Spelling - Consonant doubling 2

Goals

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

Lesson plan

In an earlier resource (Consonant doubling 1) we looked at consonant-doubling patterns in short words. We covered examples where an ending (suffix) is added to a base word of only one syllable. In this resource we will complete the picture by looking at longer words, involving base words of more than one syllable.

The lesson includes an activity where students group words according to whether they double the final consonant letter when a suffix is added, or not. Students are asked to identify and make predictions about the patterns for this area of spelling.

Recap

We summed up our findings for one-syllable base words as follows:

  • 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.

Activity

Let’s look now at the patterns with longer base words. The ‘Otherwise, do not double’ part of the rule above works for them as well as for one-syllable base words: that is, there is no doubling when the base ends in more than one V or C (e.g. perishing, appearing). So we only need to look at longer base words ending with 1V1C.

Ask students to look at the set of examples on the 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?

Extra

This pattern based on stress is fairly general. Despite some exceptions, it does apply to a large number of words and so is worth knowing.

For instance, in his 2012 book Spell It Out the linguist David Crystal discusses the pattern with two-syllable verbs ending in r:

  • There are hundreds of them with stress on the first syllable (enter, suffer, number, proffer, etc.), which conform to the DON’T-DOUBLE rule when a suffix is added.
  • A smaller number have stress on the second syllable (e.g. prefer, confer, abhor) and fit the DOUBLE rule.

Crystal also notes that we follow this pattern with new verbs that enter the language, such as spider. On the Internet you can find examples like these:

  • Check if a website can be spidered.
  • How to stop most people from spidering your site and stealing content.

The meaning of this verb, as you may already know, relates to the term ‘Web spider’ – a program that browses and indexes the World Wide Web.

Notice that the stress is on the first syllable, and people have used DON’T-DOUBLE spellings. The use of the regular pattern with new verbs shows that it is a genuine pattern that we recognise.

Unfortunately, though, there are a number of exceptions to the general pattern. In particular, quite a few words double the consonant even when the stress is not on the final syllable of the base! Here are some examples:

  • 'signal, signalling, signalled, signaller
  • 'format, formatting, formatted
  • 'kidnap, kidnapping, kidnapped, kidnapper

These are UK spellings – sometimes US spellings are different (e.g. US signaling, signaled).

With these words, we can become familiar with their spellings through reading and encountering them in context. When writing, it is best to check a dictionary if in doubt, or use a spellchecker.

Summary

Let’s sum up what we have found, covering both shorter and longer words. Although there are some exceptions, especially among longer words, these patterns do apply to a large number of words.

  • When the suffix starts with a vowel sound, double the final consonant letter of the base word before the suffix:
    • if the base word consists of a single syllable, or ends in a final stressed syllable AND
    • 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.

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