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The “able” or “ible” Spelling Rule

The "able" or "ible" Rule

The “able” or “ible” Spelling Rule

By far, writers struggle over the spelling of suffixes more so than the spelling of prefixes or roots. Of the eight conventional spelling rules, all but one (the before e) covers the spelling of suffixes. Of course, the spelling of the root (either an incomplete root or a base word) determines which suffix spelling to use in most cases.

The “able” and “ible” suffixes give writers fits because both sound similar (if not the same). Both are two syllables and both have the schwa /uh/ sound in each syllable. Abandoning the proper diacritical pronunciation marks, we would provide this approximate pronunciation for both “able” and “ible” suffixes: úh / buhl.

Sometimes the “ible” suffix tends to have more of this pronunciation: í (pronounced /ĭ/) / buhl.

About 80% of these suffixes have the “able” spelling (http://www.spellitright.talktalk.net/ends8.html), so if you must guess, don’t guess “ible.” Additionally, the list of “able” suffix new words is growing; no new “ible” suffix words are being added to our language. However, spelling isn’t solely about educated guessing; it’s about applying the rules and memorizing the few which don’t conform.

The “able” or “ible” Spelling 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).

Note that a complete root word is called a base word.

Exceptions to the rule: collapsible, contemptible, flexible, formidable, indomitable, inevitable, irresistible, memorable, portable, probable

Check out the song! The song focuses on the “able” rule (as “able” is the most frequent spelling of the two and adds “but for all others add “ible.” Like many things in life, if it’s not one thing, it’s the other. 

The “able” or “ible” Rule (to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”

Base words add “able” to the end,

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,

As do word parts,

That’s my name, too.

That end in silent e

Whenever we go out-

Or with hard c or g

The people always shout,

But for all others add “i-b-l-e”.

Saying, “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”


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