21 Tips For Spelling The Words You Use All The Time

The 87th Scripps National Bee began Tuesday. Of the 281 contestants in Oxon Hill, Maryland this year, only one will win Thursday.

These students spend months, sometimes years, studying for their big moments on the mike. They painstakingly memorize definitions and learn various etymologies to aid their spelling.

Aside from the difficult, and even peculiar, words in the competition, some everyday ones tend to trip people up, too.

These 21 tips will set you straight.


1. Put “i” before “e” except when the letters come after “c” and sound like “ee” or when they sound like “ay” — with many exceptions.

Almost everyone knows the rhyme: “I” before “e” except after “c.”

This rule has some value but only if you remember all the exceptions.

First of all, the “c” rule only holds true for “e-i” combinations that sound like “ee,” as in “ceiling.” When the “e-i” combination after “c” makes a different sound, the “i” usually goes first, as in “science” or “efficient.”

Second, many times the “e” comes before “i,” such as when the vowel combination sounds like “ay,” as in “feign” or “vein.”

Lastly, many words don’t fit the rules at all, such as “their” and “weird.”

2. The letter “u” always follows the letter “q.”

Exceptions to this rule exist but often as Anglicized versions of foreign words — such as the favourite Scrabble word “qi.”


3. Use “-acy” in all but four cases: apostasy, fantasy, ecstasy, and idiosyncrasy.

Those are the only words in English that end in “-asy.”

4. Use “-ify” in all cases but four: liquefy, putrefy, stupefy, and rarefy.

Those are the only words in English that end in “-efy.”

5. If the part of the word before the ending can’t stand alone as a complete word, you’ll usually use “-ary” as in “library.”

6. Words that take “-ery” often relate to nouns with “er” already included.

For example, “brewer,” “bluster,” and “shiver” become “brewery,” “blustery,” and “shivery.”

Also, if the part of the word before the ending can stand alone, you’ll usually add “ery.”

7. Many nouns (or adjectives) that take “-ory” relate to words with “or” already included.

For example, “contributor” becomes “contributory.” They also often stem from a noun that ends in “ion.” Consider that “introduction” becomes “introductory.”

8. If you pronounce the end of the word “zun,” like “confusion,” use “-sion.”

The suffix -sion will also usually follow a final “-l,” “-n,” or “-r” regardless of pronunciation. (Keep in mind the verb forms of words like “exertion” and “invention” actually end in “t,” as in “exert” and “invent”).

9. If you pronounce the end of the word “shun, ” like “station,” you’ll usually use “-tion.”

Also, “-tion” will usually follow any letter other than “-l,” “-n,” or “-r.”

10. To pluralize basic nouns and ones that end in a hard “ch” or “f,” just add an “s.”

As in “monarchs” and “chefs.”

11. When a word ends in soft “ch,” “sh,” “s,” “x,” or “z,” add “-es.”


To create the present participle and past tense of a verb, you need to add “-ing” or “-ed,” respectively, to its infinitive, like “to dream.” (Present participle refers to an action happening in that moment, like “I am running.”)

12. If the verb ends in an unpronounced “e,” like “bake” or “smile,” drop the “e” and add the “-ed” or “-ing.”

“Bake” and “smile” become “baking” and “smiling.”

13. If the verb contains only one syllable, like “stop,” or ends with a stressed syllable containing one vowel and a consonant, like “refer,” double the final consonant before adding “-ed” and “-ing.”

For example, “stop” becomes “stopping” and “stopped,” while “refer” changes to “referred” and “referring.”

14. If the verb ends in a hard “c,” like “traffic” or “panic,” add a “k” before adding the ending.

“Traffic” becomes “trafficked.”

15. If the verb ends in a “y,” “ure,” or “ear,” add “-ance” to make it a noun.

For example, “ally,” “reassure,” and “clear” become “alliance,” “reassurance,” and “clearance.”

If the verb ends in “ate,” like “tolerate,” you’ll also likely add “-ance,” though not always.

16. If the verb contains “ere” at the end, you’ll need “-ence” at the end to make it a noun.

“Revere” and “adhere” become “reverence” and “adherence.”

The endings “-ancy” and “-ency” work the same way. For example, since “vacate” ends in “-ate,” the noun is “vacancy.”

Now, to turn the noun version into an adjective, add “-ant” or “-ent.” The same rules apply, only in the reverse order. If a noun ends in “-ancy,” you’ll usually add “-ant.” If a noun ends in “-ency,” it normally takes “ence.”

Adjectives And Adverbs

17. Spell a word with “-able” when it can stand alone.

Usually, a word that takes the suffix “-able” can stand alone as a word, like “understandable.” The same still goes for a dropped “e,” as in “advisable” (stem: advise) and double consonants like “stoppable” (stem: stop).

When in doubt, choose “-able.” The Oxford Online Dictionary lists more than 1,000 adjectives that take “-able” compared to only 180 with “-ible.”

18. Spell a word with “-ible” when it can’t stand alone or when it ends in a hard “c” or “g.”

Words with “-ible” almost never function as words on their own, like “audible.” Also, words with a hard “c” (pronounced like “k”) and a hard “g” (as in “gig”) usually take “-ible.”

If you can recognise whether a word has a Latin root, remember that “-ible” usually accompanies words from Latin, like “audible.”

19. Spell adjectives with “-ful.”

Words like “beautiful,” “careful,” and “spiteful” require only one “l.” If you turn the adjective into an adverb, however, like “beautifully,” you’d need to double the “l.”

20. Using the basic rule, you just add “-ly” to the end of an adjective to make it an adverb. But if the adjective contains two syllables and ends in “y,” like happy, replace the final “y” with “-ily.”

For example, “happy” becomes “happily” and “angry” becomes “angrily.”

21. If the adjective ends with a consonant followed by an “e,” like terrible, drop the “e” and add “ly.”

“Terrible” becomes “terribly.”

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