Word Endings : Grammar and Spelling Tips
Word endings are easy to misspell. They are often unstressed, so the pronunciation does not give much help with the spelling. See Less Stress and More Worry for more on problems with unstressed syllables. There are several pairs of suffixes that differ only in the vowel they use:
• -ant and -ent : Words using a include arrogant, assistant, blatant, brilliant, defiant, flippant, malignant and vacant. Examples of words using e are absorbent, complacent, innocent, reminiscent, independent and transparent. Confident and dependent, with an e are adjectives; confidant and dependant are nouns. (But dissident and adolescent are spelled with an e whether they are being used as nouns or as adjectives.)
• -ance and -ancy, -ence and -ency : A noun ending in one of these suffixes usually has a corresponding adjective ending in -ant or -ent. For examples are dominance (dominant), expectancy (expectant), absence (absent), decency (decent). Where there is a pair like confident and confidant, use -ence to correspond to the adjective rather than the noun. Some verbs have a noun ending in -nce or -ncy corresponding to them but no adjective ending in -nt. In these cases it is almost always right to use a, e.g. annoyance (annoy); but watch out for conference, existence, and interference.
• -ary and -ery : It is very easy to confuse these two - or to spell them just as -ry. -ery is by far the less common and is almost always used to form nouns - e.g. confectionery, Jewellery. You may find this useful to remember if you tend to confuse stationery with stationary. It is the one ending in -ery that is the noun ('paper, writing materials') and the one ending in -ary that is the adjective meaning ' not moving'. -Ary can be used to form adjectives - such as complimentary or nouns - such as secretary.
• -able and -ible : These two endings are very often confused. The commoner ending is -able: words that finish with this include acceptable, admirable, available, comparable, indispensable and inseparable. All new words now created with this ending are spelled -able.
-ible is the correct suffix in words such as accessible, compatible, gullible, incredible and irresistible. Pairs of words with similar meaning but different suffixes include comprehensible and understandable, irritable and irascible.
One helpful thing to remember is that -ible is not used after vowels: there can be no doubt about which ending to use in words such as agreeable, invariable, permeable and replaceable.
Another quick check is that if you remove -able from a word, you are usually still left with a complete word whereas if you do the same with -ible you are not. But this is definitely a tricky area - best to look up the word in your Oxford dictionary!
• -ative and -itive : The short a in the ending of words like imaginative sounds very like the short i definitive or sensitive so it is easy to end up with spelling mistakes such as authorititive for authoritative. In fact -ative is much more common. It is used in words such as affirmative, alternative, demonstrative, illustrative, qualitative and vegetative. Common words ending in -itive include acquisitive, competitive, fugitive, inquisitive, intuitive and repetitive.
• -ise and -ize : Most words ending in -ise can also be spelled with a final -ize: for example antagonise, capitalise, centralise. For some words, however, you can only use the ending -ise. Some of the most common of these are advertise, advise, enterprise, exercise, improvise, revise, supervise, surprise, and televise.
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