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Parent Primer: Spelling

Remember whether “i” comes before or after “e” — and other spelling rules.
 

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Spelling

Wondering what you can do to help your child learn to spell beyond hauling out the dictionary? Well, the dictionary is actually a great start. But there is more to spelling than starting at "aardvark" and drilling to "zucchini." To help you understand some common terms and rules of spelling instruction, we've created this primer so you can help your child's efforts spell s-u-c-c-e-s-s!

Browse through all the spelling tricks, terms, and patterns:

 

Spelling Terms to Know:

  • Letter blends — A sound made by the combination of 2 or more letters: "br," "ch," "ow," etc.
  • Phonetic analysis — Sounding out words by separating a larger word into the smaller sounds (both vowel and consonant sounds and blends) that make it up.
  • Prefix — A unit of letters such as "un," "in," or "mis" which are attached to the beginning of a root word to modify its meaning: sane/insane; able/unable; spelled/misspelled.
  • Root word — A word that stands on its own and has meaning but can also be modified with suffixes and prefixes to make new words.
  • Suffix — A unit of letters such as "ing," "ness," or "ed," which are attached to a root word to modify its meaning, part of speech, or tense: will/willing; ready/readiness; wait/waited.
  • Syllable — Words are made up of chunks of sound or syllables. Each "beat" is one syllable. For example, the words "cat" and "break" have one syllable, "broken" and "diner" have two (bro-ken; di-ner)."Internet" is made up of three syllables: In-ter-net.
  • Whole language/inventive spelling — An approach where children are encouraged to create words with little to no concern for correct spelling. The focus instead is on connecting spoken language to writing.

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Basic Spelling Rules:

  • I before E When a word contains an "ee" sound that is spelled with an I and an E, it almost always follows this rule you may remember from your childhood:  I before E except after C. But there are exceptions when the vowel sound created is an "A," which makes the entire mnemonic: I before E except after C, or when sounding in A as in neighbor or weigh.
  • Ending words with "ick" vs. "ic" — When a word ends with an "ick" sound, it will be spelled "ick" if the word has one syllable (trick, pick, stick), and "ic" if it has two or more syllables (clinic, sarcastic, panic). Exceptions are almost all cases of two words being combined, such as "candlestick" or "seasick," so if you can separate an "ick" word into two separate words, then it is probably an exception. 
  • Plurals — Generally, when pluralizing a word, just add an "s." The exceptions are:
    • Words ending in "y" - if if there is a consonant before the letter "y," change the "y" to an "ie" before adding an "s": candy/candies; lady/ladies.
    • Words ending in "s," "ch," "sh," or "x" - add an "es" to these words: fox/foxes; dress/dresses; wish/wishes; latch/latches.
    • Words ending in "f" or "fe" — generally, the plural of these words will end in "ves": life/lives; leaf/leaves. To check if the word in question is an exception, say it out loud. If it retains the "ef" sound when pluralized, it keeps the "f" when spelled: safe /safes; chef/chefs.

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Suffixes:

When adding a suffix to a word, there are a few simple patterns that will help.  

 

For words ending in a silent "e":

  • When the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the "e": like/liking; noise/noisy. (EXCEPT when the word ends with a "ce" or "ge" and you are adding "able" or "ous" to the word. Then you keep the "e": service/serviceable; courage/courageous.)
  • When the suffix begins with a consonant, keep the "e": like/likeness; noise/noiseless; use/useful.

 

For words ending in "y":

  • When the "y" is preceded by a consonant, change the "y" to an "i" before adding a suffix: beauty/beautiful; worry/worrisome. (Exception: When the suffix starts with an "i": worry/worrying; cry/crying.)
  • When the "y" is preceded by a consonant, change the "y" to an "i" before adding a suffix: beauty/beautiful; worry/worrisome. (Exception: When the suffix starts with an "i": worry/worrying; cry/crying.)
  • When the "y" is preceded by a vowel, do not change the "y"; just add the suffix: say/saying; turkey/turkeys; enjoy/enjoyment.

Adding suffixes to words ending with a consonant: the rules of doubling 

  • If the word has one syllable and ends in a consonant preceded by one vowel, double the last letter: bed/bedding; drop/dropped; hot/hottest.
  • If the words has one syllable and ends in a consonant preceded by two vowels, then you don't double: feel/feeling; real/realist; void/voided.
  • If the word has one syllable and ends with two consonants in a row, do not double the final consonant: back/backing; wash/washer; crush/crushed.
  • For words with two or more syllables, determine if the last syllable is stressed. If the last syllable is accented, then it follows the same rule as for single-syllable words. If the last syllable is NOT accented, do not double the final consonant.
 

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