Spelling - Consonant doubling 1

Goals

To learn and practise the spelling rules associated with base words ending in consonant letters when endings (suffixes) are added.

Lesson plan

The lesson is divided into a series of activities where students group words according to whether they double the final consonant letter when a suffix is added, or not. For each set of examples, students are asked to identify and make predictions about the patterns for this area of spelling.

Introduction

We often need to take care with spelling when we add a suffix (ending) to a word. If the word ends in a consonant, we sometimes need to double the consonant letter before adding the ending, e.g.:

  • sip + -ing → sipping
  • wet + -est → wettest

Sometimes, however, we don’t double the final consonant letter — think of waiting or fastest. So when should we double and when should we not double? In this resource and the next, we will explore some of the patterns. This resource focuses on words of only one syllable, while Part 2 looks at longer words.

Before starting, there’s something we need to clarify. The terms consonant and vowel are sometimes used to refer to letters and sometimes to sounds. When letters and sounds match up, this isn’t a problem, but when they don’t it can cause some confusion.

For example, how many consonants and vowels would you say there are in thief?

  • It depends whether we mean letters or sounds...
  • There are three consonant letters and two vowel letters.
  • But there are only two consonant sounds (one at the start and one at the end) and one vowel sound (in the middle).

We’re talking in this resource about spelling, which of course involves letters, and about ‘doubling consonants’, by which we mean ‘doubling consonant letters’. However, in looking at the patterns we will see that it is also useful to keep in mind the sounds of the words.

Where it is important to distinguish between letters and sounds, we will talk about consonant letters or vowel letters, and consonant sounds or vowel sounds (rather than just consonants or vowels).

Activity 1

Ask students to look at the set of examples on the first slide, and sort them into two different groups:

  • DOUBLE group: examples that double the final consonant of the base word (the word being added to).
  • DON’T DOUBLE group: examples that do not double the final consonant of the base word.

Students should drag the tile on to the group label at the bottom of the screen to add it to that group.

Once students have sorted the examples into two groups, ask them if they can find a pattern. When does the final consonant double and when does it not double? A clue is to look at the first letter of the suffixes (endings).

Activity 2

 Firstly, ask students to consider the following examples:

  • spot + -y → spotty
  • flop + -y → floppy
  • mud + -y → muddy

Do they fit the pattern we found in Activity 1 (don't double when the suffix starts with a consonant, but do double when the suffix starts with a vowel)?

  • In each case the ending -y is added, and we have consonant doubling.
  • The letter y represents a vowel sound in these words, while in some other words it represents a consonant sound (e.g. yet, young).
  • If we treat y as a vowel in these examples, they fit the pattern we found.

We can slightly reword our rule from Activity 1:

  • When the suffix starts with a consonant sound, do not double the final consonant letter of the base, e.g. fitful.
  • When the suffix starts with a vowel sound, double the final consonant letter of the base, e.g. fittest.

The first point holds true in most cases but we need to test the second point against some further examples, so from now on we will focus on examples where the suffix starts with a vowel sound (including a vowel sound represented by y).

Secondly, ask students to look at the set of examples on the slide, and sort them into two different groups. Then ask them if they can find a pattern. When does the final consonant double and when does it not double?

Activity 3

Firstly, ask students to consider the following examples. Students should try speaking these words aloud. Do they follow our rule from Activity 2 (don't double when the vowel sound before the final consonant is spelled with two letters, but do double when the vowel sound before the final consonant is spelled with a single letter)?

  • fruiting, quitting
  • blowing, playing
  • stirred, blurring

You may have noticed that both fruiting and quitting have the two letters ui before the final consonant of the base word. Yet fruiting has no consonant doubling while quitting does have doubling. So quitting seems to break our rule. However, in quit (and in many other words after a letter q), a letter u represents the consonant sound ‘w’, so there is only one letter used to spell the vowel sound in quit. Therefore it does not break our rule from Activity 2. We need the doubling here to mark the i before it (quitting) as a short vowel. (Without doubling we would have quiting and we might expect the first i to be a long vowel as it is in quite.)

What about blowing and playing? At first it looks as though these break our rule from Activity 2 because we don’t have ww or yy. However, the letters w and y can be used to represent consonant sounds (e.g. win, yes) or to represent (or help represent) vowel sounds. In blow we have the two letters ow used to represent the vowel sound, and in play the two letters ay. This means that blowing and playing do not break our rule.

What about examples like stirred and blurring? In the base words stir and blur, we could say that the two letters ir or ur represent a vowel sound in many dialects of English where the r is no longer pronounced as a consonant sound. In these dialects it is not sounded as a consonant in stirred or blurred either, but it is sounded in stirring and blurring. So r is rather special: we need to add a note to our doubling rule that final r is treated as if it spells a consonant sound, even if it isn’t actually sounded. This helps us to distinguish different vowel sounds: compare blurred and cured, for example, or stirring and firing. (The words cured and firing are formed from base words ending in e rather than in a consonant letter.)

Now ask students to look at the set of examples on the slide, and sort them into two different groups. Then ask them if they can find a pattern.

Summary

Rule for one-syllable base words:

  • When the suffix starts with a vowel sound, double the final consonant letter of the base word:
    • when it ends in 1V1C (only one vowel-spelling letter, and only one consonant letter other than x).
  • Otherwise, do not double.

Note: Treat final r as if it spells a consonant sound, even if it isn’t actually sounded.

This final version of the rule works quite well for base words of only one syllable, the kind we have been looking at so far. There are only a few exceptions, like woolly, woollen. (In these words the vowel sound is spelled with two letters, yet we have double l in British English spelling.)

Longer words are a little more complicated, and we will look at them in the next resource (Consonant doubling 2).

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