Some common rules of English spelling

Vivian Cook
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Letter frequencies
I before E

Surnames are often distinguished from ordinary nouns with the same pronunciation by having a final "e" or by doubling the final letter: Clarke/clerk, Trollope/trollop, Hogg/hog, Greene/green

Content words such as nouns usually have more than two letters; grammatical words such as pronouns and prepositions have one or two: inn/in, bye/by, eye/I, two/to, ore/or, sew/so, know/no

Fairly common two-letter exceptions: go, ax (US), ox, hi, old spelling of musical notes (do, re, mi etc), printer's measurements (en, em), pi, id, ta

Some Scrabble players' exceptions: aa, ai, ba, bo, bu, jo, ka, ky, od, om, oo, qi, ri, xi, ut


Content words with added consonant to avoid being function word: add, egg, odd, ebb


one/two letter three letter  one/two letter three letter
function words content words   function words content words
in inn  oh  owe
he  heehee  no  know
by  bye, buy so  sew
to  two  we  wee
or  ore, oar  be  bee
an  Ann I eye, aye


"th" corresponds to the voiced 'th' /D / in nouns such as third or Thetford, but to the voiceless 'th' /T /in grammatical words such as the and their: thistle/this, Thanet/than, Theydon Bois/they. Occasionally it is silent /ø/ as in often.

Some Examples

the .... therapy
/D /  ....  thyme /t/
they ....Theydon Bois
/T / .... asthma /ø/
there .... theory
/D / .... Thames /t/
their ....theft
/D / .... isthmus /ø/
them .... thimble
/D / .... Anthony /ø/
this .... thistle
/T / .... Esther /t/
that .... thatch
/D /

‘silent’ final "e" is used:

— at the end of a word after a final VC sequence consisting of a ‘long’ vowel (spelled with a single letter) followed by a single consonant: late, mete, debate, tune, fine, bone

after a final /s/, /z/ and /iz/ following ‘long’ vowel digraphs (combinations of two written vowel letters corresponding to a single speech sound), or ‘short’ vowel plus consonant; crease, house, maize; tense, cleanse

after a stressed ending consisting of a ‘short’ vowel and a double consonant in words borrowed from French: brunette, cassette, rosette, giraffe

sources: mainly adapted from Carney and see links above