English Spelling Rules for Doubling & Dropping Letters

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  • 0:04 What Is a Suffix?
  • 0:39 Doubling Letters
  • 2:28 Exceptions
  • 2:57 Dropping Letters
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

In this lesson, you'll learn the spelling rules associated with doubling letters. You'll also learn how to correctly drop letters when changing the form of a word. Then you can test your new skills with a short quiz.

What Is a Suffix?

In English, when you want to change the form of a word, one of the main tools you have is the ability to add a suffix. A suffix is an extension added to the end of the word stem to change the meaning. For instance, if you want to make the word 'boy' plural, you add the suffix '-s' to form 'boys.' In the same way, you can add '-ing' to 'throw' to get 'throwing,' thus changing the tense of the verb. Want to make the adjective 'sweet' into an adverb? Just add '-ly' to form the word 'sweetly.' Sometimes the spelling of a word changes when adding a suffix; letters get doubled or a letter gets dropped.

Doubling Letters

The rule might sound complicated, but the more you get used to it, the easier it will become. Let's break down the rule into a few parts:

You only double letters when:

1. Using a suffix that begins with a vowel, like '-ing,' '-able,' or '-ed.' In these instances, you might need to double letters. If you have a suffix like '-ly,' you will not need to double.

2. Adding a suffix to a word that ends in a single consonant with a single vowel in front of it, like 'hop,' 'split,' or 'begin.' In these instances, you double the final letter to get 'hopped' or 'splitting' or 'beginning'. Other words do not fit this criteria. Words like 'hope' or 'yawn' or 'sleep' or 'spill' don't really fit for example. Take a look at the diagram to see why:

Rules for doubling consonants when adding suffixes

As you can see, you may need to double if you add a suffix to a word that ends in a single consonant that comes after a single vowel. 'Hope' ends in a vowel, not a consonant. 'Yawn' ends in two consonants. 'Sleep' has two vowels before the final consonant, and 'spill' is already doubled.

And, finally:

3. The last syllable must be stressed. If your word has only one syllable, like 'hop', then you should consider it stressed. If you are dealing with a word with more than one syllable, say the word out loud and you should hear which syllable is louder. Try the word 'prefer.' When you say it, the second part is louder. So that last syllable is stressed. And it ends in a single consonant with a single vowel in front of it. If you add '-ed' to the word, you would need to double the 'r.' The correct spelling would be 'preferred.'

Now, let's look at the word 'hammer.' In this case, the first syllable is louder. That means, even though it ends with a single vowel followed by a single consonant, you won't be doubling the final letter when adding a suffix. So, if I wanted to add '-ed', my new word would be 'hammered.' There's no need to double in other words.


As if that weren't enough, there are exceptions. Here are the big ones:

1. If you end a word in a single letter 'z', you double it when adding a suffix. 'Quiz' becomes 'quizzed.'

2. 'H,' 'w,' 'x,' and 'y' are never doubled. Adding '-ing' to 'throw' spells 'throwing.' You don't double these four letters.

Be aware that there are also other individual exceptions, as English can be a quirky language, but these rules will work almost all of the time.

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