When you hear /l/ at the end of a word with more than one syllable, it is often difficult for children to know whether to write ‘l’, ‘ll’, ‘le’, ‘el’ or ‘al’.
However, with some orthographic knowledge it is possible to deduce which is the most likely letter combination.
‘ll’ is most commonly used at the end of one syllable words after a short vowel (e.g., mill, well, doll). The only time you have double ‘ll’ at the end of a word with more than one syllable is if it is part of a compound word (e.g., windmill).
Every syllable needs a vowel. So, if you hear ‘l’ at the end of a word and you can’t hear a vowel sound, most commonly you will use ‘al’ or ‘le’. You use ‘al’ if you are adding a suffix onto a base or root word (e.g., magic – magical).
You use ‘le’ if it is a part of the word (e.g., little, candle).
One strategy I use is to ask my students to say the word without the /l/ sound and to see if they are left with a word. Remove the /l/ from ‘magical’ and you’re left with ‘magic’. ‘Magic’ is a word, so you add the suffix ‘al’ (which means ‘pertaining to’). Remove the /l/ from ‘candle’ and you’re left with ‘cand’ which is not a word. Therefore, the /l/ is part of the word and we use ‘le’.
However, there are a couple of points that need to be made regarding this strategy.
- Sometimes, if you remove the /l/, you are left with something that sounds like a word. If you take the /l/ off ‘little’, you’re left with /lit/ which is a word. In these instances, you need to ask one more question, “Does the word you are left with have the same type of meaning as the original word?” In this case, no, because ‘lit’ has nothing to do with ‘little’. Therefore, we know we are not adding a suffix to the base word ‘lit’.
- It is not so difficult to determine if you are adding on a suffix if you are left with a base word which has meaning in its own right (magical-magic). It is more difficult when you are left with a root word (which are usually of Latin or Greek origin and most commonly are not used in isolation) because it requires the student to recognise the root word. For example, ‘capital’ comes from the base word ‘capit’. See: http://membean.com/wrotds/capit-head
There is also a group of words in which you add ‘el’ rather than ‘le’. To identify these words, you need to know another rule: Double the first consonant in the ble, dle, fle, gle, ple, tle and zle pattern after a short vowel (e.g., the consonant is doubled in ‘bubble’ and ‘little’, but not ‘marble’ or ‘beetle’). This means that if the word does not fit one of these patterns (e.g., ‘nle’ and ‘wle’ are not one of the combinations), then you know the ‘e’ will go before rather than after the ‘l’ (e.g., tunnel, towel). Just be aware that you can have ‘cle’ and ‘kle’, but the reason that they’re not included in the above rules is that after a short vowel you use ‘ck’ (buckle) and that ‘cle’ is often a suffix (article).
As is common in English, you will find exceptions!!