Spelling: Doubling Consonants at the End of a Word.
A common problem for English learners is spelling. Oh, let’s be honest, whoever designed English spelling needs to be _____ (I’ll let you fill in the blank with your idea for the best punishment). Despite all the horrible spellings, there are usually rules to most words—we just have a LOT of rules with their nuances (and exceptions).
One rule that is pretty easy to understand is the one regarding when to double the consonant at the end of the word when adding suffixes like –ed and –es and –ing (i.e., suffixes beginning with vowels).
So you’re asking yourself: is the gerund of “write” “writing” or “writting”? Let’s see:
- To know if we need to double the consonant, we must look at the last three letters of the root word. They MUST be consonant-vowel-consonant. If there is any other combination of letters, the last consonant is NOT doubled.
- Act (ends in two consonants, so don’t double the last one) → Acted
- Threat (there are two vowels before the last consonant, so don’t double) → Threaten
- Write (ends in a vowel, so there’s no last consonant to double!) → Writing
- In all the words that do end with consonant-vowel-consonant, we must now look at where the stress of the word is (i.e., where would we put the accent mark like we would in Spanish).
- The first two words only have one syllable; therefore, by default, the last (and only) vowel has the accent.
- The second two have the accent on the last syllable.
- The last two have the accent on another syllable.
- When the accent is on the last (or only) syllable of our words ending in consonant-vowel-consonant, we MUST double the last consonant when adding a suffix beginning with a vowel
Put → Putting
Let → Letting
Refer → Referred
Occur → Occurrence
- However, when the accent is NOT on the last syllable, we CANNOT double the vowel:
Focus → Focuses
Spirit → Spirited
TIP: Since this spelling rule does depend on pronunciation, it’s important to know how to correctly pronounce the word. When in doubt, look it up in a dictionary; in most, an apostrophe appears before the stressed syllable. For example, in the dictionary, “refer” (which we know is stressed on the last syllable) is (rɪˈfɜr) and “focus” (which we know is stressed on the first syllable) is (ˈfəʊkəs). You don’t need to know what all those symbols mean; it’s enough to just see where the stress of the word is!
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