Double letters are the culprits of some of the biggest English grammar and spelling mistakes because they obey many different spelling rules and appear at different places in different words! Here are some of our top tips for spelling correctly with double letters – but don’t forget, you can always stay on the safe side by remembering to use a!
Double letter word endings
A good spelling rule to remember for word endings is that a double letter is usually used after a single vowel at the end of a short word. This goes for the consonants ‘l’, ‘f’, ‘s’ and ‘z’.
For example: wall, staff, miss and fizz
When the word is two syllables however (and the penultimate letter is still a single vowel), it is more likely to be a single letter ending.
For example: petal, pedal, minus
Another good way to work out whether a word should end in a double letter or not is to check where the emphasis comes in the word by sounding it out. Often if the stress is on the last syllable, the word will end in a double letter, but if the stress is not on the last syllable, the word will end in a single letter.
For example: foetus, album, petal, awful.
All these words have their emphasis on the first syllable and hence end in single letters.
But on the other hand: recall, unwell, remiss
All these words have their emphasis on the last syllable, so the double letter is used to create the heavier sound.
If this unfortunate sign-maker had been aware of this rule, he or she may have managed to correctly spell the word ‘Christmas’!
However there are still exceptions to this rule, which you will need to learn in order to avoid common spelling pitfalls. One would think that the word ‘business’, with its stress on the first syllable, ought to have the double ‘s’ earlier on in the word, as this unfortunate business owner guessed when writing his ‘for sale’ sign! But ‘business’ is an exception to the rule and you should learn its spelling carefully, as it is a word that comes up again and again!
Another big spelling problem with double letters is that they often form homophones – words which have exactly the same sound as another word but are spelled completely differently. As you can see from this unfortunate online newspaper headline, it is common to confuse the sound ‘ll’ with ‘le’ in word endings.
The only way to avoid this spelling pitfall is to learn the meanings of the different words and be especially careful when dealing with words ending double letters! Here are some commonly confused spelling pairs to watch out for!
Role and roll, pole and poll, butt and but
Multiple double letters
Finally, the most common double letter spelling mistakes of all arise in words which contain more than one set of double letters, or more than one set of the same letter where one set is single and one is double.
The only answer here is to carefully learn the correct spellings of the most commonly misspelled words – a step this unfortunate newspaper columnist certainly failed to take before tying herself up in misspelling knots!
It might be helpful to look at these common lists of words we often misspell by adding too many or taking away too few double letters!
People often forget double letters in:
Misspelled, embarrassing, millennium, balloon, occurrence, possession, success
People often add too many double letters in:
Recommend, disappear, finally, tomorrow, parallel, occasion, necessary
Final spelling top tip!
Another double letter pitfall comes when switching between British and American spelling. British spelling often adds a double letter where American spelling leaves it out.
American: canceling, labeled, programed
British: cancelling, labelled, programmed