Some How’s and Why’s of American Spelling


Granted, spelling is tough in the English language.   I used to be horrible at spelling before I learned how to teach it to my boys.  As is usually the case I learned a lot more as a teacher than I ever learned as a student.  Regardless of what spelling program we used, we would apply the following Spelling Rules and identify the Phonograms  in each word, thereby eliminating a great many of the “spelling exceptions”.

Phonograms 2

 Its overwhelming to try to learn all these rules and phonograms at once.  I find it works best to teach your child the phonograms, flashcard style, starting with the first 3 or 4 and then adding a few every day.  Some parents will also have the child write each phonogram as they learn it.  Daily review of all learned phonograms is essential.  For phonograms with more than one sound, teach them all the sounds IN THE ORDER GIVEN when you introduce the phonogram.  It won’t necessarily make sense to them right away, but later you can say, “The [a] is making it’s 3rd sound,” and they should know which sound you’re referring to.  You should provide a special reward when they’ve mastered the daunting six-sound [ough].   After they’ve learned the phonograms, I would have them underline all the phonograms (at least the ones with more than one letter) when introducing a new spelling word.  If the phonogram has more than one sound have them write a small number above the phonogram indicating which sound it’s making.  Teach the spelling rules AS THEY BECOME APPLICABLE  in their spelling words or in the words they are trying to write.  This sounds very tedious and laborious, and it is — at first.   You will, however, be amazed at how quickly your child becomes adept at it, and the constant repetition drives the rules deep into their memory.  In the beginning limit your word-marking to just 3 or 4 words a day.

Phonograms and Reading:
After I teach my children the first five phonograms, I start putting together short words with the phonograms they’ve learned and teach them how to sound them out.  So, with the first five phonograms  a-b-c-d-e  (2 days worth of learning so far) you can teach them to read bad, dad, bed, cab,dab … even cad if you want to give them a new vocabulary word.  (I would hold off on using any words with the 2nd or 3rd sounds until they are getting pretty comfortable with sounding out words.)  Continue creating new words daily utilizing the new phonograms they learn.

Phonograms and Spelling:
When your student has read a short list of  words that are made up of the phonograms learned thus far, dictate the words back to the child and have him write them out.   Any words that get misspelled should be repeated the next day.   When your child gets to multiple letter phonograms, he should underline each one in the word when he spells them out.  When he gets to words which use later sounds of a phonogram he should write the correct number above the phonogram.  I would use this process throughout learning all the phonograms and spelling rules.  Then, you can apply the rules/phonograms to any spelling program you choose to use.

Here’s the daily procedure:

1) Learn a few new phonograms.
2) Learn a few new words using the phonograms learned to date.
3) Spell any words you got wrong yesterday, underlining any multiple letter phonograms and numbering their sound if applicable.
4) Spell the new words introduced today.  Underline phonograms and number as needed.
5) Play spelling games with the words you’ve learned and teach spelling rules as needed.


Below are the spelling rules.  Click here for the Phonogram Chart

Helpful Spelling and Phonetic Rules
This is a collection of rules and tips I have picked up or discovered over the years. They are written here in no particular order. Parents should become very familiar with these rules so they can explain to their children why words are spelled the way they are. It is difficult to learn how to spell with the English language, but if you really get to know these rules, you will see there is far more reason and far fewer exceptions than you previously thought. Please note when I refer to the vowels’ “long sounds” I am referring to them making the sounds they make in these words: bake, be, pie, go and cute. When I refer to their “short sounds” I am referring to them making the sounds they make in these words: can, get, pin, not, cut. Some vowels make more than these two sounds. (see my phonogram chart)

1. The letters [a], [e], [o] and [u] usually say their long sound (their “name”) when they come at the end of a word or syllable. ([i] can say it’s long sound at the end of a syllable but often it will say its short sound.) ra-di-o, go, be-long, to-fu

2. Usually, a double consonant allows one consonant to stay with the first syllable, thereby allowing the vowel to say its short sound.
Compare: ba-by and ba-bble

3. When reading , pronounce only one of the double consonants (in the accented syllable) When spelling sound out both of the double consonants.   lit-tle, ban-ner

4. [c] will say “s” (its soft sound) only when followed by an [e], [i], or [y].
Whenever [c] is followed by [e], [i], or [y] it must say “s”.    city, since, bicycle
(The exception to this is rule #17 below.)

5. Unlike [c], [g] CAN say its hard sound when followed by [e], [i], or [y]– girl, get
but, LIKE [c], [g] can’t say its soft sound (“j”) UNLESS it is followed by [e], [i], or [y] gym, gem, region
(Now you should always be able to tell the difference between angel and angle!)

6. A [y] that is NOT preceded by a vowel will usually say the long “i” sound at the end of a 2-3 letter word. fly, by, cry

7. A [y] that is NOT preceded by a vowel will usually say “ee” at the end of word that is more than 2-3 letters or more than one syllable.
many, pretty, any

8. In English, every syllable has to have a vowel.

9. English words very seldom end in [i], [v], or [u] except for these exceptions: you, thou, hi (Some words from other languages will end in these letters — spaghetti, sushi, tipi, tofu, Hawaii)

10. There are 6 types of silent-e’s. They are as follows:
a. Silent-e helps the vowel to say its name. (Words ending in vowel – consonant – silent-e) cake, ride, cone, dune
b. Silent-e represents the vowel in words that end in the “l” sound and would otherwise not have a vowel in the second syllable.
lit-tle, pud-dle, wrin-kle
c. Silent-e prevents a word from ending in [i], [v], or [u] – see rule number 9.    blue, pie, give
d. Silent-e allows the [g] to say “j” or the [c] to say “s” – see rules 4 and 5.     hinge, since, rice, cage
e. Sometimes a silent-e will follow an [s] (presumably so the word will not look like a plural).    horse, sparse, house
f. Sometimes there is a silent-e for no particular reason.     are, come, some

11. [or] may say “er” only if preceded by a [w]– worm, world, word but it won’t always say “er” in this situation — worn, swore, sword

12. [ar] will usually say “or” if preceded by a [w]: warm, war, wart [exception: wary ]

13. Memorize the sentence: Her first church worshiped early on the journey.
It demonstrates the six different ways to spell the “er” sound. er – ir — ur – wor – ear – our
These are listed in order of frequency. Most often “er” is spelled [e-r] Remember that [or] will say “er” only if preceded by a [w].

14. Use[i] before [e] except after [c] and unless it says “ay” as in veil and vein.
To help remember the exceptions to this rule, memorize this sentence. Neither foreign sovereign chose to forfeit leisure to seize the counterfeit.

15. [sh] is never used at the beginning of a syllable after the first one unless it is the suffix “ship”. It is used at the beginning of a word or at the end of a syllable. [ti], [si], and [ci]are used to say “sh” at the beginning of a syllable later in the word.

16. [tion] says “shun” at the end of a base word

17. [ci] will say “sh” when followed by [al] or [ous] as in special and spacious.

18. [si] says “sh” when the syllable preceding it ends with an s, (ses sion) or when the base word has an s where the base word changes.
tense, tension

19. [si] (not ti or ci) can also say “zh” as in vision.

20. [su] sometimes says “shu”. — sugar, sure

21. [tu] sometimes says “chu” — picture, punctuate

22. One-syllable words ending with c-v-c (consonant-vowel-consonant) need another consonant before adding an ending that begins with a vowel. — hop >> hopped, bat>>batting

23. Words of two syllables that have the accent on the last syllable, AND that end in c-v-c need another consonant added before adding an ending that begins with a vowel. —  begin>>beginning

24. Drop the silent e on words before adding an ending that begins with a vowel (unless needed for c, g, u, i, etc. noticeable) bake >> baking
Note: judgment and argument are exceptions to that rule.

25. The letters l,f,s and z are often doubled after a single vowel saying its short sound. — fizz, dull, staff, will [not when the vowel says its long sound (its name) —  gaze, rule]

26. Other consonants may be doubled at the end of words too. —  egg, add

27. Sometimes i and o will say their long sounds if followed by two consonants.
roll, kind, folk

28. The letter [x] is NEVER followed directly by the letter [s]. excited, boxes, expect

29. The letter [s]never says “z” at the beginning of a word. : zoo, zebra

30. Drop one [l] when adding all, full or till to either the beginning or the end of a word.  — awful, until, always, alright

31. The letter combinations [dge], [ck], and [tch] are used only after a single vowel that doesn’t say its long sound. — edge, duck, stitch.
A short vowel can be followed by just a [c], but that is unusual (plastic, picnic),  however a long vowel or double vowel won’t be followed by [dge], [ck], or [tch] (rage, bake, teach).

32. If the letter [y] is not preceded by a vowel, change the [y] to [i] before adding an ending. — pretty >> prettier
This rule applies even if the ending begins with a consonant. —  fly>> flies

33.  When adding the ending “ing” to a word that ends with [y], DON’T change the [y] to [i] — cry>>crying

34. Don’t change [y] to [i] when it is preceded by a vowel. — play >> played

35. Specific names of people, places or things are capitalized.

35. The past-tense suffix [ed] says “d” or “t” after words that do not end in the “d” or “t” sound. —  laughed, baked
If the word ends in the “d” or “t” sound, the [ed] forms a separate syllable and says “ed”. — sledded, batted

36.  In English, the letter [q] is always followed by the letter [u].  Together they say “kw”.  queen, quilt, equal