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Dictionary of the British English Spelling System

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Greg Brooks

4. How do you know when to write a consonant letter double?

Texte intégral

1For some people one of the main bugbears of English spelling is remembering to write, for example,

accommodation not *accommodation

occurred not *occured.

2In a national survey of adults’ spelling in England and Wales in 1995 using just 15 words, accommodation produced the most errors; 68% of the people in the survey got it wrong (see Basic Skills Agency, 1996).

3Doubled consonant letters are a bugbear even though the doubled consonant spelling with the highest frequency for its phoneme is <ll> at only 18% of occurrences of /l/, and most other doubled consonant spellings are much less frequent. So in this chapter I provide some guidance on this – but be warned: the guidance does not and can not cover every word, so I end up saying ‘The rest you just have to remember, or check in a dictionary’.

4.1 The easy bits

4.1.1 Consonant letters are never doubled at the beginning of a word

4Well, hardly ever. There is llama (the animal, as opposed to lama, a Tibetan monk), and llano meaning a South American, treeless, grassy plain or steppe; also Welsh names like Ffestiniog and Lloyd – but I’m dealing with English, and not with names.

4.1.2 Some consonant letters are never or almost never written double: <h, j, q, v, w, x, y>

5The rule that these seven letters are rarely doubled applies to the whole of the rest of this chapter, but I will mention it again where necessary. Almost all the exceptions occur in compound words, for example bathhouse, beachhead, fishhook, hitchhiker, witchhunt and withhold, where the first <h> is always part of a digraph or trigraph ending the first element of the compound word; also bowwow, glowworm, powwow, skew(-)whiff (usually spelt with the hyphen, however) and slowworm. There are also a few slang words with <vv>: bevvy, bovver, chivvy (also spelt chivy), civvy, divvy, flivver, luvv-y/ie, navvy, revving, savvy, skivvy, spivv(er)y. Some brandnames deliberately flout this rule, e.g. Exxon.

4.1.3 Doubled consonant letters are very rare after long vowels and diphthongs

6- in stem words, that is, though they do of course arise from compounding and suffixation, e.g. glowworm, keenness, preferring, really, referral, slowworm, warring. Perhaps the only classes of exception are monosyllables ending in /ɑːf, ɑːs, ɔːl/ (the first two of these apply in RP but in few other accents), which are mainly spelt <-aff,-ass,-all>, e.g. chaff, class, ball (see /f, s, l/, sections 3.7.3, 3.7.6, 3.7.5). There are also stray individual exceptions, e.g. bouffant, chauffeu-r/se, coiffeu-r/se, coiffure, feoffee, feoffment, pouffe, souffle; droll, plimsoll, poll, roll, scroll, stroll, toll; braille, camellia, chenille, Ewell, marseillaise, raillery, surveillance, thralldom (also spelt thraldom), tulle; arrhythmia if pronounced with initial /eɪ/, potpourri; caisson if pronounced /ˈkeɪsən/ (also pronounced /kəˈsuːn/), croissant, mousse, pelisse, renaissance if pronounced /rəˈneɪsɒns/, trousseau, voussoir; aitch, retch if pronounced /riːtʃ/; pizza. Words with final <rr, rre, rred, rrh> (charr, parr, err, chirr, shirr, skirr, whirr, burr, purr; barre, bizarre, parterre; abhorred, preferred, referred; catarrh, myrrh) may look like exceptions too, but here <rr>, etc., are part of the spellings of the long vowel or diphthong (see /r/, section 3.5.8).

7This rule also implies its converse, namely that single-letter spellings of consonant phonemes are regular after long vowels and diphthongs.

8However, unfortunately the counterparts to these rules are very unreliable: after short vowels both single and double consonant letters occur with great frequency, and much of the rest of this chapter is an attempt to grapple with that.

9For all four circumstances see Table 4.1, and for the grapheme-phoneme direction see Table 10.4 in section 10.42. Also, for an extended historical explanation of why both single and doubled consonant spellings occur after short vowels, see Crystal (2012), chapters 7 and 8.

TABLE 4.1: SINGLE AND DOUBLE CONSONANT SPELLINGS AFTER SHORT AND LONG VOWELS

After long vowel/diphthong

After short vowel

Single consonant letter

Regular

Both occur, and doubled spellings are sometimes predictable but mostly not – see the rest of this chapter

Doubled consonant spelling

Very rare

4.2 The main consonant-doubling rule (Part 1 of ‘double, drop or swop’– see sections 6.4-5)

10[Acknowledgments: I owe the terms ‘consonant-doubling’, ‘<e>-deletion’ and ‘<y>-replacement’ largely to John Mountford, and the mnemonic ‘double, drop or swop’ for them (though I may have re-ordered it) to Jennifer Chew. I also owe the following insight to John Mountford.]

11The three rules ‘double, drop or swop’ are mutually exclusive: no more than one of them can be applied to the same word at the same point (though a word with more than one suffix may exhibit more than one of them).

12The consonant-doubling rule applies only to single stem-final consonant letters and when they double before suffixes beginning with a vowel letter. For this rule, word-final <y> counts as a vowel letter but still obeys the restriction that it never doubles, but medial <u> spelling /w/ (after <q>; there seem to be no instances relevant here after <g>) counts as a consonant letter. The rule mostly involves the verb endings <-ed, -ing>, but also applies to:

  • the adjective suffixes <-able, -est, -y>, as in regrettable, saddest, gassy, runny, starry

  • the noun suffixes <-age, -ance, -ation>, as in cribbage, scrummage, slippage, stoppage, tonnage; admittance, remittance, riddance; cancellation; (with medial <u> = /w/) quittance

  • the verb suffix <-en>, in fatten, flatten, gladden, madden, redden, sadden

  • the noun and adjective suffix <-er>, as in plodder, sadder

  • the noun and adjective suffix <-ery>, as in cattery, jewellery, jobbery, lottery, nunnery, piggery, shrubbery, slippery, snobbery, tannery, thuggery

  • the noun suffix <-ess>, in goddess (only)

  • the adjective suffix <-ous>, in libellous, marvellous (only).

13To state the main consonant-doubling rule neatly we need the convention that <C> means ‘any single consonant letter’, <C*> means ‘any consonant letter except those that never double’ and <V> means ‘any single vowel letter’.

14So then the main consonant-doubling rule is:

  1. In one-syllable words ending <CVC*>, double the final consonant letter before any suffix beginning with a vowel letter;

  2. In two-syllable verbs ending <CVC*>, double the final consonant letter before any suffix beginning with a vowel letter if the last syllable of the stem is stressed or if (in British but not US spelling) the last letter of the stem is <l>.

  3. Otherwise, do not double the final consonant letter.

15The second part of the rule applies where the stem is a two-syllable verb, regardless of what part of speech the suffixed form is.

16Examples:

17• words formed from one-syllable nouns and adjectives: clubbable, fitter, furry, gassy, goddess, mannish, matting, sadder, saddest, skittish, starry, trekkie; (with medial <u> = /w/) quizzable, quizzical (even though the doubling makes these words break two other rules

18– see sections 4.4.5-6), quiddity, squaddie

19Extension: pittance has <tt> despite being derived not from a one-syllable English word but, via French, from the Latin noun pietas; at no stage before entering English did it have <tt>.

20Exception: ladette, which by the main consonant-doubling rule should be *laddette - but perhaps the shift of stress to the last syllable makes the difference.

21• words formed from one-syllable verbs: banned, biddable, fitted, hopping, penned, plodder, riddance, riggable (of sails or an election), rotten, running, runny, slippage, slippery, starring, stoppage, swimmable, whammy; (with medial <u> = /w/) quipped, quittance, squatter

22Partial exception: Although the plural of the noun bus can only be spelt buses, the late 20th-century conversion of this word into a verb caused confusion over what its derived forms should be, so that dictionaries now show both buses, busing, bused and busses, bussing, bussed. The first set look as though the stem vowel might be pronounced /juː/ rather than /ʌ/, but the second set are all forms of the archaic verb to buss meaning ‘to kiss’– take your pick.

23• two-syllable verbs formed from one-syllable adjectives by adding <-en>: fatten, flatten, gladden, madden, redden, sadden

24Extension: Several past participles of irregular (‘strong’) one-syllable verbs are also formed this way: bitten, (for)bidden, ((mis)be/for/ill-) gotten, hidden, ridden, smitten, written. In all of these except (for)bidden the stem vowel phoneme changes. On the two-syllable verb forms in this bullet point and the previous one see also section 4.3.5.

25• two-syllable verbs with stress on last syllable: abetted, abhorrence, admittance, allotted, beginning, committal, debarred, demurring, deterrence, forgetting, interred, occurred, recurrence, regrettable, transmittable; (with medial <u> = /w/) acquittal, equipped, equipping Contrast two-syllable verbs with stress on first syllable: coveted, focusing, focused, laundered, marketing, merited, targeted – some prefer the spellings *focussing, *focussed but the second <s> is unnecessary, since it is unlikely in this case (given that the stress is on the first syllable) that the spellings with <s> would suggest pronunciations with/juː/rather than /ə/. Also contrast benefited (where again the doubling in *benefitted is unnecessary).

26• two-syllable verbs ending in -fer stressed on last syllable: conferring, deferring, preferred, referral Contrast two-syllable verbs ending in -fer stressed on first syllable: differed, offering, proffered, sufferance.

27In this category, if the suffix constitutes a separate syllable (<-al,-ance,-ing>), whether the <r> doubles or not, /r/ -linking occurs – see section 3.6 – and the <rr, r> is both a grapheme in its own right spelling /r/ and part of a larger grapheme <err, er> spelling /ɜː, ə/ respectively. For dual-functioning see section 7.1.

28• two-syllable verbs ending in <l>, British spelling:

29(stress on first syllable) cancellation, counsellor, cudgelling, gambolled, labelled, leveller, libellous, marvellous, pedalling, quarrelling, signalling, traveller

30(stress on second syllable) (un) controllable, compelled, enrolled, excelled, fulfilling, propellor, rebellion

31Compare US spelling:

32(stress on first syllable) cancelation, counselor, cudgeling, gamboled, labeled, leveler, libelous, marvelous, pedaling, quarreling, signaling, traveler

33(stress on second syllable) (un)controllable, compelled, enrolled, excelled, fulfilling, propellor, rebellion.

34Also contrast three-syllable verbs: (un)paralleled.

35Extension: The two-syllable verbs dial, trial and the three-syllable verb initial double the <l> in British spelling, despite having a vowel letter and not a consonant letter before the <a>: dialling, trialled, initialled (cf. US dialing, trialed, initialed).

36Other extensions:

  • diagrammatic, programmatic have <mm>, for (Greek) etymological reasons

  • caravanner, caravanning, wainscotting have <nn, tt>, presumably to prevent the third <a> or the <o> in the stems appearing to be pronounced /eɪ, əʊ/

  • questionnaire has <nn> - but millionaire has <n>. No explanation of the difference suggests itself

37• Two-syllable verbs that end in the single consonant letter <c> after a vowel letter mostly double it to <ck> before <– ed,-ing>: frolicking, mimicking, panicking, picnicked, shellacked. This also applies to the three-syllable verb bivouacked and, by further extension, to the adjectives panicky, rheumaticky (finicky appears to be a stem word). On 11 March 2013 in a column for the Guardian a Kenyan denied that his country would be ‘banana-republicked’. But the principle is not extended to the one-syllable verb arc, which has the forms arced, arcing, not *arcked, *arcking. If the verb spec meaning ‘draw up a specification’ has derived forms they might also be speced, specing rather than *specked, *specking (since these might derive from speck). And speccy (‘ derogatory name for a person who wears spectacles’) belongs to a different group of exceptions (see under /k/ spelt <cc> in section 3.7.1).

38Exceptions: conference, deference, preference, reference do not have <rr> because the stress has shifted to the first syllable (and the vowel in <fer> may be elided - see section 6.10); contrast conferring, deferring, preferred, referral; and compare referee, with stress shifted to the final syllable, and <r>

  • the verbs infer, transfer do not double the <r> before <-able>: inferable, transferable¸ presumably because there is variation in which syllable is stressed: /trɑːnsˈfɜːrəbəl /vs/ ˈtrɑːnsfrəbəl/ - for the elided vowel in the latter pronunciation see section 6.10

  • where a two-syllable compound verb has a monosyllabic verb as its last element, consonant-doubling occurs even if the stress is on the first syllable: inputting, leapfrogged

  • some two-syllable verbs with stress on the first syllable double the final consonant to avoid the vowel in the last syllable of the stem looking as if it should be pronounced long: formatted, hobnobbing, kidnapped, worshipper.

39Oddities: The independent noun chancellor, the noun tranquillity and verb tranquillise which are based on a two-syllable adjective, the noun teetotaller which is based on a three-syllable adjective, and the seven words coralline, crystalline, crystallise, panellist, pupillage, rascally, sibylline which are based on two-syllable nouns (so none of these words are based on twosyllable verbs), nevertheless have <ll> before endings beginning with a vowel letter in British spelling (but not in US spelling: chancelor, tranquility, coraline, crystaline, crystalize, panelist, pupilage, rascaly, sibyline) for no reason that I can find, except perhaps a mistaken analogy with words based on two-syllable verbs. Also, the adjective woollen has <ll> in British spelling (but the US spelling is woolen), and woolly has <ll> in both systems. And the British spelling of the adjective weaselly has <ll> (US spelling allows both weaselly and weasely).

4.3 Other hints for writing a consonant letter double

4.3.1 Where the two parts of a compound word, or an affix and a stem, have adjacent identical consonant letters, the consonant letter is written double

  • If the second part of a compound word begins with the same consonant letter as the first part ends in, the consonant letter is written double: bathhouse, beachhead, fishhook, glowworm, headdress, hitchhiker, penname, slowworm, stepparent, still-life, withhold. As already noted, this list contains some of the few examples where letters which are rarely written double do occur double. There are various exceptions, the most frequent being grandad which in my opinion should be spelt granddad. For others, see section 4.4.7.

  • If a suffix begins with the same consonant letter as the stem ends in, the consonant letter is written double: actually, keenness, soulless.

  • If a prefix ends in the same consonant letter as the stem begins with, the consonant letter is written double, for example dissatisfy, illegible, immature, innate, irreplaceable, misspell, overrun, pellucid, subbranch, transsonic, unnatural. The problem here is knowing which word-beginnings are prefixes (this is clear enough with <mis-, over-, sub-, trans-, un->, although there are few words beginning miss-, overr-, subb-, transs- or unn-) but otherwise often needs etymological knowledge. For example, in announce and assimilate, the doubled consonant letters arise historically from assimilation of the Latin prefix ad- to the first consonant of the stem, and in pellucid from assimilation of the Latin prefix per-, but this is not much help – mostly you just have to remember, that is develop a feel for the pattern of, which words have a doubled consonant letter in this position and which do not.

4.3.2 Monosyllabic content words with /VC/ structure have a double consonant letter: the Three-Letter Rule

40The entire list of words to which this ‘rule’ applies is add, all, ass, ebb, egg, ell, ill, inn, odd, off (contrast the function words as, in, of), and the name Ann, and within this list the doubling in all, ass, ell, ill, off is regular anyway. In terms of spelling, this rule also applies to err (contrast the filler word er) even though its pronunciation is a single long vowel and contains no consonant (in RP). In all, however, where consonant-doubling is concerned, this rule seems to apply only to the 12 three-letter words just listed.

41Exceptions: ad (advert (isement)), el, em, en (old-fashioned printers’ terms for sizes of spaces), id.

42This is part of a general tendency in English that content words must be spelt with at least three letters, even if they contain only one or two phonemes and therefore could be spelt with fewer than three letters. Other examples are:

  • (one-phoneme words) awe, aye, eye, ore, owe (contrast the function words I, oh, or)

  • (two-phoneme words) bee, buy, bye, hie, high, hoe, low, know, sew, sow, wee (contrast the function words be, by, Hi!, ho (exclamation of surprise), lo, no, so, we), plus ate pronounced /et/, bow, car (cf. the vehicle name Ka), chi (and this Greek letter name does indeed have the alternative spelling ki), die, doe (but the spelling do is pre-empted), dough, dye, ewe, far, fee, feo, fie, foe (contrast Fo, as in Fee, Fie,..., Fum – but is Fo a word?), guy, joe, key, knee, lea, lee, lie, lye, mow, nigh, pea, pee, pie, poh, quay, roe, row, sea, see, sigh, tea, tee, toe (but the spelling to is pre-empted), tow, rue, rye, vie, whoa, woe, yew.

43Some of the positional spelling constraints of English help to maintain the three-letter rule. For example, if it were generally acceptable to spell word-final /ʤ/ with <j> then edge could be spelt *ej. This spelling would observe the rule against doubling <j>; *ejj would be an even odder spelling (the <jj> in hajj, now the accepted spelling of the word for the Muslim pilgrimage, reflects the doubled pronunciation of the final consonant in Arabic). Some of the common digraphs also help to maintain the three-letter rule; for example, ash would consist of two letters if English had a one-letter grapheme for /∫/.

44Three-phoneme content words containing /ks/ are mostly written with two letters, using <x>; ax (in US spelling; contrast British axe), ex (contrast the river-name Exe), ox and the Greek letter name xi. However, the examples just cited appear to be the only 3-phoneme words in the language containing the sequence /ks/. There are about 15 three-phoneme words containing /juː/, which can be spelt <u>, and these words could therefore also in theory be written with two letters. However, only the Greek letter names mu and nu are written this way, and all the rest are written with at least three letters: cue, dew, due, few, hew, hue, lieu, mew (homophone of mu), gnu, knew, new (these last three being homophones of nu), pew, queue, view. And neither ewe nor you would ever be written *u or *yu (cep wen txtng, fcors).

45Other function words spelt with fewer than three letters are a, ah, am, an, as, at, er, he, I, if, in, is, it, me, my, of, on, so, to, up, us, we, ye. Do and go, despite often being content words, make do with two letters because of their other use as auxiliary verbs; in contrast, the function word are has three letters even though it could be spelt ar like the filler word (but this would make the contracted forms *they’r, *we’r, *you’r look very odd).

46Other content words which are spelt with two letters (and are therefore exceptions to the three-letter rule) are ma, pa, pi (the Greek letter name and numerical constant; contrast pie), ta (‘thanks’; contrast tar), and the musical terms do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti.

4.3.3 Consonant phonemes /b d f g k p t z/ are almost always spelt with double letters before final /əl/ spelt <-le> where the immediately preceding vowel phoneme is short, stressed and spelt with a single letter

47Examples:

48babble, dabble, gabble, rabble, scrabble, pebble, dibble, dribble, nibble, scribble, bobble, cobble, gobble, hobble, nobble, wobble, bubble, rubble, stubble;

49addle, skedaddle, paddle, saddle, staddle, straddle, swaddle, twaddle, waddle, meddle, peddle, Biddle, diddle, fiddle, griddle, middle, piddle, riddle, twiddle, widdle, coddle, doddle, noddle, toddle, cuddle, (be)fuddle, huddle, muddle, puddle;

50baffle, raffle, snaffle, waffle, piffle, riffle, skiffle, sniffle, whiffle, duffle, kerfuffle, muffle, ruffle, scuffle, shuffle, snuffle, truffle;

51(be)draggle, gaggle, haggle, raggle-taggle, snaggle, straggle, waggle, giggle, jiggle, niggle, wiggle, wriggle, boggle, boondoggle, goggle, hornswoggle, joggle, toggle, woggle, juggle, muggle, smuggle, snuggle, struggle;

52cackle, crackle, hackle, (ram)shackle, tackle; freckle, heckle, speckle; fickle, mickle, pickle, prickle, sickle, stickle, tickle, trickle; cockle; buckle, chuckle, knuckle, muckle, suckle, truckle;

53apple, dapple, grapple, cripple, nipple, ripple, stipple, tipple, topple, supple;

54(em)battle, cattle, prattle, rattle, tattle, wattle, fettle, kettle, mettle, nettle, settle, brittle, little, skittle, spittle, tittle, whittle, bottle, dottle, mottle, pottle, throttle, cuttlefish, scuttle, shuttle, Suttle;

55(be)dazzle, frazzle, razzle-dazzle, embezzle, drizzle, fizzle, frizzle, grizzle, mizzle, sizzle, swizzle, nozzle, s(c)hemozzle, schnozzle, guzzle, muzzle, nuzzle, puzzle.

56Also squabble, quibble, squiggle if the <u> in these words is counted (as it should be) as a consonant letter.

57Most of the words in this list belong to the less formal/more Anglo-Saxon part of the vocabulary. This rule is one of the only two situations in which <zz> is the regular spelling of /z/, since /z/ is never spelt <s, ss, z> in this position.

58Exceptions: chattel, subtle, treble, triple (if these words followed this rule they would be spelt *chattle, *suttle, *trebble, *tripple – and, as shown above, there is a surname spelt Suttle).

59Extensions (1): Where the consonant between the vowel and <-le> is /s/ it is mainly spelt <st> (see section 3.7.6): nestle, pestle, trestle, wrestle; bristle, epistle, gristle, mistle thrush (also spelt missel thrush), thistle, Thistlethwaite, Twistleton, whistle; apostle, jostle, Postlethwaite, throstle; bustle, hustle, rustle. This extension also applies to mistletoe even though the <-le> is not word-final. Sub-exceptions: hassle (but I once received an email with this word spelt *hastle, showing the power of the <st> subrule), tussle which conform to the main rule above, plus muscle, which conforms to neither the main rule nor this sub-rule about medial /s/ (nor does corpuscle, but since it is stressed on the first syllable it does not fall under the main rule), and missel thrush in that spelling.

60Extensions (2): There are also a few words where the other conditions are met (consonant preceding final /əl/ not in the set /l, m, n, r/or in the set which never double, vowel preceding that stressed, short and spelt with one letter) but the final /əl/ is not spelt <-le> which nevertheless have the consonant spelt double: chattel, cudgel, duffel, estoppel, fossil, glottal, jackal, missal, missel thrush in that spelling, mussel, nickel, offal, rebuttal, satchel, tassel, vassal, vessel, wittol and a few words in <-ittal> which are derived forms obeying the main consonant-doubling rule: (ac)quittal, committal, remittal. This list contains the only words, apparently, in the entire language with final /əl/ preceded by /ʤ, ʧ/ spelt double as <dg, tch>: cudgel, satchel.

61There are no words following this pattern in which the consonant phoneme before the /əl/ is /m, n, r/, that is, none spelt <*-mmle, *-nnle, *-rrle> (for a possible reason see the end of section 4.4.3) – contrast mammal, pommel, pummel, trammel; channel, flannel, fennel, kennel, funnel, runnel, tunnel; barrel, sorrel; also quarrel, squirrel if the <u> in these words too is counted as a consonant letter. Also, it would be odd if the consonant phoneme before the /əl/ were /l/ - the only word with a short, stressed vowel followed by /l/ followed by /əl/ appears to be the obsolete word fallal (‘trinket’). And by definition this rule cannot apply to <h, j, q, v, w, x, y> even though, for example, axle, hovel could in theory be spelt *axxle, *hovvle.

62For the converse of this rule, see sections 4.4.2-3 below.

63The sets of consonant phonemes to which this rule does or does not apply cut across those which are mainly written double or single at the end of one-syllable words after a short vowel spelt with one letter – see Table 4.2.

TABLE 4.2: NON-EQUIVALENCE OF SETS OF CONSONANT PHONEMES SPELT DOUBLE IN TWO SITUATIONS

Consonant phonemes which are mainly written double at the end of one-syllable words after a short vowel spelt with one letter

Consonant phonemes which are mainly written single at the end of one-syllable words after a short vowel spelt with one letter

Consonant phonemes which are mainly written double between a stressed short vowel spelt with one letter and word-final /əl/ spelt <-le>

/k f s *z/

/b d g p t/

Consonant phonemes to which the rule above does not apply

/ʧ ʤ l v/

/m n/

*/s/ is mainly spelt <ss> word-finally and <st> medially in these circumstances.

64Consonant phonemes to which both rules are irrelevant: /h r w j/ because they do not occur word-finally, and /ŋ ∫ ʒ θ ð/ because they have no one-letter word-final spelling.

4.3.4 More generally, consonant letters are mostly written double in the middle of two-syllable words where the immediately preceding vowel phoneme is short and written with a single letter

65Unlike the previous rule, this one applies only to two-syllable words, but regardless of which syllable is stressed. Examples and exceptions (none of which have final /əl/ because of the preceding section) are listed in Table 4.3, grouped in order of the phonemes in Table 2.1.

66As Table 4.3 shows, /v/ is the only phoneme in this position for which one-letter spellings are in the majority – see also section 4.4.3.

TABLE 4.3: EXAMPLES OF AND EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE THAT TWO-SYLLABLE WORDS HAVE MEDIAL CONSONANT LETTERS WRITTEN DOUBLE AFTER A SHORT VOWEL PHONEME WRITTEN WITH A SINGLE LETTER

Phoneme

Examples

Exceptions

/b/

abbey, abbot, bobbin, cabbage, gibbous, hobbit, hobby, hubbub, rabbit, ribbon, robber, rubber, rubbish, Sabbath, stubborn

abet, cabin, robin, suburb

/d/

adduce, buddy, haddock, judder, midden, sodden, sudden

adit, edit

/g/

beggar, dagger, haggis, jagged, maggot, nugget, ragged, rugged, rugger, sluggish, trigger

vigour

/m/

ammo, command, commend, commie, commit, common, commute, gammon, grammar, hammock, hummock, immense, immerse, lemma, mummy, slummock, stammer, summer, summit, summon (s)

amuse, camel, comet, damage, famine, gamut, lemon, premise, promise

/n/

annex (e), announce, annoy, banner, bonnet, cannon, channel, connect, dinner, fennel, flannel, funnel, ginnel, innate, kennel, penny, runnel, tenner, tunnel

banish, canard, canon, enough, menace, money, onyx, penance, planet, punish, tenor

/p/

appal, appeal, appear, apply, approve, copper, happy, hippy, oppose, puppet, supper, tappet

epic

/t/

attack, attempt, attend, attract, better, butter, button, buttress, ghetto, glitter, jitter(s), latter, letter, mattress, rattan, rotten, scatter, tattoo, tittup, written

atom

/r/

arrange, arrest, barrow, berry, borrow, burrow, carriage, carrot, carry, cherry, correct, derrick, garrotte, herring, horrid, hurry, lorry, marriage, mirror, morrow, parrot, porridge, quarry, serrate, sorrow, sorry, squirrel, stirrup, terrine, terror, warrant, wherry, worrit, worry

cherish, cherub, larynx, tarot

/z/

none spelt with <zz>, but cf. dessert, dissolve, hussar, possess, scissors

none spelt with <z>, but cf. bosom, busy, closet, risen

/k/

account, hiccup, occur, peccary, soccer, speccy

decade, vacuum

TABLE 4.3: EXAMPLES AND EXCEPTIONS OF THE RULE THAT TWO-SYLLABLE WORDS HAVE MEDIAL CONSONANT LETTERS WRITTEN DOUBLE AFTER A SHORT VOWEL PHONEME WRITTEN WITH A SINGLE LETTER, CONT

Phoneme

Examples

Exceptions

/f/

affair, affect, affirm, affix, afflict, afford, affray, affright, affront, buffer, boffin, buffoon, caffeine, chaffinch, chiffchaff, chiffon, coffee, coffer, coffin, differ, diffuse, efface, effect, effete, effort, gaffer, griffin, guffaw, jiffy, muffin, offal, offend, offer, office, proffer, puffin, riffraff, saffron, scaffold, suffer, suffice, suffix, suffrage, suffuse, tiffin, toffee. Also, with long vowel in first syllable, chauffeu-r/se, coiffure, souffle

before, default, defeat, defect, defence, defend, defer, defile, defunct – but all of these are regular because of the prefixes. Also, with long vowel in first syllable, gofer, tofu, tufa, wafer

/l/

allay, allege, allot, allow, alloy, allude, allure, ally, ballet, balloon, billet, bullet, bully, callous, callow, challenge, collage, collapse, collar, collate, colleague, collect, college, collide, collie, collude, ellipse, fellow, follow, pallet, pallor, pillar, pollute, shallot, silly, swallow, trellis, wallet; also billion, brilliant, colliery, million if pronounced with two syllables

balance, chalet, choler, colour, column, felon, lily, malice, olive, palace, palate, police, salad, salon, scholar, solemn, talent

/s/

assent, assert, assess, assume, blossom, cosset, cussed (/ˈkʌsɪd/ ‘stubborn’), gossip, massive, missive, posset

/v/

bevvy, bovver, chivvy (also spelt chivy), civvy, divvy, flivver, luvvy/ie, navvy, revving, savvy, skivvy

bevel, carvel, cavil, chervil, chivy (also spelt chivvy), civil, clever, coven, covet, devil, ever, evil, frivol, gavel, govern, gravel, grovel, hovel, larval, level, marvel, naval, navel, never, novel, oval, prevent, serval, travel, ravel, revel, shovel, shrivel, snivel, swivel

67Many more double consonants in two-syllable words result from affixation and the main consonant-doubling rule, e.g. misspelt, misspent, sub-branch; fitter, fully, furry, goddess, mannish, matting, sadder, saddest, starry; fitted, hopping, plodder, riddance, running, starring; fatten, flatten, gladden, madden, redden, sadden, gotten, bitten, hidden, ridden, smitten, written.

68Extension: This pattern also applies not only to /k/ spelt <ck>, e.g. beckon, chicken, cricket, gecko, jacket, pocket, reckon, rocket, sprocket, but also to /ʤ, ʧ/ spelt <dg, tch>, e.g. badger, bludgeon, budget, budgie, codger, fidget, gadget, ledger, midget, todger, widget; butcher, crotchet, hatchet, ketchup, kitchen, ratchet, scutcheon, wretched.

69However, most two-syllable words ending in <-ic, -id, -it, -ule> do not obey this rule - see section 4.4.6. And by definition this rule too cannot apply to <h, j, q, w, x, y>.

70For the converse of this rule, see section 4.4.4 below.

4.3.5 At the end of one-syllable words where the preceding vowel phoneme is short and spelt with a single letter the following consonant phonemes are mostly written double: /k ʧ f ʤ l s z v/

71This generalisation brings together the rules for these consonants stated individually in sections 3.7.1-8.

72Examples: back, hick, quick, rock, sack, sick, tick, hutch, itch, match, duff, off, badge, bodge, fill, full, shall, buss, fuss, puss, jazz, dove, shove

73Exceptions: hic, roc, sac, sic, tic, much, rich, such, chef, clef, deaf, if, veg, Czech, flak, suk, trek, yak, col, gal, gel (both pronunciations and meanings), mil, nil, pal, bus, gas, plus, pus, this, thus, us, yes, as, cos (in both pronunciations /kɒz, kɒs/), has, his, is, was, gov, guv, lav, of, rev, shiv, sov, spiv

4.4 Hints for not writing consonant letters double

4.4.1 At the end of one-syllable words where the preceding vowel phoneme is short and spelt with a single letter the following consonant phonemes are mostly written single: /b d g m n p t/

74This generalisation brings together the rules for these consonants stated individually in sections 3.5.1-7.

75Examples: rob, bad, dog, jam, run, lap, put

76Exceptions: ebb, add, odd, rudd, Sudd, egg, Ann, inn, Lapp, bott, butt, matt, mitt, mutt, putt, watt.

77There appear to be no exceptions ending <-mm>. Six of the exception words obey the /VC/ part of the ‘Three-Letter Rule’ – see section 4.3.2.

4.4.2 When do you not write consonant phonemes /b d f g k p t z/ with double letters before final /əl/ spelt <-le>?

78In other words, when does the rule in 4.3.3 above not apply? When any of the conditions mentioned there is missing, namely:

  • where the immediately preceding vowel is unstressed, e.g. laughable, visible and all the other words ending in /əbəl/ (see section 6.6), plus article, carbuncle, multiple, principle, tubercle, ventricle

  • where the preceding vowel is short and stressed but spelt with more than one letter, namely couple, double, treadle, trouble. These are the only exceptions in this category; if they followed the main ‘stressed short vowel + single consonant phoneme + /əl/’ pattern they would be spelt *cupple, *dubble, *treddle, *trubble

  • where the preceding vowel is stressed but long, e.g. able, bamboozle, bauble, beadle, beagle, beetle, bible, boodle, bridle, bugle, burble, chortle, circle, cradle, curdle, cycle, dawdle, disciple, doodle, eagle, fable, feeble, foible, garble, gargle, gurgle, hurtle, idle, inveigle, kirtle, ladle, maple, marble, myrtle, needle, noodle, noble, ogle, people, poodle, purple, rifle, rouble, scruple, sidle, sparkle, staple, startle, steeple, stifle, table, title, tousle, treacle, trifle, turtle, warble, wheedle

  • where there are two consonant phonemes between the stressed, short vowel and the /əl/, e.g. amble, ample, assemble, bramble, brindle, bumble, bundle, candle, cantle, crumble, crumple, dandle, dimple, dissemble, dwindle, ensemble, example, fondle, fumble, gamble, gentle, grumble, handle, humble, jumble, kindle, mantle, mumble, nimble, pimple, ramble, resemble, ramble, rumble, rumple, sample, scramble, shamble(s), simple, spindle, stumble, swindle, temple, thimble, trample, tremble, trundle, tumble, uncle, wimple; also the group in /ŋgəl/ spelt <-ngle>: angle, bangle, bungle, dangle, dingle, jangle, jingle, jungle, mangle, mingle, shingle, single, spangle, strangle, tangle, tingle, wangle, wrangle.

79But note (for its relevance to the next section) that all these categories of exception still spell final /əl/ with <-le>.

80The rule in section 4.3.3 also mostly does not apply (but see the words listed towards the end of section 4.3.3) where the /əl/ ending is not written <-le>, e.g. pedal, rebel, shekel.

4.4.3 Digression: When do you not spell final /əl/ as <-le>?

81Strictly speaking this section does not belong in a chapter on doubled and single consonant spellings (logically it belongs under /ə/ in section 5.4.7), but its relevance will become apparent at the end of this section; and it arises pretty directly out of the last paragraph in the previous section, where spellings of word-final /əl/ other than <-le> are mentioned.

82Three categories where final /əl/ is not spelt <-le> have already been mentioned:

  • The words listed at the end of section 4.3.3 where the preceding consonant is spelt double even though the final /əl/ is not spelt <-le>

  • Words with the ‘short vowel + single consonant phoneme + /əl/ ˈ pattern in which the consonant phoneme is /m, n, r/. These are almost all spelt with <-el> even though the consonant is spelt double: pommel, pummel, trammel; channel, flannel, fennel, kennel, funnel, runnel, tunnel; barrel, quarrel, sorrel, squirrel. Exception: mammal

  • Words where the medial consonant is /v/ (this list expands on those above): anvil, approval and several other nouns ending in /uːvəl/ spelt <-oval>, (ar)rival and many other nouns and adjectives ending in /aɪvəl/ spelt <-ival>, bevel, carnival, carvel, cavil, chervil, civil, coeval and various other words ending in <-eval>, devil, dishevel, drivel, estival, evil, festival, frivol, gavel, gingival, gravel, grovel, hovel, interval, larval, level, marvel, naval, navel, novel, oval, (un)ravel, retrieval, revel, serval, shovel, shrivel, snivel, swivel, travel, upheaval, valval, weevil.

83This list of words with medial /v/ illustrates very clearly most of the range of other spellings for final /əl/: <-al,-el,-il,-ol>. (The only ones not illustrated are <-ul, -yl>, which are very rare and do not occur with medial /v/.) But it also raises the question: can any rules be given for when to use each of these six possible spellings of final /əl/ other than <-le>?

84(Here I ignore the words where final /əl/ is spelt <l>, since there are only three words in this set: axolotl, dirndl, shtetl).

85Carney (1994: 346) points out that the following three categories mainly have <-al>:

  • nouns formed from verbs: appraisal, approval, arousal, avowal, betrothal, dispersal, disposal, espousal, perusal, proposal, recital, refusal, renewal, reversal, withdrawal

  • adjectives formed from nouns: basal, bridal, brutal, causal, central, colloidal, digital, fatal, formal, fugal, homicidal, modal, orbital, oriental, primal, spinal, spiral, thermal, tidal, tonal, triumphal, universal

  • adjectives based on bound forms: conjugal, dental, final, frugal, fungal, glottal, legal, marital, mental, municipal, mural, natal, nominal, ordinal, papal, principal, regal, renal, skeletal, vital.

86He also points out that words ending in /əkəl, ɪkəl/ may be spelt <-acle,-icle,-ical> – for all of these see section 4.4.6.

87Beyond this the contexts become so specific and any ‘rules’ so complicated that it seems simpler to give lists:

  • words ending in <-al>: admiral, animal, arsenal, cannibal, caracal, coral, crystal, cymbal, dental, dismal, floral, gimbal, hospital, hymnal, (im)partial, initial, jackal, journal, legal, lethal, local, madrigal, mammal, marshal, martial, medal (cf. meddle), memorial, metal (cf. mettle), missal, narwhal, nuptial, offal, opal, parental, pedal (cf. peddle), petal, plural, rascal, sacral, sandal, scandal, sepal, several, signal, sisal, spatial, substantial, total, vandal, vassal, ventral, vocal

  • words ending in <-el>: angel, apparel, babel, betel, bezel, brothel, bushel, calomel, camel, cancel, caramel, carpel, chancel, chapel, charnel, chisel, cockerel, colonel, corbel, counsel, damsel, diesel, doggerel, easel, enamel, evangel, gospel, grapnel, hazel, hostel, kernel, label, laurel, libel, lintel, mackerel, mantel, minstrel, model, mongrel, morsel, nickel, panel, parcel, pastel, petrel, rebel (noun and verb), scalpel, scoundrel, sentinel, shekel, shrapnel, snorkel, sorrel, spandrel, timbrel, tinsel, wastrel, weasel, yodel, yokel

  • words ending in <-il>: April, basil, council, fossil, gerbil, lentil, nostril, pencil, pupil, stencil, tonsil

  • words ending in <-ol>: carol, gambol, idol, Mongol, petrol, symbol

  • words ending in <-ul>: consul, mogul

  • words ending in <-yl>: beryl, (ptero)dactyl, sibyl.

88Some of the words listed in this section ending in <-il,-yl> may be pronounced with /ɪl/ rather than /əl/, but very few have this pronunciation consistently. Reflecting on my own accent I think I have /ɪl/ only in anvil, gerbil, nostril and (ptero)dactyl; also in idyll and the few compound words ending in -phyll.

89Why is there such a contrast in the spellings of final /əl/ between those with <-le> and those with <a, e, i, o, u, y> followed by <l>? I think the prime reason for this variation is whether the stem word, when suffixed with an ending which begins with a vowel phoneme and adds a syllable, retains a schwa vowel before the /l/ or not: where /ə/ is not retained, the spelling is <-le>, otherwise one of the other possibilities. Consider Table 4.4, which is certainly not definitive and where <l>-doubling (in British spelling) is ignored, but to which I have yet to find any exceptions.

TABLE 4.4: SOME CASES WHERE STEM WORDS ENDING IN /əl/ DO OR DO NOT RETAIN /ə/ BEFORE A SUFFIX BEGINNING WITH A VOWEL PHONEME

with /ə/ when suffixed – none spelt with <-le> before suffixation

without /ə/ when suffixed - all spelt with <-le> before suffixation

cannibalism, hospitalise, journalese, mammalian, medallion, metallic, pedalling, rascally, scandalous, signalling, vandalism;
angelic, cancelling, caramelise, channelling, chiselling, cudgelling, evangelise, flannelling, pummelling, quarrelling, rebellion, squirrelling, tunnelling, yodelling;
councillor, fossilise, pupillage;
carolling, gambolling, idolatry, symbolism;
consulate;
beryllium, sibylline

angling, assemblage, babbling, baffling, beagling, bottling, bristling, burglar, chaplain, chortling, coddling, crackling, cuddling, doubly, drizzling, dwindling, embezzler, fiddling, gambling, heckler, jangling, jostling, meddling, muddler, muffler, multiply (verb or adverb), nestling, niggling, peddling, rattling, rippling, rustling, saddler, smuggler, startling, straggler, tattler, trickling, trifling, visibly, whistling, wrestling

90A tiny piece of evidence in favour of my theory might be this. Consider the words gambol, gamble; pedal, peddle. As stem words these form two pairs of homophones pronounced /ˈgæmbəl, ˈpedəl/, but when suffixed with /ɪŋ/ they become (in my accent) two minimal pairs:

gamboling /ˈgæmbəlɪŋ/ v. /ˈgæmblɪŋ/ gambling
pedaling /ˈpedəlɪŋ/ v. /ˈpedlɪŋ/ peddling

91and the schwa is elided (see section 6.10) only in the words which have final /əl/ spelt <-le> - or, to put this more phonologically, the <-le> spelling occurs only where the schwa is elided.

4.4.4 When do you not write doublable consonant letters double in the middle of two-syllable words (other than those ending in /əl/)?

92In other words, when does the rule in 4.3.4 above not apply? When either of the conditions mentioned there is missing, namely:

  • where the preceding vowel is long, e.g. auburn, phoneme, pony – this category is very large; bouffant and other polysyllables listed in section 4.1.3 are sub-exceptions, having a preceding long vowel, yet having their medial consonants spelt double

  • where the preceding vowel is short but spelt with more than one letter, namely breeches, courage, cousin, flourish, heifer, jealous, meadow, nourish, peasant, pheasant, pleasant, ready, steady, weapon, woofer pronounced /ˈwʊfə/, zeal-ot/ous – this category is very small, probably containing only these 16 words; Aussie is a sub-exception, having its preceding short vowel spelt with two letters, yet having its medial consonant spelt double. Possible additions might seem to be heaven, heavy, leaven but medial /v/ is hardly ever spelt <vv>.

4.4.5 The third syllable from the end of a word rarely ends in a doubled consonant letter

93Examples and exceptions not arising from affixation (none of which have final /əl/ because of section 4.4.3) are listed in Table 4.5, grouped in order of the phonemes in Table 2.1.

TABLE 4.5: EXAMPLES OF THE RULE THAT THE THIRD SYLLABLE FROM THE END OF A WORD RARELY ENDS IN A DOUBLED CONSONANT LETTER, WITH EXCEPTIONS NOT ARISING FROM AFFIXATION

94Many other words could be listed, including almost all of those ending in <-ical> (see next section) and all those ending in <-ology>.

Phoneme

Examples

Exceptions not arising from affixation

/b/

abusive, cabaret, (de-)liberate, ebony, liberal, liberty, probable, tribunal

shibboleth

/d/

badinage, judicial, prodigal, tradition

/g/

bigamy, exogamy, trigamy and many others

aggregate, aggressive, doggerel,

/m/

amateur, criminal, family, nemesis, ominous, similar and many others

accommodate, ((un)in)flammable, dia/pro-grammatic, immodest

/n/

analyse, benefit, denizen, draconian, economic, general, genital, manacle, manager, manifest, minimal, minimum, minister, obscenity, penalise, plenary, sanity

binnacle, cannibal, perennial, pinnacle, tinnitus, zinnia

/p/

capital, popular, supersede and many others

apparel, apparent, apprehend, frippery, opposite, opponent

/t/

cataract, gratitude, platitude, strategy and many others

attention, attraction, attribute, battery, petticoat, smattering

/r/

arena, caravan, character, chariot, clarify, clarion, coracle, heresy, heroin(e), irony, miracle, oracle, origin, serious, spiracle

arroyo, carrion, corridor, erratic, horrendous, horrible, horrific, horrify, hurricane, interrogate, scurrilous, serrated, terrible, terrific

/z/

hesitate, misery, visible and many others

brassiere, razzmatazz

/k/

executive, faculty and many others

accomplice, accomplish, cockerel, impeccable, mackerel, occupy, pickerel

/f/

defeasance, defecate, defensive, deference, defiance, deficient, deficit, definite, mafia, safari and a few others

affable, afferent, affiance, affluent, buffalo, daffodil, difficult, diffident, effable, effendi, efferent, effervesce, efficient, effigy, effloresce, effluent, effulgent, effusive, graffiti, ineffable, offensive, official, raffia, ruffian, suffocate, suffragan, taffeta, tiffany

/l/

celery, element, elephant, holiday, military (pronounced /ˈmɪlɪtriː/, with three syllables – see section 6.10), pelican, quality, relevant, solitude, telephone, vilify

allegiance, allergy, allocate, allusion, ballistic, ballyhoo, bellicose, beryllium, bullion, bulletin, celluloid, collier, collision, colloquy, ebullient, fallacy, fallible, gallery, galleon, gallivant, gullible, illegal, illicit, illusion, illustrate, intelligent, lollilop, metallurgic, metallurgy, miscellany, mullion, palliate, pellucid, pillion, pillory, postillion, raillery, scallywag, scullery, scullion, stallion, syllable, syllabic, syllabub, syllabus, sylloge; also billion, brilliant, million if pronounced with three syllables

TABLE 4.5: EXAMPLES OF THE RULE THAT THE THIRD SYLLABLE FROM THE END OF A WORD RARELY ENDS IN A DOUBLED CONSONANT LETTER, WITH EXCEPTIONS NOT ARISING FROM AFFIXATION, CONT

Phoneme

Examples

Exceptions not arising from affixation

/s/

complicity, ferocity and dozens of other words listed in Table 3.4

ambassador, assemble, dissemble, dissension, dissipate, dissolute, dissonance, essential, tessellate

/v/

cavity, evidence, government, levity, poverty, privacy, trivial

(none)

95These lists appear to show that for /f, l/ the balance is the other way – doubled spellings outnumber one-letter spellings in this position.

96Some other exceptions do arise from suffixation, e.g. rabbinic, robbery, shrubbery; addiction, addictive; communist; settlement; diffusion, officer; alliance, hellenic, medallion.

4.4.6 Doubled consonant letters are very rare immediately before the endings <-ic(al), -id, -it,-ule>

97Examples: acidic, acoustic, acrobatic, agaric, aquatic, arabic, catholic, choleric, clinic(al), comic(al), diagrammatic, ecliptic, economic(al), elliptic(al), erratic, etymological, fanatic, genetic, graphemic, heroic, historic(al), horrific, lunatic, lyric(al), medical, metallurgic(al), mimic, phonemic, politic(al/s), programmatic, rabbinic(al), radical, rhetoric(al), sonic, sporadic, strategic, syllabic, terrific, topic(al), typical, volcanic; acid, arid, avid, fetid, florid, frigid, intrepid, placid, rabid, rapid, rigid, solid, stolid, tepid, timid, valid, vapid, vivid; credit, davit, deposit, emit, habit, (il)licit, limit, omit, profit, spirit, visit, vomit; globule, module, schedule.

98Exceptions: attic, britannic, classic(al), cyrillic, ferric, gallic, idyllic, jurassic, metallic, phallic, philippic, prussic, quizzical, tannic, traffic, triassic, tyrannical; flaccid, horrid, pallid, torrid, triffid; commit, hobbit, rabbit, soffit, summit, whodunnit, worrit; cellule, ferrule, floccule, gemmule, pinnule.

99Most of the exceptions are instead obeying the rule that preceding short vowels in two-syllable words are followed by doubled consonant letters (section 4.3.4).

100Though most words ending /ɪkəl/ where the ending is unstressed are spelt <-ical>, there are a few exceptions: article, canticle, cubicle, chronicle, clavicle, conventicle, curricle, cuticle, fascicle, follicle, icicle, particle, testicle, vehicle, ventricle. And where the /ɪ/ in /ˈɪkəl/ is stressed this ending is spelt <-ickle> - see section 4.3.3. (See section 6.10 for words ending in/ɪkliː/spelt <-ically>.) For the few polysyllabic words in which the ending /ɪk/ is not spelt <-ic> see Table 3.3.

101There is also a group of words ending in /əkəl/ spelt <-acle> which need to be mentioned here: barnacle, binnacle, coracle, manacle, miracle, obstacle, oracle, pinnacle, receptacle, spectacle, spiracle, tentacle, tabernacle. None seem to have pronunciations in/ɪkəl/, and only binnacle, pinnacle are exceptions to the rarity of doubled letters before such endings.

4.4.7 When do you reduce <ll> to <l>?

102There are some stem words which have <ll> when they stand alone, but sometimes <l> when they do not. As far as I can tell, this affects only the few adjectives ending in <ll>, adjectives ending in <-ble> when suffixed to become adverbs, and the words all, chill, fill, full, null, pall, roll, skill, stall, still, thrall, till (preposition) and will:

  • adjectives ending in <ll> lose an <l> before the adverbial ending <-ly>: drolly, dully, fully, shrilly (see also section 4.6.1)

  • similarly, adjectives ending in <-ble>, when combining with <-ly> to form adverbs, first lose the <e>, then lose an <l>, e.g. probably, visibly and not *probablely, *visiblely or even *probablly, *visiblly

  • all sometimes loses an <l> when it is a prefix: albeit, almighty, almost, already, although, altogether, always (but not usually *alright)

  • till loses an <l> in until

  • chill loses an <l> in chilblain (but not in windchill)

  • skill, will lose an <l> before-ful: skilful, wilful

  • full loses an <l> in the compound verb fulfil and the derived noun fulfilment, and in all the adjectives and nouns ending in -ful, e.g. beautiful, handful (but not in craw-full). The noun ful(l)ness has two spellings

  • fill also loses an <l> in the compound verb fulfil and the derived noun fulfilment, but because fulfil is a two-syllable verb with stress on the second syllable AND ending in <l>, it has <ll> before suffixes beginning with a vowel letter (and then is the same in British and US spelling): fulfilling, fulfilled (but contrast infill, refill)

  • five of the other six stems behave like fill when forming prefixed or suffixed verbs and nouns derived from them: annul, annulment, appal, enrol, enrolment, instil, instilment (a rare but real word), enthralment, thraldom (also spelt thralldom, for which see also section 10.42)

  • stall loses an <l> only in instalment and not in forestall, install, installation. The spelling *instal, for example, would suggest the pronunciation /ˈɪnstəl/, not /ɪnˈstɔːl/.

103Most of the words listed above lose an <l> in both British and US spelling, but in a few cases the single <l>’s listed above (usually) remain double in US spelling: skillful, willful, fulfill, fulfillment, fullness, appall, enroll, enrollment, instill, instillment, enthrall, enthrallment, installment.

104Extensions (1): Given… sixth, seventh, … sixteen, seventeen … and sixty, seventy..., one might have expected *eightth, *eightteen, *eightty, but these are always reduced to eighth, eighteen, eighty.

105Extensions (2): In dispirit-ed/ing, pastime, transpire, <ss> becomes <s>, and several compounds of mass (‘religious service’) end in -mas: Candlemas, Christmas, Lammas, Martinmas, Michaelmas. But less always retains its full spelling as a suffix, e.g. hopeless, useless.

106Extensions (3): The word meaning ‘male grandparent’ should, logically, be spelt Granddad but is almost always simplified (incorrectly, in my opinion) to Grandad (cf. sections 3.5.5, 9.23 on *Granma), and on 22/4/14 I came across *grandaughter on a birthday card website.

4.5 Learn the rest

107There are other more detailed tendencies and quasi-regularities. But they are complicated to state, and some require knowledge of etymology or very close attention to pronunciation; and all have exceptions. So other words (and there are many of them) you just have to learn. And, sadly, accommodation, with <cc> and <mm> (but <d>), and necessary, with <ss> (but <c>), are two of them.

4.6 Consolation prizes

4.6.1 Consonant letters are never written triple

108Well, almost never; the only words in English containing three consecutive identical consonant letters are said to be Invernessshire and Rossshire (though there is also still-life, which has to have the hyphen to make it conform to the rule). What this rule is really saying is that (for instance) when adjectives ending in <ll> have -ly added, the resulting adverb is written with <ll>, not *<lll>: e.g. drolly, fully, not *drollly, *fullly. This ensures that the separate word fully looks the same as the ending of adverbs derived from adjectives in-ful, e.g. beautifully. (In Estonian, which is said to have triple consonant phonemes, they are still written with double letters).

4.6.2 Final <CC> + <e>

109And there is another pattern which is pretty reliable. Where a word ends in a short vowel phoneme plus a consonant phoneme and then is written with a final <e>, the consonant letter is usually written double. Final /short vowel/ + <CC+e> is admittedly rare. It occurs mainly in words more recently borrowed from French (i.e. after the Great Vowel Shift), with a few imports from elsewhere, for example gaffe, bagatelle, fontanelle, gazelle, grille, vaudeville, programme, comedienne, grippe, steppe, finesse, impasse, largesse, etiquette, gazette, lorgnette, mignonette, omelette, palette, toilette, vignette, plus all the recent coinages ending <-ette> or <-ville>, e.g. ladette, launderette, dullsville. Braille, giraffe, pouffe and mousse can be considered as extensions to the pattern - the preceding vowel phonemes are long (in RP) - and carafe is a clear exception, with <f>. It is also noticeable that most of the polysyllables in this category have final-syllable stress – some exceptions are dullsville, etiquette, omelette, palette, programme, vaudeville, all with initial-syllable stress.

110The written pattern <-CC+e> occurs also in barre and bizarre, but here, since these words do not end in a /r/ phoneme (in RP), <arre> is a four-letter grapheme spelling the long vowel /ɑː/. Similarly, in parterre, <erre> is a four-letter grapheme spelling the diphthong /eə/. But all three words conform to the spelling pattern of final <-VCCe>, and the two disyllables have final-syllable stress.

Acheter