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When to Double Consonants in Spelling: Rules and Examples

Updated on July 26, 2017
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Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) to multi-national & dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD

Grammar Geek

‘Oh, she’s sounding off again!’, I hear you say. This time I’ve been asked to clarify a rule so it’s not my fault, ok? Don’t shoot the messenger! I’ll do my utmost to jazz it up a bit, all right? Grammar is not the most glamorous subject and most of you probably just glazed over when anyone mentioned it at school. Not me, I was a grammar geek; give me a secondary clause and a past participle and I’m anybody’s. Where was I....?

Oh yes! 'Always Exploring' asked me about doubling letters. It happens in ‘occurred’ so why doesn’t it happen in ‘jumped’ (i.e. no double ‘p’). It can be confusing but not if you follow the simple rules. Once you get used to it, it’s not so bad, trust me!

Like any other subject, spelling has its own jargon which is necessary because it takes a lot longer to explain the intricacies without some of that jargon.

The glossary at the end of this article should help with some of the terminology.

One-Syllable Roots

'The robber was sitting in the middle of the road. The traffic had stopped because he'd dropped a case of banknotes and everyone was grabbing some.'

Those sentences contain a few examples of words where doubling is required.

Firstly, let’s look at the root words of one syllable:

Rule 1: One-Syllable Word Ending 'Consonant, Short Vowel, Consonant.'

When a one-syllable word ends in 'consonant, short vowel, consonant', double the final consonant when you add a suffix. For example:

Source

Rule 2: Two-Syllable Word With Short Vowel Before Middle Consonant Sound

Now let's consider this sentence.

'I asked him to dinner at the cottage. We had pitted olives and drizzled chicken and a great evening. The next day he was in a coffin. Nobody told me he was allergic to rubber.'

You'll notice several words with double consonants in the middle. It all depends on the vowel, as illustrated below.

In a two-syllable word with a short vowel before the middle consonant, double the consonant.

Source

Rule 3: Words of Two or More Syllables With a Stressed Final Syllable

The following sentence looks at a slightly different reason for doubling the consonant:

'Beginning a long holiday was a good idea; it occurred to him that he preferred the sunshine to help him avoid the fuzz.'

It's all to do with stress. No, not your stress, though you may be experiencing some by now, but the stress or emphasis on a particular syllable. I'll show you:

When a word has more than one syllable, and when the final syllable is stressed in speech, double the final consonant when adding a suffix.

Source

Note that the word ‘preferable’ does not have double ‘r’ - because the stress goes on the first not final syllable.

So now we'll look at what happens when the stress is not on the final syllable.

Rule 4: Don't Double in a Root Word With More Than One Syllable When Last Syllable Not Stressed

In a word with more than one syllable there is no doubling of the last consonant unless the stress is on the last syllable.

Source

Don’t be confused, because the double 'p' in ‘happen’ follows the ‘short vowel/double consonant’ rule.

Rule 5: Don't Double When There is a Long Vowel before the Consonant of Single Syllable Words

As you read the next sentence, think about the pronunciation of vowels in 'dine', 'tune', 'frame' and 'erase'.

‘I was in the diner. The piano tuner was doing his best but the framed painting fell off the wall and landed on his fingers. The police report contained words later erased in the newspaper report.’

Do not double the consonant when it is preceded by a long vowel in a single-syllable root word.

Source

Rule 6: Don't Double When There Are Two Different Consonants After a Single Vowel

Some words still have two consonants after a vowel but the consonants are two different consonants, not a double of one letter. Two different consonants together are called blends; you can hear the sound of each.

‘He jumped. Unfortunately, his jumper was linked to the railing on the roof so he ended up parked in the balcony, bonded to a sun-lounger which formed a convenient break to his fall.’

Don't double when a consonant blend follows a vowel.

Source

Logical & Painless

There, that wasn’t too painful was it? Keep an eye out when you’re writing and you’ll see how these rules fit in with general spelling. Above all, don’t worry! There are plenty of sources where you can check your spelling if you’re not sure. Just try not to fall into the common traps.

You might just find you’re trapped in a blackened hole with a crazed killer.

Look at that last sentence and see if you can pick out the words which illustrate the main points of this hub.


A Little Ditty to make sure you're Sitting Pretty

Double Trouble:

Take a pin and the garment’s pinned,

so with a gin is your tonic ginned?


Dinner was deliciously spiced,

too much, my eyes had to be iced.


Did you know that he’s a winner?

Oh yes, but he’s so much thinner

than the man who punched his eye,

so he won ‘cos he was spry.


The one who jumped had topped his wife

with a sharpened kitchen knife.


Listen, can you hear her running

from the building where he’s gunning

after her because she cheated.

Maybe he’ll catch up and, sheeted,

she’ll be tipped into her coffin,

beaten by a science boffin.


Double consonants can be rotten

but rules should never be forgotten.

Now you need a Gin & Tonic!

Ice & Lemon?  Summer in the Garden
Ice & Lemon? Summer in the Garden | Source

Glossary

Syllable: each separate beat of a word (containing at least one vowel)

Short vowel: a as in cat, e as in pen, i as in lid, o as in mop, u as in buck

Long vowel: a as in make, e as in Pete, i as in vile, o as in cope, u as in fume or rude.

A long vowel sound is also made by vowel digraphs (2 vowels making one sound):

ai (vain), a-e (make), ea (leap), ee (meet), ie (lie), oa (goat), oo (book), oo (loot), ui (suit)

A long vowel sound can also be a trigraph (3 letters making one sound): 'igh' (sigh)

4 letters can make one sound: eigh (eight, weigh); aigh (straight)

Consonant: all other letters of the alphabet which are not vowels (y can be either)

Consonant blend: two consonants together, where you can hear both sounds,

e.g. bl-e-nd (2 blends, ‘bl’ & ‘nd’), sp-oo-f (1 blend ‘sp’), cr-a-ft (2 blends ‘cr’ & ‘ft’)

Consonant digraph: two consonants representing one sound,

e.g. sh-ou-t (1 digraph ‘sh’), b-a-ss (1 digraph ‘ss’)

Some words have one or more blend and digraph:

e.g. fl-o-ck (1 blend ‘fl’, 1 consonant digraph ‘ck’)

N.B. The letter y can act as a short or long i and a long e, e.g. gym, gyro, happy.


Spelling Issues

How do you tackle spelling confusion?

See results

© 2014 Ann Carr

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    • annart profile image
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      Ann Carr 13 days ago from SW England

      Thanks Bill! Always exceptions! Thanks for reading.

      Ann

    • profile image

      Bill Bingham 13 days ago

      It would seem that "offered" and "suffered" do not follow your rule, (but "preferred" and "occurred" do.)

    • annart profile image
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      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      DJ, don't worry; spelling isn't the be all and end all. The odd mistake doesn't spoil a good story. There's no shame in asking someone; just an alternative to a dictionary.

      Thanks for your amusing comment; I appreciate you coming by and thanks for following me.

      Ann

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 2 years ago

      Oh, my!! What would I do without my spell check? I am the world's worst speller, and somehow my son, like my mother are spelling champs.

      Yes, it was embarrassing to ask my middle school son how to spell something. No, it did not deter me, as it took forever to look a word up in the dictionary. My conclusion was I must have been missing the spelling gene, and the grammar gene. However, I did love math.

      I will have to give this more attention on a day where I have absolutely

      nothing else to do.

      But, thank for trying!

      DJ.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      peachpurple: It's all in the vowels! Thanks for your second visit today; much appreciated.

      Ann

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      I always have problems with the double alphabets

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, DDE. Glad you found this useful. Happy New Year!

      Ann

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I learn more each day in grammar and more of the English language I prefer the British English. You have shared a very useful hub and a well-chosen topic. A Happy New Year to you!

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks for that Catherine. There are quite a few different rules between the US and the UK English, as I understand. The British rules for quotation marks make more sense to me too, purely because they clarify meaning.

      Having said that, I don't want anyone to think that I think British rules are superior to US rules! I think I've trodden on a few people's toes which is something I definitely didn't want to do (in my hub on Writing Issues). I'm here to try to help, not to annoy people.

      I appreciate you getting back to me and for your support, Catherine.

      Ann

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      BTW, I went on the internet to check. The rules for quotes for American English do different from those for British English. The British rules make much more sense.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Like you, it comes naturally to me but those rules have developed a sound pattern from my teaching of dyslexics and it's ingrained in my brain!

      Miss Grammers knows it all so well too.

      Although I'm pretty good at spelling etc I have to look things up now and then too!

      Thanks for visiting, Catherine.

      Hope you have a great Christmas.

      Ann

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      You were a kind and patient teacher. however, remembering the rules is not so easy. I think I'll just rely on spellcheck and dictionaries. Most of the time after a long lifetime speaking and writing English, I just know when to double and when not to double. But, thank heaven for spellcheck.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thank you, Faith. Yes I did have a busy day! Glad to help. I appreciate your kind comments and your votes. Enjoy your day!

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Shame on you, Frank! I'm sure you have a feminine side :)

      Thanks for the comment; glad you found this useful.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      RonElFran: I don't know where they originated and there are always so many exceptions. I do know that all these rules have helped our dyslexic students because it clarifies patterns and breaks up words into manageable 'chunks'.

      I know that UK and US English have different rules, or at least different patterns; US tends to be plainer and easier and I guess ours will eventually become the same.

      Interesting that you say you just go by the look of the word - that shows you have an inner sense of what should be! Well done! Thank you so much for your comment.

      Ann

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

      annart, a very helpful and useful hub.. like the ditty too but i didn't want to sit pretty LOL

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      You are busy this day, dear Ann. This is very helpful and I know doubling consonants can be so tricky at times. Thank you for your willingness to explain these rules in such a clear and precise manner.

      Up +++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      Hugs and blessings, dear teach!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Interesting article. I never thought about there being patterns to when consonants are doubled. You just sort of know from seeing words. For me the next question is, how did these rules come to be? There seems to be too much consistency for them to have just happened. But we know that, unlike the French, we have no academy attempting to formulate the rules for English.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, Dora. I hope it helps at least a few. Thanks for reading and for the votes.

      Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

      Ann

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for another important lesson. You make the rules easy to remember. Voted up!

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      always exploring: You've got it; well done! It might well be that you missed this lesson; it's not something that's done often, at least not in Britain. In fact, I don't think they teach grammar at all any more.

      You're welcome. Thanks for reading and leaving your input. I'm shelving grammar hubs for a while as I find it quite exhausting trying to make them vaguely interesting!

      Happy Christmas!

      Ann

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Can you believe I've been here for some time and I kid you not. I see the light. It was dim at first but you kept on until I got the ' long and short of the subject. ' All kidding aside, I do understand so much better. Thank you Ann. I'll be watching for more instructions. I must have ' skipped ' class the day I was ' supposed ' to learn this. Hee.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Pawpawwrites: Grammar is difficult for many but it's not impossible!

      I 'might' means it's possible and I'll think about it; 'I may' means I'm allowed to or I can.

      Thanks for the visit.

      Ann

    • Pawpawwrites profile image

      Jim 2 years ago from Kansas

      Grammar is a weakness of mine, so I may have to visit this page again.

      Or should it be I might have to visit this page again........see what I mean.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      alancaster49: Hello! Good to see you.

      Indeed, there are many spelling differences; much of US English has been simplified which is good as it avoids some confusion. It's interesting that we do have some of those choices. I love seeing the evolution of language.

      Many of my dyslexics students used to ask why they couldn't spell phonetically. I wish I could've let them go ahead; they were much better at that! So perhaps that's an indication that we should bin all the spelling rules and go with the flow. Frankly I'm torn but my purist English education is deeply embedded in my psyche! Ah well....

      Season's Greetings to you too; I hope you enjoy the Christmas period and that 2015 is a great year for you and yours.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Hilarious, bill! I wouldn't dare to say that, of course.

      Thanks as always. I'm enjoying a quiet day with my computer, looking forward to the build up to Christmas Day. For once I'm organised but don't worry it won't happen again.

      Happy holidays to you too, bill. May you have a wonderful Christmas full of joy and peace with all your family.

      Ann :)

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Hello again Ann, Season's Greetings.

      Across the Pond they use variations from UK/Commonwealth English. Where we write, e.g. 'excelled' 'smelled', 'levelled' they have 'exceled', 'smelt' and 'leveled'. As a rule grammar rules between US and UK are one and the same, there are differences that go back in date beyond Standard English (late 18th-early/mid 19th Century).

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good morning, Ann, and Happy Sunday to you! Little did I know I'd be going back to school today. Does the education never end???? :)

      Great primer on grammar. Hopefully some of the writers on HP will read this....heck, hopefully some of the editors on HP will read this. :) Oops, did I just say that? :)

      Have a great day, my friend, and Happy Holidays to you.

      bill

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Exactly, John. Thanks for your kind comment. I just hope it's useful!

      Great to see you today! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas week and that Christmas Day is joyous for you and yours.

      Ann

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      A very well written and helpful hub Ann. To double consonants or not to double consonants, that is the question. Thanks for this.