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It's really important to spell words correctly in your IELTS Listening, Reading, and Writing tests. Any spelling errors may impact your score, making it challenging to achieve your desired band score. To support you, we've compiled a comprehensive guide to spelling rules to improve your spelling skills.

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Spelling rules: Essential terms and definitions

Before we dive into the details, let’s start by understanding some basic terms first.

Terms

Definitions

Vowels

The letters a,e,i,o and u are vowels.

Consonants

The other 21 letters of the alphabet, any letter that is not a vowel.

Syllable

A word or a section of a word with a single sound. E.g key has one syllable, happy (hap-py) has two syllables, impressive (im-pres-sive) has three and intelligent (in-tel-li-gent) has four.

Suffix

A suffix is a group of letters put at the end of a word to change its meaning or its usage. E.g -ing, -able, -ed, -ly, -ful.

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Basic spelling rules to know

1. The letter "q" is always followed by "u" and then a vowel.

e.g: quarter, queen, quiz, antique, require, quote.

2. "i" before "e", except after "c" and when it sounds like "a".

(a) I before E

This is usually when the word has the long ë sound as in "piece" e.g: niece, believe, cashier

(b) Except after C

e.g: deceive, ceiling, receive.

(c) When it sounds like A

e.g: weigh, neighbour, beige.

There are some exceptions to the rule:

e.g: ancient, efficient, sufficient, eight, vein, weird, height, weird.

Common suffixes and their meanings

A suffix is a part of a word added at the end to change its meaning or type. Suffixes can turn nouns into verbs. Here's a simple table illustrating some common suffixes and their meanings:

Suffix

Meaning

Example

-er

one who does

teacher

-ful

full of

playful

-less

without

fearless

-ing

action or process

eating

-ed

past tense

jumped

-ly

in a certain way

quickly

-able, -ible

capable of

comfortable

-ment

result or product

improvement

-tion,-sion

state or quality

celebration

-est

most

calmest

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Adding suffixes to words

Adding suffixes to words can be challenging to learn and master, but the table below with the basic rules for suffix spelling will guide you in using them accurately.

Type of word

Type of suffix

Basic rule

Examples

Ending in "e"

Beginning with a vowel (e.g -ed, -ing, -able, -ion)

delete the "e" at the end.

change > changing > changed > changer > changeable

Ending in "e"

Beginning with a consonant. (e.g. -ness, -ly, -ful, -fully)

keep the "e" at the end

hope > hopeful > hopefully > hopeless

Ending in "l" when it comes after a single vowel

-ing, -ed

use double "l"

control > controlling; controlled

Ending in "l" when it comes after two vowels

-ing, -ed

use a single "l"

peel > peeling > peeled

Ending in "n"

-ness

use double "n"

green > greenness

Ending in "y"

-ly, -ed, -age, -est, -er, -ment, -ness

replace the "y" at the end with "i", except when the suffix begins with an i.

carry > carried > carrier > carrying

When the letter before the final "y" is a vowel

-ed, -ing, -ful

keep the "y" at the end

play > played > playing

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Rules for plurals

plural noun is a word that indicates that there is more than one person, animal place, thing, or idea. Learning how to make nouns plural can be tricky so here's a guide that breaks down plural spelling rules to help you understand better.

Type of noun

Basic rule

Examples

Regular nouns

Add -s

bottle - bottles; table - tables

Words ending in "y" and it comes after a consonant

Replace "y" with "ie" and add -s

baby - babies; story - stories

Words ending in "y" and it comes after a vowel (except "u")

Add -s

days - days; key - keys

Words ending in "o" and it comes after a vowel

Add -s

radio - radios; rodeo - rodeos

Words ending in "o" and it comes after a consonant

Add -es

hero - heroes; tomato - tomatoes. Some execptions include: Photo - photos; piano - pianos

Words ending in "f" or "fe"

Replace "f" or "fe" to "v" and add - es

wife - wives; loaf - loaves. Some exceptions include: roof - roofs; giraffe - giraffes

Words ending in "ss", "sh", "ch", "s", "x", "zz"

Add -es

dress - dresses; wish - wishes; church - churches ; gas - gases; fox- foxes; fizz - fizzes

Nouns that do not follow any of the rules listed above:

Singular

Plural

goose

geese (vowel change)

woman

women (vowel change)

mouse

mice (change in spelling)

child

children (change in spelling)

person

people (change in spelling)

sheep

sheep (no change)

shrimp

shrimp (no change)

fungus

fungi (change -us to - i)

cactus

cacti (change -us to - i)

alumnus

alumni (change -us to - i)

crisis

crises (change -is to -es)

analysis

analyses (change -is to -es)

phenomenon

phenomena (change -on to - a)

criterion

criteria (change -on to - a)

Tip: There's no simple way to understand these common exceptions to the rule. We recommend that you memorise them

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How to prepare for IELTS

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Achieving a great IELTS score takes time and planning. You can’t just book and take your test in a matter of days – no matter how strong your English skills are. Successful test takers create a schedule to help them study everything they need to know before they sit an IELTS test. They make time to practise all four English skills – ListeningReadingWriting and Speaking – as the format of each part of the test is different.

If they have trouble with a topic, they attend a FREE Masterclass with an IELTS expert who can teach them how to improve. When they’re almost ready to take IELTS, they will complete as many practice tests as they can find. 

So, when there are hundreds of resources to help you study, where do you begin? Click here to access your go-to guide to IELTS preparation. All of our most important materials – both free and paid – are listed here, divided by category.

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