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Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling

Lesson 8. Ridiculous Spelling Facts: able-ible, ise-ize, ance-ence, etc.

BANANA: A long, curved, yellow tropical fruit.  If you pronounce the word to yourself the way it would be pronounced in Central America, it should be easy to spell -- "bah nah nah" with each A sounding the same.  In English, however, the word is pronounced "buh na nuh"  with the BA sounding like the BU in BUT, the first NA sounding like the beginning of the name NANCY, and the last NA sounding like NUH.  This is a good example of how vowels in English are pronounced differently in different words. A good dictionary will show you how the vowels are to be pronounced in each word.









SNEAKY R'S:  Two common words in English contain R's that often are not pronounced, thus they are often not written when the words are spelled:  library and February.  The most important guide to correctly spelling these words is to pronounce them correctly every time.  "LI-BRAR-Y"  AND "FEB-RU-AR-Y." 


BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTY:  In French, this would be easy ....the letters EAU are always pronounced as Long O (the name of the letter).  In English, however, this letter combination is pronounced sort of like YOO .  Thus in English, BEAUTY would be pronounced  "BYOO TEE".  The only logical way to remember how to spell this word is to pronounce each letter to yourself as you spell it -- "BE-A-U-TEE"  or "BE-A-U-TEE-FUL".  If you get used to saying each letter to yourself, then you will not forget any when you write the words.

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MORE SILENT LETTERS:  Each of the following words contains a letter that is  not pronounced -- DOUBT, DEBT, ISLAND, AISLE, WRITE, WRIT, KNIT, KNOT, WOULD, COULD, KNOB.  You can remember how to spell some of the words by pronouncing the silent letters to yourself each time you write them.  Other words simply must be studied and memorized.









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THE SUPERFLUOUS "G" and "GH": You have already studied the "EIGHT", "OUGH"  and "IGHT" families and some of their relatives  (though, thought, tough, rough, cough, enough, freight, weight, sleigh. weigh, light, sight, night, fright, blight, right, etc.).  Here are some more:  STRENGTH and LENGTH; STRAIGHT (rhymes with LATE); TROUGH (rhymes with off); NIGH (rhymes with BY); ALIGN and SIGN (rhyme with DINE); BROUGHT and FRAUGHT (rhyme with ROT - not exactly, but close).   

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-ANCE vs. -ENCE: There is no simple way to know which words will end with -ance and which will end with -ence other than REMEMBERING. The -ANCE list is shorter, so if you memorize it, you should know that any words that end with the same sound but are not on the -ANCE list must be spelled with -ENCE.  EXCEPT for a few words that end with -ENSE: (defense, expense, immense, offense, pretense, suspense).  So now you have two lists to remember. It will help a little to know that all of the -ANCE, -ANCY, -ENCE and -ENCY words are nouns.   Also, some of the -ANT and -ENT words are nouns and some are adjectives.









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-ABLE vs. -IBLE: Some of our most common words add -ABLE to form their adjectives (eatable, laughable, comfortable, regrettable, talkable, drinkable,  readable, unthinkable).  Another group has double s before -IBLE (accessible, repressible, admissible, possible, compressible, permissible).  Each of these words except POSSIBLE has a noun that ends with -ION (repression, admission, compression, permission). This pattern can be extended to other -ION words (combustion = combustible, destruction = destructible, digestion = digestible, division = divisible, perception = perceptible).  Another small group of words uses -IBLE to form the adjective to preserve the soft C or G sound before the suffix (see the C - G rule on the More Rules page): deducible, eligible, intelligible, incorrigible, ineligible, invincible, legible, etc.  Nearly all other words with a -BLE ending use -ABLE.  Is that clear?














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-ARY vs. -ERY:  Easy! There are only two common words that end with -ERY -- CEMETERY and STATIONERY (writing paper, etc.)  All the other ones end with -ARY (auxiliary, boundary, dictionary, elementary, honorary, imaginary, infirmary, library, revolutionary, secretary, secondary, vocabulary, etc.)

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-ISE vs. -IZE:  This is another case where the best thing you can do is memorize the shorter list, the -ISE words, and then figure that all other words that end with the same sound will end with -IZE.  Here is the full -ISE list: advertise, advise,  arise, chastise, compromise, demise, despise, disguise, enterprise, exercise, franchise, merchandise, revise, supervise, surmise, surprise, reprise.  There are only two words that end with -YZE: analyze, paralyze.

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WORDS ENDING IN -OUS:  The suffix -OUS means "full of".  The most common error people make is to add an " i " before the suffix  (wrong = grievious,  right = grievous).  Some nouns that become adjectives when -OUS is added are: dangerous, hazardous, humorous, marvelous, mountainous, murderous, poisonous, slanderous.  Nouns that end with " E "  must drop the " E " before adding the -OUS: adventurous, desirous, analogous.  Two nouns change a final " F " to " V " before adding -OUS:  grief = grievous, mischief = mischievous. Note: there is no " i " after the " V ."  In a few cases, the final " E " is not dropped in order to keep the soft C or G sound at the end:  courageous, advantageous, outrageous.  Some other words that end with " Y " change the last letter to " E " before adding -OUS:  beauteous, bounteous, piteous, plenteous, but these words are not very common.














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Words that contain 'OO' but sound different. blood, flood sound like bud or dud;  good, hood, stood, wood, book, look, shook, brook, crook sound alike; brood, food, mood, shoot, boot, scoot, proof, roof, hoof sound like Long U; floor, door have Long O sounds.

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Common phrases that sound one way and are spelled another: If English is not your native language, it can be very confusing to listen to everyday English conversations or the lyrics to popular songs.  The words in many common expressions are run together, often making three or four words sound like one or two words. This can make it difficult to know how to spell what you hear. Following are some examples -

What you hear What you write
"Wassup?" "What is up?" or "What's up?" = "What is happening?"
"Howzit goin?" "How is it going?" = "How is your life progressing?"
"Di'ja see it?" or "Di'ja hear?" "Did you see it?" or "Did you hear?"
"Wyncha comover?" "Why don't you come over?"
"Watcha doon?" "What are you doing?"
"I gotta go." "I have to go."
"I betchee won't go." "I'll bet you that he won't go."
"Why dincha call me?" "Why didn't you call me?"
"Arncha finished yet?" "Aren't you finished yet?"
"I made lotsa money yesteday." "I made a lot of money yesterday."
"I gotcha covered." "I have you covered." or "I will protect you or support you."

Many longer English words will be easier to spell if you break them down into smaller pieces. These pieces can be a PREFIX at the beginning of the word, the ROOT WORD in the middle and which carries the main meaning, and a SUFFIX at the end.  Prefixes and Suffixes change the  meaning of the root word.  In the following chart, I will give you many common Prefixes, Roots and Suffixes with their meanings.


PREFIXES with meanings ROOTS with meanings SUFFIXES with meanings
ab-, a-, abs- = away from   (abduct, avert, abstain) aero = air (aerodynamics, aerospace) -able, -ible, -ble = capable of being (bearable, reversible)

ad-,  ac-, af- = to, toward  (adhere,  accord, affirm)

agr, agri, agro = farm  (agriculture, agronomy) -acious = characterized by (pugnacious, tenacious)
ante- = before (antedate, antecedent) anthropo = man (anthropology, anthropoid, misanthrope) -acity, -acy = having the quality of (tenacity, accuracy)
anti-, ant-- = against  (antiseptic, antipathy, antacid) aqua = water  (aqueous, aquatic) -age = collection of, state of being (garbage, marriage)
bene- = good, well  (benevolent, beneficial) astra, astro = star (astronomy, astral, astronomical) -an, -ian = belonging to, one who (American, physician)
bi- = two, twice  (bicycle, biennial) aud, audi, audio = hearing (audience, auditor, audiovisual ancy, ency = denote state, quality (occupancy, dependency
circum- = around, all around (circumstance, circumvent) bio = life (biology, biosphere) -ant, -ent = one who (tenant, correspondent)
com-, con-, col- = together (combine, confound, collate) capit = head (capital, decapitate) -ation = action (elation, separation
contra- = against (contradict, contravene) cide, cis = kill, cut (suicide, excise, incision) -cracy = rule (democracy, autocracy)
de- = from, down, away  (depart, descend, denude) cred = believe (creditor, creditable, creed) -dom = state of being (freedom, kingdom, fiefdom)
ex-, ef-, e- = out, out of  (export, effect, emit) dem = people (democracy, demagogue) -ence = relating to (confidence, abstinence)
in-, im-, il-, un- = not (inactive, impress, illicit, unreal) dent = tooth (indent, dental) -ful = abounding in (grateful, sinful)
inter- = between (intermingle, interstate) derm = skin (dermatology, taxidermist) -hood = condition (fatherhood, falsehood, sisterhood)
intra-, intro- = within (intramural, introduction) dic, dict = say, speak diction, dictate, predicate) -ic, -il, -ile = pertaining to (historic, civil, juvenile)
mal- = bad (malcontent, malnourished) equ = equal  (equivalent, equitable, equality) -ize, -yze = to make like (sympathize, analyze)
mis- = wrong (misdeed, mislead) frater = brother (fraternal, fraternize) -less = without (careless, needless, hopeless)
par-, para- = beside, beyond (paradox, parallel) geo = earth (geology, geometry, geography) -ment = result (management, fragment)
post- = after (postpone, postscript) gastro, gast = stomach (gastronomy, gastritis) -ness = state of being (sickness, happiness)
pre- = before (prefer, predict) hemo = blood (hemorrhage) -ory = place where (directory, rectory, dormitory)
pro- = before, forward (prologue, promote, pronoun) homo = man, same (homicide,  homogeneous) -ous, -ious, -ose = full of (dangerous, melodious, verbose)
re- = back, again  (refer, report, review) ject = throw (reject, project) -ship = state or quality (friendship, worship)
semi- = half (semicircle, semiconscious) micro = small (microscope, microbe) -ster = one who, person doing (gangster, songster, hipster)
super- supra- = above, over (supernatural, suprarational) mort = death (mortician, mortal) -sion, -tion = act or state of being (precision, conception) 
trans-, tra- = across (transfer, traverse) scrib = write (inscription, description) -ward = direction of course (backward, forward, upward)

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An interesting word I learned many years ago seemed to be totally made up of prefixes and suffixes, but it is a good example for this lesson:


Let's break it down.  anti-  means "to be against" ;  dis- means apart or apart from; establish is the root word and means 'to set up or found' ; -ment is a suffix meaning 'result' or 'what happens as a result' ; -ari means 'relating to' ; -an means 'belonging to' ; -ism which marks a doctrine or way of thought.  Put it all together and you have: "Belonging to a philosophy or way of thinking that seeks to go against the breaking up of a particular structure or organization."  

If you met such a long word in a lesson, your first thought might be, "Oh no! I could never spell such a long word."  But if you break the word down into its smaller parts, it becomes easy: anti  dis  establish  ment  ari  an  ism  . This method will work with many longer words.


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Exercise A:  Fill in the missing " a " or " i " in the following short passage.

The prosecuting attorney protested that the evidence by the defendant  about his tax_ble income was inadmiss_ble.  In the first place, it was not easily access_ble.  In the second place, although the evidence was originally accept_ble in a lower court, the decisions in such courts are revers_ble.


Exercise B: Put the missing  " a " or " e " in the following words.

complim_nt depend_nt acquaint_nce brilli_nce consci_nce
consist_nt exist_nce perman_nt conveni_nce appar_nt

Exercise C: Add the correct ending,  -IZE or -ISE , to the following words.

comprom___ burglar___ franch___ surpr___ terror___
fertil___ enterpr___ neutral___ superv___ modern___

Exercise D:  Change the following nouns to adjectives by adding -OUS.  Make any changes that may be necessary.

courage = pity = adventure = poison =
grief = libel = mountain = mischief =

Check your own work by referring back to the lesson or by using a dictionary.

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