Think of some words with double letters… there’s one; letter! Also book, been, running, funny, difficult, will, yellow, rabbit, arrive, cross, getting, travelling, better, dinner.
There are four things happening with double letters in English:
- There are words with double letter because of added suffixes: running, funny, forgotten
- There are double vowels: book, been, feed, vacuum, between
- There is a double letter at the end of a word: will, cross, jazz
- All the rest
Each of these has a slightly different rule so let’s do them all one by one, in this post…
Most English textbooks and information on English spelling will cover this, it’s pretty simple. When we want to add a bit on to the end of words like -ing -ed, -ent, -er, -est,- y it’s called a suffix. Some words double their final letter when you add a suffix like so…
- Run – running
- Hot – hotter
- Big – biggest
- Fun – funny
- Forget – forgetting
- Begin – beginner
- Occur – occurring
- Stop – stopped.
Have a look at the original, or stem, words – What kind of letters do you find at the end of the word? Vowels? Consonants? Each word ends with one vowel and one consonant.
So one vowel and one consonant mean you double the last letter when you add a suffix. Great, easy, right? Not so fast young Padawan. I’ve got some more words for you.
- Listen, happen, visit, budget, stay. Let’s add a suffix to them….
- listenning, happenning, visitting, budgetting, stayying. Oh no, I’ve got red squiggly lines under all of them, what’s going on Teacher?
This is about word stress. What’s that? It’s the way we say a word in English,usually one syllable of a word is stronger than the others. For example we say comPUTer not COMputer.
Try to say the words with the stress in different places – LISten or lisTEN? HAPpen or hapPEN? VIsit or viSIT? BUDget or budGET? Now try with the words that do double their last letter FORget or forGET? BEgin or beGIN? OCcur or ocCUR? And the answer is: listen, happen, visit and budget are stressed on the first syllable, forget, begin and occur on the second.
What about Stay? Stayying is incorrect because we just don’t like to see double Y in our words.
So the whole rule for suffixes is; double the last letter when the word ends with one vowel and one consonant, and is stressed on the second syllable.
The function of the double letter is to remind us that the vowel is short. Really adding the extra consonant doesn’t make a lot of difference to the pronunciation,as we still stick to the pronunciation of the stem word.
In British English we like to spell travelling, cancelling with double L even though the stem words travel and cancel are stressed on the first syllable. In American English traveling and canceling are correct.
All these flights got cancelled (must be in Britain).
Still to come in the double letter chronicles… we’ll look at double vowels, words that end with double letters and other words with double letters. Stay tuned.