Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a foreign language) to multi-national and dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD.
‘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.
'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 'Consonant, Short Vowel, Consonant.'
When a one-syllable word is 'consonant, short vowel, consonant', double the final consonant when you add a suffix. For example:
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.
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:
Read More From Owlcation
'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.
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.
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 'tone'.
‘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 newspaper report toned down his language.'
Do not double the consonant when it is preceded by a long vowel in a single-syllable root word.
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.
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 article.
A Little Ditty to make sure you're Sitting Pretty
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!
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is "spilling" a double consonant?
Answer: Yes, but, because it is already there, we leave it. Also, if we wrote 'spiling' the first 'l' would be pronounced long (as 'eye'), and there is no such word that I know of.
Question: Words which have two vowels next to each other then the end consonant is not doubled?
Answer: That is the same as a long vowel and therefore no double consonant follows, e.g. load - loaded, loading
Question: Is "successfully" a double consonant or not?
Answer: Double 'c', each of which has a separate sound, 'k' & 's', but they follow the short vowel. Double 's' which follows the short vowel. Double 'l' because it is 'ful' (successful) with a suffix ('ly') after it. It is 3 syllables. The double consonant rule is for words with just 2 syllables.
Question: Are there rules for spelling when a word starts with a vowel followed by a consonant: e.g., allow instead of alow, attend instead of atend and so on?
Answer: It depends on the vowel being short or long; generally, a short vowel is followed by a double consonant, a long vowel by one, in a two-syllable word. There are always exceptions!
Question: how do you pronounce grass?
Answer: It depends where you live. Queen's English would have an open 'a' as in 'ah', as it would in a southern English accent. Northern English accent would have a short 'a' as in 'at'.
Question: According to the rules that we double the consonant to keep the short vowel directly before it short (as in bottle, happy, rabbit, etc), are the following examples that don't have a double consonant simply exceptions, or do they have a rule of their own that I can't work out? : tonic, melon, habit, lemon which according to the patterns should be spelt tonnic, mellon, habbit, lemmon.
Answer: As far as I know, they are indeed all exceptions. There are some words which we've adopted and therefore don't fit the rules (so have an excuse) but English is full of exceptions that make the rule!
Question: How do double consonants work in American English?
Answer: Basically the same. The accent might be different and some of the spelling such as centre/center differs but generally the rules apply.
Question: Do we double the consonant if the word has more than one syllable?
Answer: These rules are for 2-syllable words; other words vary.
Question: What about the words "amount" and "account"? Why does "account" have two consonants?
Answer: I can only say that it's just another anomaly. I've looked up both and I can see no derivations that give me a clue as to any other reason. 'Account' follows the rules, 'amount' doesn't. However, the general rule is for 2 syllables, both being CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) compositions, such as 'rab/bit'; other variations seem to be less consistent with the rule.
Question: Why don’t we double the second p in proper?
Answer: I'm afraid it's one of those pesky exceptions, of which there are many!
Question: Is apricot pronounced with a long or short a?
Answer: The 'A' in apricot is long in British English.
Question: Does the word 'ADD' follow the double consonant rule? Why isn't it spelt as 'AD'?
Answer: I believe it comes from the Latin 'addendum', which in itself follows that rule (short vowel, double consonant), so the abbreviation would stand.
Question: Why is the 'g' in the adjective long not doubled?
Answer: Because the vowel 'o' is short but already has two consonants.
Question: Why don't we have blends in vowels?
Answer: Single vowels have various sounds, double vowels are usually digraphs (two letters, one sound); however, there are words where two vowels are side by side, e.g. lion, where we do hear each vowel sound, so you could call that a blend. The word 'blend', though, is normally used for two consonants side by side, where the first consonant 'runs into' the next.
Question: Cortege: the 't' is double because of a short vowel 'o' but, in the word- minister there is short vowel 'i' but, 'n' is not double. Why is that?
Answer: 'Cortege' is not quite the same, though it does have two consonants after the first vowel; it's more c/or/tege. Minister, however, is not part of this rule as it has 3 syllables.
Question: Is "collecting" a double consonant?
Answer: Yes. The 'o' is a short vowel therefore requires the double 'l'. The fact that it has the suffix 'ing' is immaterial in this case.
© 2014 Ann Carr
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 28, 2020:
You're welcome, Joshua! Glad you found it useful.
Joshua on August 28, 2020:
Quite useful. Thanks
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 08, 2020:
Arjun: thank you for reading and for leaving your comments. I'm glad this was useful.
Arjun on July 08, 2020:
Thank you for the funny and informative post. I didn't know it was so simple. Now I love words that have double letters!
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 05, 2020:
The 'ia' and 'ai' are double vowels which make a long sound (or the 'ia' is actually two long sounds); the rules for doubling only apply with a short vowel, so the 'e' is on its own and short, so the 'l' is doubled.
Does that sound clear to you? Let me know if not.
Thanks for the question.
Andi on July 05, 2020:
Why l from dial or sail is not double when dialing,sailing? Why is double at selling, telling?
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 24, 2019:
Yes Liz, this language of ours is full catches but that's why I love it so much! I agree with on the 'proves the rule' thing.
I appreciate you dropping by and thanks for the comments. Hope all's well with you.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on September 23, 2019:
Then there are the "drop the final 'e' when adding 'ing' pitfalls. A couple of exceptions to the rule there, as well.
And speaking of exceptions, I always hated the saying/excuse of "...the exception that proves the rule."
WTH??? How does an exception "prove" anything except plain contrariness??!! LOL
Thanks for a clever article from a fellow grammar geek! ;-)
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 20, 2019:
That sounds very complicated and I have never come across that way of doing it. If you stick to what I've described then it works most of the time, though there are always exceptions.
The vowel sound changes (from short to long) depending on the amount of consonants following: e.g. 'finned' (short 'i' as in 'a finned fish') and 'fined' (long 'i' as in 'he was fined £10'). That's the same as the doubling rule above but from the vowel's point of view!
Jatinder Singh on March 19, 2019:
Hi Ann, thanks for giving a useful rule info about double consonants. I would like to share one with you, i think when in any spelling on the third position like BDGPTMNO consonants come and its end with ed,ing, er, est, so no. then we use the consonant double. but condition is this all consonant should before any vowel. AIEOU like put-putting, begin- beginning. i think its only implement on BDGPTMNO consonant. if you have any more information please share with me. thanks again give me useful info.
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 14, 2019:
cdonovanrotorua: The rule of a 2-syllable word doubling the middle consonant sound, means that you double one letter (referring to the sound): e.g. din/ner. When you already have two consonants (and therefore 2 sounds), as in 'dismay', then you stick to the consonants you already have. 'Dissent' follows the rule - you can hear the 's' sound and you double that consonant. If you had only one 's' it would change the short vowel sound to a long sound, so would sound like 'die/sent'.
I hope that answers your question but feel free to ask for any further clarification.
It certainly is good that your son is thinking about applying rules, so he deserves high praise for that in itself! It's not easy at first but it sounds as though he'll get the hang of it.
Try making your own words, with lower case, on separate cards, and doing the spelling with him. Have a set of single alphabet letters too.
A card with 'bag', then a single 'g' from the alphabet set, then a card with 'ed'; the same can be done with bud - d - ing, or run - n - er.
Start with 'bag', then work out with him what the middle sound is for bagged, ask him how he would spell it (double the letter and add the ending) and so on.
I can give you lots more ideas if you'd like to email me.
cdonovanrotorua on March 14, 2019:
Hi Ann. My son spelt dismay with a double s today. He said he did that because it followed a short i. I was very excited that he was even trying to apply some spellings rules and then realised I could not really explain why it only had one s. Does it depend on whether the s is followed by a vowel such as in dissent? Thanks Catherine
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on February 28, 2019:
Artorius: Thank you for your comment.
Artorius on February 28, 2019:
I found this very interesting and helpful
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on July 20, 2018:
Yes, Glenis. I gave the short and long vowel options which tend to reflect Midlands-North accents and the southern accents. I tend to use the long vowel as I come from Sussex but when with my sister in York I often use the short vowel as our father was a Yorkshireman! I like the fact that I can choose!
I hadn't noticed Meghan's accent; that's an interesting observation.
Thanks for reading and for your valuable input, Glenis.
Glen Rix from UK on July 20, 2018:
It's strange. I attended a grammar school but can't recall being taught rules relating to spelling. It just seems to come naturally, perhaps because I was always an avid reader. I landed here because I read in my feed that you had answered a question about how to pronounce grass, Ann. Here's my take on that - I'm from the East Midlands so speak with a short letter A - unless I'm trying to appear terribly posh, in which case I might say grars. Incidentally, have you noticed that the woman who in a former life was Meghan Markle is now speaking Queen's English on many occasions? She sounds like Kate. One of the advantages of being an actress.
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on June 20, 2018:
Hello Sunita. Thank you for reading and commenting.
The above rules are about 2-syllable words, which 'attraction isn't; 'middle' fits the rule, the main thing being a short vowel before double letters in the middle of a 2-syllable word.
There are plenty more words, sadly the list would be almost endless!
I appreciate your interest.
Sunita on June 20, 2018:
As per above rules the double letters comes between 2 vowels. But found few exceptions like " attraction" , "middle".
Middle is a metathesis though we hear the e sound before l we write it later(interchange).
Are there more words, any list.
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on May 01, 2018:
Lalit Kumar Sharma: Thank you
LALIT Kumar sharma on April 30, 2018:
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on April 23, 2018:
buses - an exception! English is full of them which is what makes it one of the most difficult languages to learn; I'm glad it's my mother tongue!
Unsure on April 23, 2018:
Ok so what about the word bus being made plural. Is it buses or busses?
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 13, 2018:
Sadly, Sunita, there are many exceptions to most rules. It would be impossible to give you a list of them right now but I'll look into it and see if I can come up with a hub!
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Sunita on March 13, 2018:
Thank you for sharing the rules for double consonant, was helpful. However the rule2 is applicable for words like rabbit, traffic ... why not raddish?....correct 1 is radish.
can you provide list of such words ...the exceptional cases.
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 07, 2018:
Thank you Batista. Glad this has helped you.
Batista yob Kiswaga on March 06, 2018:
Thank you for the useful topic you have presented above. I had crucial problem in doubling consonant, but now you have solved.
Feridoon Noori on January 12, 2018:
what about double consonants at the end of a word like "throw"
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 27, 2017:
That follows the basic rule of double consonants after a short vowel; there is a bank of words with ff, ll and ss, as in stuff, doll & mess. Good question Deborah and thanks for reading.
Deborah Cichra on September 27, 2017:
What about double consonants at the end of a word like "fluff"?
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 07, 2017:
Thanks Bill! Always exceptions! Thanks for reading.
Bill Bingham on September 07, 2017:
It would seem that "offered" and "suffered" do not follow your rule, (but "preferred" and "occurred" do.)
Ann Carr (author) from SW England on March 09, 2015:
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.
DJ Anderson on March 09, 2015:
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.