A guide to basic spelling patterns and proununciations to help common mistakes in writing.
Silent 'e' with Long Vowels
Many words end with an unpronounced letter e – commonly called “silent e”. Actually, the silent e is a key to pronunciation, as the following pairs of words illustrate.
The word pairs show that silent e follows a stressed (accented) syllable with a long vowel, a vowel that requires the muscles in the mouth to tense during pronunciation.
ee in theme
oo in rude
oh in hope
ay in mate
iy in bite
The e may attach to a single syllable word or to a word stressed on the last syllable.
The absence of the e on a stressed (accented) syllable indicates a short vowel. Short vowels like the following allow the muscles in the mouth to remain lax during pronunciation.
it in fit
eh in bet
uh in cup
aw in bought
ah in spa
aeh in mat
The pattern is as follows.
Stressed syllable with long vowel: silent e (tape, ride)
Stressed syllable with short vowel: no e (tap, rid)
The rule does not apply when the stressed final syllable has
More than one vowel in a row (boom, appear)
More than one consonant in a row (comb, dodge)
Silent 'e' with Suffixes
When a suffix is added to a word that ends in silent e, the e
Drops if the suffix begins with a vowel
Remains if the suffix begins with a consonant
EXCEPTION: Three common exceptions to this pattern are truly, argument, and judgment.
EXCEPTION: The letter c may represent the hard sound /kuh/ as in cup or the soft sound /s/ as in supper. The letter g may represent the hard sound /guh/ as in gum or the soft sound /juh/ as in gentle. With the suffixes – able and –ous, silent e is retained in two situations.
After soft c: service/serviceable
After soft g: outrage/outrageous
Doubled Consonants with Verbs
With regular verbs, the past tense and past participle are made by adding –d or –ed to the base form. The spelling pattern is as follows.
When the verb ends in a stressed syllable and a single consonant, the consonant is doubled and –ed is added (pin/pinned, uncap/uncapped).
When the verb ends in a stressed syllable and a silent e, a –d is added to the base (dine/dined, escape/escaped).
The present participle is made by adding – ing to the base form of the verb. The spelling pattern is as follows.
When the verb ends in a stressed syllable and a single consonant, the consonant is doubled and –ing is added (pin/pinning, uncap/uncapping).
When the verb ends in a stressed syllable and a silent e, the e is dropped and –ing is added (dine/dining, escape/escaping).
Doubled Consonants with Prefixes, Suffixes, and Compounds
When a prefix ends with the same consonant that the base begins with, both consonants are retained:
dis + satisfied dissatisfied
over + rate overrate
un + necessary unnecessary
When a suffix begins with the same consonant that the base ends with, both consonants are retained.
mental + ly mentally
stubborn + ness stubbornness
heel + less heelless
When the first part of a compound word ends with the same consonant that the second part begins with, both consonants are retained.
book + keeper = bookkeeper
beach + head = beachhead
room + mate = roommate
'I' before 'E'
Almost everyone knows the "i before e" school rhyme.
I before e except after c
or when the vowel sounds like a as in neighbor and weigh.
The rule in this rhyme works with many ie words.
It also works with many c plus ei words.
And ei does appear in words that sound like weigh.
But many words without the c or the weigh sound are spelled with ei.
The rhyme does cover words like believe and receive, but it is not completely reliable. The best solution to the ie/ei problem is the dictionary.
-Cede, - Ceed, - Sede
Since -sede, -ceed, and -cede are pronounced identically, writers sometimes confuse them, spelling proceed, for example, as procede. Mastering the "cede" words, however, is a simple matter of memorizing the spelling of four words: supersede, exceed, proceed, and succeed.
Supersede ends in -sede.
Exceed, proceed, and succeed end in -ceed.
All the rest end in -cede: recede, secede, concede, and so on.