The Complete and Amazing Guide to the 40 Spelling Rules of English

The Complete and Amazing Guide to the 40 Spelling Rules of English


Did you know there are a set of forty rules that make up basic beginner’s English? Most of us native speakers have forgotten to consciously apply these important rules, simply because we use them everyday. It’s become something of an organic process to write i before e, except after c. Yet for young learners and ESL students, these set of forty rules we’re about to go through are vital to the English learning experience.

In this series, we’re going to break down the forty rules into more manageable pieces. That’s why we’ve made seven categories of rules! Each of these categories contains rules that relate to one another in some way, or to a theme in written English. If you’re stuck on or confused by a specific type of written English (there are a bunch of tricky parts), you’re in luck! Use these categories for great explanations on spelling, or go in depth and learn all forty as we guide you through what make these rules tick!

Remember, the trick to learning a language is practice! We here at FactSumo firmly believe in confidence through practice. That’s why it’s equally important to break up your work into easy parts, so you can master the basics each and every day (and feel confident while doing it)! So, are you ready to go through the categories for the forty rules of English? Read our summaries below, or click on a category to learn each rule that makes up that category.


Grammar is arguably the most complex and confusing aspect of written English, simply because it’s such a broad category. Additionally, English itself is a combination of a number of languages, borrowing from a diverse range of word sets and evolutions. So while some rules seem contradictory or outright weird, just know there’s a linguistic reason behind them! It’s also important to understand that for almost every written English rule, there’s bound to be an exception. While these beginner rules can be applied most of the time, there are moments where what you learned won’t do the trick. But there’s good news! The more you practice, the more those exceptions will become second nature.

So, what makes up our ten rules of grammar? The first few cover how to make singular words plural by adding -s, -es, or -ies. These rules also create third person verbs! While there are plenty of rules on more advanced plurals (such as -i or -a), these first rules are meant as a beginning step into the complex world of plurals.



The second few rules in our grammar set focus on present participles and gerunds. These words sound tricky, but are pretty easy once you know what they are! Both present participles and gerunds come from verbs that end in -ing. Present participles act like verbs or adjectives, while gerunds act like nouns! So in the sentence, “Swimming is my favorite sport,” the word swimming is a gerund. While in the sentence, “I am swimming fast,” the verb swimming would be a present participle. As it turns out, there are a few neat grammar rules that turn verbs into gerunds and present participles, depending on their spelling!

The last few rules in our grammar category concern making adjectives with the letter “y”. These are pretty straightforward rules that turn certain nouns into adjectives by adding the letter “y”! Just remember that there are always exceptions!



Prefixes are found in a variety of words in English. Even the word prefix has a prefix (pre-)! The rules for prefixes are pretty easy to follow, and only require you to understand what the prefixes themselves actually mean. Once you know those, it’s a breeze to know how they change base words. For example, think of the word “read”. We all know what this verb means (you’re doing it right now). Now let’s add the prefix re-. This new word, reread, means to read again. We know this because the prefix re- often means to do something over again, depending on the verb it attaches to. Knowing the prefix is half the battle to figuring out the word!



There are some specific prefixes we should talk about though. These prefixes are often referred to as “negative prefixes”, as they change the meaning of a root word to its opposite. Some common negative prefixes include ir-, dis-, im-, in-, il-, and of course, un-. So if you are certain about something, that means you have a pretty good idea of something. But if you are uncertain about something, it means the opposite: you are not sure (or unsure)!



While prefixes attach to the beginning of words, suffixes go at the end. They’re also a bit trickier to spot, as they blend into a base word a little more smoothly than prefixes. Suffixes serve entirely different purposes from prefixes, however. While prefixes change the meaning of a word completely, suffixes often inform how the function of a word changes. In other words, suffixes can tell you the state of a base word.

For instance, the word “beauty” on its own means something is pleasing to the eye. While adding the suffix -ful makes the word “beautiful”, which changes the function of a word from a noun to an adjective. Suddenly the object has the qualities of beauty, instead of possessing beauty. Consider the phrase “This has beauty,” and “This is beautiful.” At first glance, these two sentences mean the same thing. But each time you change the suffix, you change how you read the base word. As another example, the word “beautify” (suffix: -ify) means to make something beautiful (which may imply it wasn’t beautiful before).



Our rules also outline the comparative and superlative forms. If something is more tall than another thing, you’d say that first object is taller. If it is the most tall thing you’ve ever seen, it would be the tallest. That is the differences in comparative and superlative forms in a nutshell! Of course, depending on the spelling, there are a few ways to create the comparative and superlative forms out of ordinary words. Click on our category link to see more information on these rules!

Suffixes are a bit more complex than prefixes, and ours isn’t a comprehensive list by any means. We’re here to serve as a stepping stone to greater learning and understanding in written English! As we’ve said before, a good habit to get into is to keep reading and finding new suffixes that help you better appreciate their functions.



I know what you’re thinking: this is a guide to written English, not math! Why are we talking about numbers? As it turns out, numbers pop up pretty often in written form, and there are some rules in regards to how to write them out properly. They may not be as game-changing as our grammar section, but they are great in number, and warrant a category of their own!

For instance, did you know that any number less than ten should be written in word form? Yes, one through ten should never be written as 1-10 (unless you’re providing a mathematical equation or list). For all other numbers, numeric form is OK! As an example, look at our title! If our title was The 10 Rules of English, we’d have to write “10” in word form.

Other rules for this category include writing decimals, fractions, and ordinal numbers. The trickiest rule, however, involves writing two sets of numbers in a row. This rule throws people off because it feels a little counter-intuitive to the previous rules. Here’s a tip: of the two numbers, the first is always written in word form. Consider this sentence: “The dog ate four 6 pound treats.” Notice that the number four shows how many treats the dog ate, while six shows the weight of each treat. But wait, doesn’t six have to be written in word form because it’s less than ten? Well, this rule is a perfect example of an exception! If the sentence were written, “The dog ate four six pound treats,” it’d be a little more difficult to decipher. Thus, this rule was born! That way, no one is confused into thinking the dog ate forty-six pound treats.



Ownership and Apostrophe

How do you show ownership in English? Most often, you use apostrophes! These are super simple to use, and there are a few rules that make showing possession even easier. Sure, you can say, “the tail of the dog,” but this sounds awkward and unnecessary. Let’s use the native speaker way instead! For instance, we would say the dog’s tail, John’s apple, or the car’s steering wheel. Each of these phrases follows the basic structure of adding -’s to mark possession. Both objects and people can possess something, so don’t take possession too literally! For an object or person that ends in -s, all you have to do is add an apostrophe! So if you want to talk about Chris’ apple, you only need an apostrophe on the end. Easy, right?



That brings us to the other half of these rules: what is an apostrophe used for besides ownership? Well, you will find apostrophes in common phrases called contractions. These are a combination of two words separated by an apostrophe where the letter is omitted. Instead of using the phrase “do not”, say “don’t”! Why use “could have” when you can use “could’ve”? Contractions are one of those things that has a lot of exceptions, so we didn’t bother making a list of regular and irregular contractions. Many contractions change letters altogether, such as the phrase “will not”. No, it doesn’t become “wiln’t”. Instead, it becomes “won’t”! How do you learn these? Easy! Practice each day and explore the English world around you to find fun exceptions! The key is confidence.


Compounds and Hyphens

These four rules can seem pretty intimidating, but once you get them down, you’ll wonder why you struggled with them in the first place! Compound words are simply two words that are stuck together (some use hyphens, some are separated, while others are joined together). Many beginner English words are a combination of easy words taken together to mean something similar. For example, sunshine is a combo of the word “sun” and the word “shine”. Sunshine means the shine of the sun, so this compound word is easy to figure out if you know the words that make it up! Other times, this combination of words means something completely different. Take the word “rainbow”. While the two words are “rain” and “bow”, the word rainbow doesn’t mean a wet bowtie. These kinds of compounds require context!



Hyphens are used in a lot of different ways, but in the context of compound words, they are most often seen in words and phrases involving numbers. For instance, when writing words above twenty, hyphens are used to separate the numbers! This is done to avoid the confusion we talked about above. Let’s look at the number fifty-six. The hyphen must be present, so the reader doesn’t think we’re talking about two different numbers: fifty and six. You can find hyphens in other number and family-related phrases, such as five-year-old, or father-in-law.


Other Rules

Spelling rules don’t always fit into a neat category, as many rules can stand alone, and make such specific cases that they have no easy grouping. So we decided to put these spelling rules together in one category! Make no mistake, just because these rules are varied, doesn’t mean they are difficult. In fact, these are some of the easiest spelling rules in the entire guide.

For instance, capital letters are required at the beginning of the sentence. They are also used for people, places, and important things. “Jack and Sally went to London on Wednesday,” is a phrase highlighting some common words (proper nouns) to capitalize. Another rule involves the letter q and u. Most of the time, when there is a q in a word, it is followed by a u. In fact, this is one of those rules where there are few, if any, native-English exceptions. Queen, quilt, quiet.



Another rule you may have heard before: i before e, except after c. This is a nice spelling rule that most English speakers learned at a very young age. Think of words such as thief, tie, and ceiling. These words follow the i before e rule. The downside is that there are quite a few exceptions to this rule, such as science, ancient, and weird.

Another rule you may have heard before: i before e, except after c. This is a nice spelling rule that most English speakers learned at a very young age. Think of words such as thief, tie, and ceiling. These words follow the i before e rule. The downside is that there are quite a few exceptions to this rule, such as science, ancient, and weird.


Outro (Word of the Day: Meaning Opposite of Intro!)

All these rules are extremely important to a beginner. However, without practice, these rules don’t amount to much! Even more importantly, the exceptions to these rules are vital to learn as well. Though they don’t appear often, they will take your written English skills to the next level! The only way to learn the exception is to learn the rules first.

FactSumo is here to help you on your English spelling journey! We broke up the forty most important English spelling rules into manageable categories, so you can learn the rules at a relaxing, yet challenging pace. If you’re interested in mastering all these rules, look no further than this guide! We’ve linked to all of the mini-guides on this page, and their decks so you can practice the skills you’ve just read about on your desktop or our app. So get out there and start studying!