When to Double Consonants in Spelling: Rules and Examples
‘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 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:
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:
'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 '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.
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 hub.
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.
How do you tackle spelling confusion?
Questions & Answers
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?
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!
© 2014 Ann Carr