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Spelling Rules

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Teachers should teach the sound-spelling system as part of a balanced spelling program. To determine the individual needs of your students, teachers need the comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment to diagnose students and plan effective instruction.

As I previously mentioned, each of the six posts will begin with a brief reflection about the instructional spelling component, follow with a rationale for teaching that component, and finish with some free instructional spelling resources. The components of each of the six posts are as follows:
1. Diagnostic Assessment 2. Sound-Spellings 3. Spelling Rules
4. Spelling Lists and Tests 5. Spelling Practice 6. Integrated Spelling and Vocabulary.

This week we explore how to teach the spelling rules.


□ I know the key eight conventional spelling rules that work most all of the times.

□ I have an instructional plan in place to teach these spelling rules.

□ I have formative assessments in place to analyze their progress.


Just because the English sound-spelling system works in only about 50% of spellings does not mean that there are not predictable spelling patterns to increase that percentage of spelling predictability and accuracy. Although the sound-spelling patterns are the first line of defense, the conventional spelling rules that work most all of the time are a necessary back-up.

Spelling Resources

Here are the Eight Great Spelling Rules with links to memorable MP3 songs and raps to help your students (and you) remember them.

1. The i before e Rule

Usually spell i before e (believe), but spell e before i after a c (receive) and when the letters are pronounced as a long /a/ sound (neighbor).


2. The Final y Rule

Keep the y when adding an ending if the word ends in a vowel, then a y (delay-delayed), or if the ending begins with an i (copy-copying). Change the y to i when adding an ending if the word ends in a consonant, then a y (pretty-prettiest).


3. The Silent e Rule

Drop the e (have-having) at the end of a syllable if the ending begins with a vowel. Keep the e (close-closely) when the ending begins with a consonant, has a soft /c/ or /g/ sound, then an “ous” or “able” (peaceable, gorgeous), or if it ends in “ee”, “oe”, or “ye” (freedom, shoeing, eyeing).


4. The Double the Consonant Rule

Double the last consonant, when adding on an ending (permitted), if all three of these conditions are met: 1. the last syllable has the accent (per / mit)  2. the last syllable ends in a vowel, then a consonant (permit). 3. the ending you add begins with a vowel (ed).


5. The Ending “an” or “en” Rule

End a word with “ance”, “ancy”, or “ant”  if the root before has a hard /c/ or /g/ sound (vacancy, arrogance) or if the root ends with “ear” or “ure” (clearance, insurance). End a word with “ence”, “ency”, or “ent” if the root before has a soft /c/ or /g/ sound (magnificent, emergency), after “id” (residence), or if the root ends with “ere” (reverence).


6. The “able” or “ible” Rule

End a word with “able” if the root before has a hard /c/ or /g/ sound (despicable, navigable), after a complete root word (teachable), or after a silent e (likeable). End a word with “ible” if the root has a soft /c/ or /g/ sound (reducible, legible), after an “ss” (admissible), or after an incomplete root word (audible).


7. The Ending “ion” Rule

Spell “sion” for the final zyun sound (illusion) or the final shun sound (expulsion, compassion) if after an l or s. Spell “cian” (musician) for a person and “tion” (condition) in most all other cases.


8. The Plurals Rule

Spell plural nouns with an s (dog-dogs), even those that end in y (day-days) or those that end in a vowel, then an o (stereo-stereos). Spell “es” after the sounds of /s/, /x/, /z/, /ch/, or /sh/ (box-boxes) or after a consonant, then an o (potato-potatoes). Change the y to i and add “es” when the word ends in a consonant, then a y (ferry-ferries). Change the “fe” or “lf” ending to “ves” (knife-knives, shelf-shelves).


The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

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  1. Cheryl Merrick
    August 14th, 2009 at 10:36 | #1

    Your books look like a valuable resource to teachers especially those in higher grades.
    As I have tutored children who are struggling in school for the last 36 years, I have seen what a great help music can be in memorizing rules. Your using raps and songs to help children remember spelling rules is wonderful!

  2. Shawna Huggins
    August 24th, 2009 at 09:52 | #2

    Hi Mark, Nice article. We appreciated your comments on our posts and wanted to return the favor. Here are some fun activities that parents can do with their children as Warm Ups for the start of school http://www.creativelearningsource.blogspot.com

  3. Mary
    September 9th, 2009 at 11:46 | #3

    Hi there mark – i have a question that im hoping you could answer.
    Why is it that we say 1 house and many houses. but 1 mouse and many
    MICE? What is this rule? i would like to be able to understand . why are there mouses? or Hice?

    Hoping for a good reply,


  4. September 9th, 2009 at 15:58 | #4

    Sorry to disappoint. Plurals do have exceptions and spelling irregularities are many.

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