how to become a better speller

How to Become a Better Speller: 6 Rules

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Spelling is such an important part of the writing process. As a writer and registered dietitian nutritionist, it’s important that we not only share evidenced-based information, but that we share content that is as close to error-free as possible. To learn how to become a better speller, we must first know the rules.

In this article, I’ll review six essential rules on how to become a better speller so that it benefits both your personal and professional writing. Proofreading is the final step of the editorial process before we hit print or publish. This is the step where we review our copy for errors like misspellings, grammatical errors, and correct proper punctuation usage.

It’s essential to check for misspellings throughout our articles to ensure the reading experience is simple, clear, and concise for our clients, patients, or our online communities.

how to become a better speller - dietitian versus dietician

Here is an example for you. Dietician or dietitian? If you’re a registered dietitian nutritionist, like me, I’m sure you can relate to the frustration when we see dietitian spelled with a “c”. The spelling of the word dietitian should use a “t”, not a “c.”

Dietician is an alternative, less common spelling of the word dietitian.

For anyone looking for the history of the spelling of dietitian check out this article from the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It’s enlightening.

Believe it or not, in 1930, the ADA executive committee (now called Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics) at the 13th Annual Meeting, adopted the official spelling of dietitian with a “t”—however, many dictionaries to this day, still accept dietician as an alternate spelling.

Below are some essential rules on how to improve spelling in your writing. This is by no means an all-inclusive list; however, it does cover many of the common rules when it comes to writing. Although many of us learned these rules back in the day…consider this a little refresher course.

6 Fundamental Rules on How to Become a Better Speller

More Rules to Improve Spelling

  • Oi and Oy
  • Ou and Ow
  • S never follows X
  • The ch sound
  • Use ck after a short vowel
  • Words ending in “-us” and “-ous”
  • Words ending in “ick” and “ic’

how to become a better speller

1. I before E, except after C or when it sounds like “A” as in neighbor or weigh

I’m sure many of us remember this popular spelling rule from our childhood. When the letters “i” and “e” are side-by-side in a word, the “i” comes first – generally speaking.

There are two main exceptions to this rule:

  • If the vowel pair (“ie”) follows the letter “c”, such as receive or deceive
  • If it sounds like a long “a” sound, such as neighbor or weight

Some special-case exceptions include the words: leisure, height, foreign, weird, either seize, science, sufficient, ancient, and species. When in doubt, check a dictionary.


2. The Silent Final E

For words that end with a silent “e”, drop the final “e” before adding a suffix which begins with a vowel like, –ing, –able, or –ity. (ie. caring, sharing)

  • One exception to this rule is when the word ends with a “ce” or “ge” and you are adding “able” or “ous” to the word. (ie. courageous, noticeable, manageable)

For words that end with a silent “e”, keep the final “e” when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant like, -ful, – ness, or – less. (ie. useful, likeness)

Words do not end in v or j in the English language. We add a silent “e” at the end of the word.


3. Plural Suffixes – adding -s versus -es

For words ending in s, sh, ch, x, or z, you would add es as the plural suffix. (ie. lunches, taxes, mazes)

For all other word endings, you would just add –s as the plural suffix. (ie. dogs, hats, cups)

And some words don’t change at all when they’re pluralized. (ie. rice, shrimp)

As always, there are some exceptions to the rule.

  • Generally, when words end in “f” or “fe”, the plural of these words will end in “ves”. (ie. life > lives)
  • For words ending in “y” – If there is a consonant before the letter “y”, then change the “y” to an “ie” before adding an “s”. (ie. family > families)

4. Double Consonants and Suffixes

If the word has one syllable and ends with a single vowel followed by one consonant, double the last letter. (ie. stop > stopping)

  • For reference, the letters v, j, k, w, and x are never doubled.

If the word has one syllable and ends with two vowels followed by a consonant, do not double the last letter. (ie. feel > feeling)

If the word ends with a single vowel followed by two consonants, do not double the last letter.

For words with two or more syllables, the same rule typically applies as in single-syllable words. However, to determine if that is the case, say the word aloud. If the last syllable is stressed, then follow the same rules as above for single syllable words. But if the last syllable is not stressed, then do not double the final consonant.


5. Q Always Needs U  

This one is simple, but again, just a friendly reminder. In English words, the letter “q” is never alone – it is always followed by “u.” (ie. queen, quiet)


6. Change a final Y to I before a suffix, unless the suffix begins with I

When adding suffixes to words that end in “y”, there are a few rules to remember.

  • If the suffix ends with an -e, like with -er, -es, -ed, -est, then that “y” usually changes to an “i”. (ie. grumpy > grumpiest, happy > happier)
  • If the suffix ends with an -i, like –ing, then the “y” doesn’t change. (ie. fly > flying)
  • If a word ends in a vowel followed by a “y”, then you can add the suffix –ed or –ing without changing the “y”. (ie. convey > conveyed, say > saying)
  • If the word ends in a single consonant before “y”, then change the “y” to an “i” before adding the suffix. (ie. tasty > tastiest) The exception is for suffixes ending in “i”, like –ing.
  • If the word has two consonants before “y”, then change the “y” to an “i” before adding the suffix –ly. (ie. happy > happily)
  • To pluralize a word that ends with a consonant and “y”, change the “y” to an “i” and add –es. (ie. baby > babies)
  • To pluralize a word that ends with a vowel and “y”, add -s to the word. (ie. day > days)

How to Become a Better Speller: Even More Spelling Rules

Oi or Oy – Use “oi” in the middle of a word and “oy” at the end of a word. (ie. soil, boil, toy, boy)

Ou or Ow – Use “ou” in the middle of a word and use “ow” at the end of a word. (ie. house, found, borrow, throw)

S never follows X – The rule is that the letter “s” never follows the letter “x”. If you are trying to achieve the “s” sound in a word, then the letter “c” would follow the “x”. (ie. excitement)

The ch sound – This is a tricky one. When used at the beginning of a word, use ch (i.e., chase). At the end of a word, you would use –tch (i.e., switch). When the ch sound is followed by –ure or –ion, use a t (i.e., picture).

Use ck after a short vowel – The rule is to use “ck” immediately after a short vowel at the end of a one-syllable word. (ie. pick, sock) Everything else should end with a “k”.

When to use -us versus -ous – The -us ending is used for nouns, and -ous is used for adjectives: Both spellings are still pronounced us. (ie. octopus, generous)

Words ending with “ick” vs. “ic” – When a word ends with an “ick” sound and it has one syllable, it will be spelled “ick” (ie. trick, pick, stick). If the word has two or more syllables, it will use the “ic” ending. (ie. clinic, sarcastic, panic)

  • The exception is with compound words. When you can separate an “ick” word into two words, then it’s probably an exception. (i.e., candlestick, feedback)

Commonly Misspelled Food Words Infographic

how to improve spelling - commonly misspelled words

Bonus Tips on How to Become a Better Speller

-Make a list of your own commonly misspelled words, so you have it ready when you need it.

-Read more books.

-Write more often.

-Use mneumonics – or memory aids – to help you remember words you have a difficult time with.

-Sign up for word of the day emails.

-Identify the origin of the word.

Key Takeaway

As you can see, there are many rules when it comes to spelling and the English language. And while this is not an all-inclusive list, I do think it will serve you well as a mini refresher course on how to become a better speller. It may even bring back some good memories of your elementary school English teacher (or not!) Either way, I hope you found this to be a valuable resource as you continue sharing your food, nutrition and health & wellness messages with the world.

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