh/ sound. We used regular dictionaries, a dictionary of etymology, and another of my favorite books, Word Stems, by John Kennedy ("From School Library Journal, This handy guide for students, wordsmiths, and language lovers includes a four-page history of the development of English from its Latin, Greek, and other roots."). We looked up "ti" words like palatial, superstitious, influential; substantial. We checked out "ci" words like social, special, especially, ancient, crucial, efficient, suspicious. In every case, we found a root word history to support the spelling of the /sh/ sound.

Rule 16) The phonogram si may also say /zh/ as in: vi sion, di vi sion, oc ca sion, ex plo sion, …

Additional Rules (17-29)

Rule 17) We often double l, f, and s, following a single vowel at the end of a one-syllable word (will, off, miss). This rule sometimes applies to two-syllable words like recess.

Rule 18) We often use ay to represent a long "a" at the end of a base word, but never "a" alone. (pay, hurray) If a word ends with a, that represents the sound /ah/: papa, mama, camera.

Rule 19) Vowels i and o may say long /i/ and /o/ if followed by two consonants as in words like: find, old.

Rule 20) The letter s never follows an x. Never! Never! Never! The phonogram "x" includes the /s/ sound (/ks/) and does not need another one! (excite, exact, exemplary)

Rule 21) All, written alone, has two l‘s, but when used as a prefix, only one l is written (al so, al most).

Rule 22) Till and full, written alone, have two l‘s, but when used as a suffix, only one l is written (un til, beau ti ful).

Rule 23) The phonogram dge may be used only after a single vowel that says its short sound: badge, edge, bridge, lodge, budge.

Rule 24) When adding an ending to a word that ends with a consonant and y, use i instead of y unless the ending is ing.

Rule 25) The phonogram ck may be used only after a single vowel that says its short sound: back, neck, lick, rock, duck.

Rule 26) Words that are the names or titles of people, places, books, days, or months are capitalized.

Rule 27) Words beginning with the sound /z/ are always spelled with a z, never an s (zoo, zero, zip).

Rule 28) The phonogram ed has three sounds. If a base word ends in the sound /d/ or /t/, adding -ed makes another syllable that says /ed/ (sid ed, part ed). If the base word ends in a voiced consonant sound, the ending —ed says /d/ (lived, loved). If the base word ends in an unvoiced consonant sound, the ending –ed says /t/ (jumped, wrecked).


Rule 29) Words are usually divided between double consonants. For speaking and reading, only the consonant in the accented syllable is pronounced. The consonant in the unaccented syllable is silent (lit le).

Please help undo the damage that TV personalities have done. Say "lit le" not "lit tle". Say "to mor ow" not, like The Weather Channel people, and now many newscasters say, "to mor row." The sooner that we can return American speech to precision and clarity, the sooner we will bring America back around to literacy. Literacy will lead scholarship. Scholarship will lead to informed citizens who understand their rights, and expect politicians and judges to adhere strictly to the Constitution.