Basic Spelling Rules Parents Can Teach Children

Plurals and suffixes make this list

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You may have already come up with some innovative ways to practice the spelling words your child brings home every week, but do you know the spelling rules, tips and terms to help them beyond that?

Almost every child will ask you how they can use a dictionary to look up a word they're unsure how to spell. Fortunately, there are some basic spelling rules and concepts that can be helpful in figuring out how to look up those words.

Spelling Rules for Plurals

Typically, creating a plural for a word is simple--all you have to do is add “s” to the end of it. But there are some noteworthy exceptions that can trip you and your child up.

  • When the word ends in the letters “s”  or “x” or the blends of “ch” and “sh,” you need to add “es” to the end of the word to make it plural. Example: The plural of “party” is not “partys;” it is “parties.” Likewise, “fax” becomes “faxes” and “dish” becomes “dishes.”
  • When a word ends in “y” and has a consonant before the “y,” the plural is created by changing “y” to “ie” and then adding an “s.” If there is a vowel before the “y,” simply adding “s” works fine. Example: The plural of “phony” is “phonies,” but the plural of “donkey” is “donkeys.”
  • Sometimes when a word ends in the letters “f” or “fe,” the plural is created by dropping the “f(e)” and adding “ves” to the end. In order to figure this one out, you’ll often have to say the plural out loud to hear whether it retains the “f” sound or takes on the “v” sound. Example: The plural of “loaf” is “loaves,” but the plural of “chef” is “chefs.”

    Suffixes for ‘E’ and ‘Y’

    1. Words ending in a silent “e” follow these rules when adding a suffix:

    • If the suffix you are adding begins with a consonant, the “e” is retained. Example: “Use” becomes “useless” and “safe” becomes “safely.”
    • If the suffix you are adding begins with a vowel, the “e” is dropped. Example: “Ice” becomes “icing” and “nose” becomes “nosy.”
      • If the root word ends in “ce” or “ge” and the suffix you are adding is “able” or “ous”, the “e” is retained. Example: “Encourage” becomes “encourageable” and “courage” becomes “courageous.”

      2. Words ending in “y” follows these rules when adding a suffix:

      • If the root word ends in a vowel-"y” combination, simply add the suffix to the end. Example: “Bay” becomes “baying” and “monkey” becomes “monkeying.”
      • If the root words in a consonant-”y” combination, the “y” is changed to an “i” (unless the suffix begins with “i”). Example: “Funky” becomes “funkiness,” but “worry” becomes “worrying.”

      The Icks: ‘ick’ or ‘ic”

      Knowing whether a word should end in “ick” or “ic” is actually quite simple. Words that are one syllable long end in “ick” and words more than a syllable long end in “ic.” The exception to this rule is compound words. For those, you need to separate the word into its part before making a decision.  Examples: Chick, stick, click (one syllable); fantastic, horrific, picnic (multi-syllable). 

      The Rule of Doubling

      The rule of doubling applies to adding suffixes in words ending in consonants. There are a few rules:

      • One syllable words ending in a single vowel-consonant combination will double the consonant when adding a suffix. Examples: “Add” becomes “adding” and “sad’ becomes “saddened.”
        • One syllable words ending in a double vowel-consonant combination will not double before adding a suffix. Examples: “Peel” becomes “peeling” and “head” becomes “heading.”
        • Multi-syllable words depend on where the emphasis lies. If the last syllable is emphasized then the consonant is doubled when adding a suffix. If it’s not emphasized, you don’t double. Example: “Begin” becomes “beginning.”

        ‘I’ Before ‘E’

        The best way to remember the “i” before “e” rule is to go back to the little chant we all learned as kids. “‘I’ before ‘e,’ except after ‘c” and in words like ‘weigh’ and ‘neighbor.’”