Inflectional Endings Overview

Inflectional Endings

An inflectional ending is a group of letters added to the end of a word to change its meaning. They have spelling and pronunciation rules that are very helpful for a developing reader to learn. To learn these rules, we teach students to pay attention to the last letters of the base word.

Inflectional vs. Derivational Morphemes

Inflectional endings are often confused with derivational morphemes; although they are similar to one another, they are unique in their purpose within English.


An inflectional morpheme/ ending is added to a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb for the purpose of assigning a particular grammatical property to the word in question. Inflectional endings assign tense (past tense “-ed”/ preset tense “-ing”), number (plural “-s”), possession (“-‘s”), or comparison (“-er/ -est”).

–          Inflectional endings do not change the base meaning or grammatical category of the word.

–          All inflectional morphemes are at the end of a word (hence ‘inflectional endings’)

–          There can only be one inflectional morpheme per word


Derivational morphemes tend to alter the grammatical category of the word.

–          Derivational morphemes change verbs to nouns, nouns to adjectives, nouns to verbs etc.

–          There can be multiple derivational morphemes per word (prefixes and suffixes)

Types and Purposes of Inflectional Endings

‘-ED’ Endings

To make most verbs past tense, we add the ending ‘-ed.’

It is important for reading students to know that this syllable does not often sound the way it looks. Rather than saying /ed/, the ‘ed’ ending makes the sound /t/ as in “walked,” /d/ as in “saved,” and /id/ as in “lifted.” Our language also has several irregular verbs, which do not change to past tense by merely adding an ending; they change to a different word altogether. For example, the word “run” doesn’t become

In general, just add ‘ed,’

            walk to walked

If the base word ends in ‘e,’ add only ‘d’

            save to saved

If the vowel says its sound and there is a single consonant after, double the consonant

            hop to hopped (compare to hoped)

If the base word ends in vowel+’y,’ add ‘ed’

            play to played

If the base word ends in consonant+’y,’ change ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘ed’

            cry to cried

‘-ING’ Endings

To make a word present tense, we add the ending ‘ing.’

In general, just add ‘ing’

            walk to walking

If the base word ends in ‘e,’ remove ‘e’ and add ‘ing’

            save to saving

If the vowel says its sound and there is a single consonant after, double the consonant

            hop to hopping (compare to hoping)

If the base word ends in vowel+’y,’ simply add ‘ing’

            play to playing

If the base word ends in consonant+’y,’ simply add ‘ing’

            cry to crying

‘-S/ES’ Endings

To make a word plural, we add ‘s’ to the end. Certain words require the ending ‘es’ instead.

In general, simply add ‘s’

            walk to walks

If the base word ends in ‘e,’ add ‘s’

            save to saves

If the vowel says its sound and there is a single consonant after, add ‘s’

            hop to hops

If the base word ends in vowel+’y,’ add ‘s’

            play to plays

If the base word ends in consonant+’y,’ change ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘es’

            cry to cries

If the base word ends in S, Z, X, SH, or CH, add ‘es.’ This adds a syllable and is pronounced /iz/.

            misses, fizzes, foxes, brushes, lunches.

‘-ER’ and ‘-EST’ Endings

To compare two things, we use the ending ‘er.’ To compare three or more things, we use ‘est.’

In general, just add ‘er’ or ‘est’

            tall to taller, tallest

If the base word ends in ‘e,’ remove the ‘e’ and add ‘er’ or ‘est’

            nice to nicer, nicest

If the vowel says its sound and there is a single consonant after, double the consonant

            thin to thinner, thinnest

If the word ends in vowel+’y,’ simply add ‘er’ or ‘est’

            gray to grayer, grayest

If the word ends in consonant+’y,’ change ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘er’ or ‘est’

            silly to sillier, silliest

The -le Endings

Once students learn about multiple syllable words, how to break them down into individual syllables, and how open and closed syllables affect the word, they can then move on to learning about different endings that add an extra syllable.

Before they jump into endings that change the tense of a word, they learn about a very common ending that can only be understood with a base knowledge of multiple syllables:  the -le ending. Being able to understand the nuances of this ending will help students when decoding or spelling words with this ending.

Tutor: “Let’s talk about another ending we have in multisyllable words. What would ‘-le’ say at the end of a word?”

Student: “Lee.”

Tutor: “You would think so, but we already have an ending for /lee/ ‘ly.’ How about in this word.” The tutor writes out the word ‘table.’

Student: “/tay-bull/”

Tutor: “Perfect! This ‘le’ ending is a rule breaker. Instead of saying /lee/ it will say /ul/. Also it doesn’t follow the rules for syllable division. The ‘le’ will actually grab another consonant that’s in front of it. So when we divide ta/ble the le is taking the b with it. That means the first syllable is open and the vowel is saying its name.”

“What about the word puddle? Is the first syllable vowel saying its name or sound?”

Student: “/p/…/u/  its sound!”

Tutor: “Right you are. Because we want the vowel to say its sound, and because the “le” breaks the rules and takes a consonant, we get to double up the ‘d’ in puddle.”

“Now -le can only grab specific consonants.”

The tutor makes the “le card” with: ble, cle, dle, fle, gle, kle, ple, sle, tle, zle

“Here’s the catch.”

Student: “There’s always a catch!”

Tutor: “I know. The catch is there are three exceptions to the “-le” ending. They are ‘m, n, and v.’ With these letters instead of ‘le’ we are going to use ‘el’. So I will put mel, nel, vel on your card at the bottom. Even though we switched the letters, they will still say /ul/, as in “ the camel travels through the tunnel.” Pretty cool right?”

Student: “I guess…”

Tutor: “Don’t forget, we can double the consonant to make a closed syllable so the vowel will say its sound.”

Syllable Division and Open vs Closed Syllables

After a student learns the basics about syllables based on auditory cues, they are ready to learn syllable division of written words. Multisyllable words can have a lot of letters, and we need a plan or strategy for figuring out what all those letters say. When we come to an unknown multisyllable word, we can use syllable division to break the word into smaller, manageable chunks.

Syllable division is an important decoding skill. Because every syllable has exactly one vowel sound, we use vowels to navigate as we search for syllables. When introducing this concept to a student, we’ll write “CVCCVC” to represent a model word where ‘c’ stands for a consonant sound and ‘v’ for a vowel sound. A real word that fits this model exactly would be “batman.” Colorado Reading Center has found that the simplest and most accurate method is to start at the end of the word and move forward, right to left. Once we find the first vowel sound from the end, we imagine that the vowel has a little arm that reaches out and grabs the consonant to its left. We divide the syllable to the left of that consonant: CVC/CVC. On our real word example: “bat/man.”

The student then practices this breaking technique on a new model word: CVCVC. Following the instructions, the student starts at the end, finds the vowel, imagines the vowel grabbing the consonant in front, and divides the word to the left of that consonant: CV/CVC.  A real word example for this would be: “ro/bin.”


With these two model words divided (CVC/CVC and CV/CVC) we now teach the student about open and closed syllables. In the first syllable of our first word, the vowel is closed in by the consonant after it. We call this type of syllable a closed syllable, and the vowel has to say its sound. For example, the ‘a’ in “bat” will always say its sound. In the first syllable of our second word, the vowel is not closed in. This is an open syllable and the vowel gets a choice. It can say its name or its sound. Consider “ro/bin” and “jo/ker.” Both first syllables are open, so the vowel says its sound in “ro” and its name in “jo.”


The -ll/ff/ss ‘Floss’ Rule

To finish up the ‘blockers’ rules, we teach students about the double ff, ll, ss rule (sometimes referred to as the ‘Floss Rule’).  Rather than adding a different consonant to block the vowel, we double the end consonant, and, strangely, for only the letters ‘l’, ‘f’, and ‘s’.   Any word that has a short vowel sound (vowel saying it’s sound) and ends with one of these letters will need that letter to be doubled for the same reason as all of our other blocker rules; this ‘protects’ the vowel from changing when a tense is changed or endings are added to the word.

“The last blocker rule we will learn is somewhat different from the others.  We will now talk about doubling the final consonant in words.  The funny thing is that we don’t do this consistently with all consonants.  The only ones that it works for consistently are L, F and S.  Therefore, we will call this the double ll, double ff, double ss rule.  Can you think of any words that use these double consonants at the end?”

Student: “Bill, stuff and grass.”

Tutor: “Right!  Many common words use these endings, but we don’t say the sound twice, do we?  So, we need to have some way of predicting when to double.  Now the other rules we’ve learned had 2 parts, but since there are 3 consonants that we double, there will be 3 parts to this rule.”

Student: “I am intrigued beyond belief, please tell me more.”

Tutor: “Now, whenever we have a vowel saying its sound, and a (/l/), a (/f/) or a (/s/) come right after the vowel AND that is the last sound in the word, we double the L, F, or S.  Why do you think we do that?”

Student: “In case we add an ending like –ed?”

Tutor: “You’re right!  Just as with –tch and –ck, we are doubling here to protect the vowel just in case we add an ending like –ed later on.  That ending doesn’t have to be there though, because we use the double consonant regardless.  Now let’s look at some words that use ll/ff/ss.”


The -ck Expectancy

Now that students have a general understanding of blocking rules, we introduce them to a couple more variations of that concept by continuing with the -ck expectancy.  The -ck rule functions the exact same as blocker -dge and copycat -tch but is just a different sound after the vowel.  To ‘protect’ the vowel with a /k/ sound following it, we use the letter ‘c’ before the ‘k’ to create the double consonant that ‘blocks’ any tense changes or endings added that could possibly affect the vowel’s function.

By this point the student is fairly familiar with the concept of blockers.  The –ck rule should be introduced just as the –tch rule.  The only thing that changes is the sound after the vowel.

Tutor: “Now, whenever we have a vowel saying its sound, followed by a /k/ sound we use –ck.  Just as with –tch, we are using the C-blocker just in case we add –ed later on (backed vs. baked).

The -tch ‘Copy Cat’ Rule

After the student has had some practice with the ‘-dge’ rule, we introduce a very similar rule. This is the ‘-tch’ rule, also called the “copycat rule.”

Tutor: “The next blocker rule we are going to learn is very much like the ‘-dge’ rule you just learned. Today we are going to learn about spelling words that end with the sound /ch/. What letters are you thinking of for that sound?”

Student: “C-H.”

Tutor: “Great. Just like the /j/ sound at the end of a word, the /ch/ also needs a blocker. And just as we had the ‘d’ as the blocker for the ‘dge’ rule, we use the ‘t’ as the blocker for the ‘tch’ rule.  When we have a vowel saying its sound followed by the /ch/, we always use ‘tch.’  But, what are we blocking? (Tutor spells fetch as F-E-C-H)  Wouldn’t fetch still say the same thing without the T?”

Student: “Yes it would.  I’m not sure why we are adding an extra letter.  It seems like we don’t need it.”

Tutor: “This one is a little tricky.  At first it looks like the ‘t’ is unnecessary.  But check out what happens if I wanted to say the dog “fetched” (F-E-C-H-E-D) the ball.  Could that final ‘e’ jump over the ‘ch’?”

Student: “I guess if it can jump over ‘th,’ it can also jump over ‘ch.’”

Tutor: “It can!  So we use ‘tch’ just in case we add an ending like ‘-ed’ later on.  The important thing to remember is that the ‘-ed’ doesn’t even have to be there.  We use the blocker regardless.  Also, unlike the ‘dge’ rule which works very consistently, there are a few exceptions to the ‘tch’ rule.  There are four common words that don’t follow the rule.  They are SUCH, MUCH, RICH and WHICH.  In each word we have a vowel saying its sound and the /ch/ sound comes right after, but none of them end with ‘-tch.’  We will need to commit these four words to memory.”

The -dge ‘Blocker D’ Rule

As students develop their literacy skills, they will need to learn some expectancies to help them read and spell more challenging words. The first one we teach is the ‘dge’ rule, or Blocker D.

The letter ‘j’ will never be the last letter in an English word. You don’t use a ‘brij’ to cross over a river.  So how do we spell words that end with the /j/ sound? We use Borrower G! The letters ‘ge’ at the end of a word will say /j/.

Simply adding ‘ge’ to the end can sometimes create a new problem because of the final ‘e.’ A ‘brige’ won’t get you very far. We need something to block the ‘e’ from changing the vowel sound (recall the Final E rule).

This is where ‘Blocker D’ comes in. A silent ‘d’ will block the ‘e’ from changing the vowel sound. If you end the word with ‘dge,’ your ‘bridge’ will carry you to the other side.

Therefore we need to ask two questions to see if we need to use ‘dge’ when spelling:

1.     Does the vowel say its sound?

2.     Is the ‘j’ sound right after the vowel?

If you answered “yes” to both questions, use blocker ‘d!’

The word ‘huge’ doesn’t need a ‘d’ because the ‘u’ is saying its name. The word ‘large’ also doesn’t need a ‘d’ because there is an ‘r’ between the vowel and the ‘ge.’

The Borrowers: Part Five – The Letter Q(u)

When you think of the letter ‘q’, what sound do you think of this letter making?  Are you able to think of a word that doesn’t have a ‘u’ directly following the ‘q’? Pretty difficult, huh? Most words that exist in English with a ‘q’ and no ‘u’ are derived from Semitic languages and are considered loanwords (a word adopted from one language and incorporated into another language without translation – for example, “Iraq”, “Qur’an”, and “Qatar”). The digraph (a digraph is a combination of two letters that create one sound) ‘qu’ has a lot of history to it, and to fully understand why so many words need a ‘u’ following the ‘q’ in the English language, one has to understand the origins of letter ‘q’ and the original functions associated with this letter.

It is no secret that the English language has been influenced by a variety of other languages. While English is not a Romance language like French or Spanish (which are heavily influenced by Latin), English takes a lot of different concepts from those two in addition to German, Latin, and many more.  The letter ‘q’ in particular is derived from Ancient Greece, specifically the Greek letter Koppa -pictured in a few forms below – and as you can see, ‘Q/q’ resembles the same shape as Koppa.


The Ancient Greeks used Koppa to represent the sounds /k/ and /g/, but only when those sounds were followed by a round vowel sound (a sound that, when said, creates a roundness in the lips; ex. /oe/ in “note”, or /oo/ in “fool”).  There was another letter to represent the same /k/ and /g/ sounds with other sound pairings in Ancient Greece: the letter ‘c’.  As those sounds became represented more and more frequently with the letter ‘c’, the letter ‘q’ became dependent on being followed by the letter ‘u’ to express any sound at all.

The other major influence of ‘qu’ in the English language has to do with the Norman invasion of England in 1066.  Once the Frenchmen invaded England and took control, they began changing the spelling of words within English that were spelled with ‘cw’ to ‘qu’.  For example, the word ‘queen’ was originally spelled as ‘cwen’ in old English.  There are also words that we use in English that are derived directly from the French language and are expressed with the addition of ‘e’ to ‘qu’ which reverts this digraph back to the original sound for the letter ‘q’: /k/.  This spelling only comes at the ends of words in English. Consider the words: ‘unique’, ‘bisque’, and ‘antique’.

Now that we’ve had a brief history lesson on the origins of the ‘qu’ diagraph, let’s talk about how we can break down this combination to better understand the functions and uses of ‘qu’ within the English language. Standing alone, the letter ‘q’ makes a /k/ sound.  Pair that with the letter ‘u’ (/u/), and the sound that is created is /kw/, hence why we refer to this ‘rule’ as a ‘borrower’.  Consider the words: ‘queen’, ‘quiz’, and ‘equal’; whether at the beginning or in the middle of the word, the ‘qu’ sound does not change.  Then, we talk about how, when ‘qu’ falls at the end of a word, the letter ‘e’ is required so that the sound then becomes /k/.

By breaking down the understanding of the letter ‘q’ with the addition of ‘u’ and then ‘e’, students are better able to decode unknown words with this tricky digraph. Phonics is essentially the system behind how letters function on their own and with other letters, and is an invaluable tool for students who struggle due to Dyslexia. Below is an example dialogue for introducing this concept.

Tutor: “Q is an interesting letter in our language.  It happens to be the only letter that cannot exist on its own.  Do you know what letter always follows Q?”

Student: “U”

Tutor: “Correct!  Q must always be followed by U.  Just like with borrowers X and Y, Qu borrows different sounds depending on where it is located in the word. So, what are the 3 places Qu could be found in a word?”

Student: “Beginning, middle or end.”

Tutor: “Are you a mind reader?  Right again!  Can you think of any words that begin with Qu?”

Student: “Quiz, queen, and quarrel.”

Tutor: “Perfect!  Now, let’s think about what we hear at the beginning of each of those words.  What sounds was Qu borrowing in each?”

Student: “KW”

Tutor:  “You got it!  Anytime Qu is at the beginning of a word, it will say /KW/.”

The tutor will repeat this process for the middle and end, being very careful to emphasize that no words end with –qu, so we have to use –que instead. Also, note that the ‘e’ does not jump over a vowel to make it say its name.

Tutor: “Now let’s look at some nonsense words and real words that use Qu.”


The Borrowers: Part Four – The Letter X

Let’s be honest: thinking of a letter borrowing something is pretty absurd.  Especially when the thing it’s borrowing is another letter’s sound. This concept is even more strange for students who are just beginning to learn about the English language and how letters function on their own and within individual words.  Pair that with affixes, endings, and tense changes and it’s no wonder students and nonstudents alike struggle all over the world to grasp the basics of English. By breaking down some of the trickier letters in the English language, students are able to use this newfound understanding to approach unknown words that may utilize these tricky letters.

One of those letters that is better understood with the ‘borrower’ concept is the letter ‘x’.  On its own, letter ‘x’ doesn’t actually have a sound.  Well it does, but that sound is the combination of two other letters’ sounds from the English alphabet: ‘k’ and ‘s’ which, combined says /ks/.  Read these two words and see how this applies: ‘fax’ versus ‘faks’.   They sound the exact same even with obvious spelling differences.  To make things even more difficult, the /ks/ sound that ‘x’ makes only applies when ‘x’ falls in the middle of the word or at the end of a word, and even then, there are rules to know to clarify exactly when that sound will occur.

Before diving into that, think about a word with ‘x’ at the beginning, and the word ‘X-ray’ does not count.  Here’s a few: ‘Xerox’, ‘xylophone’, and (look up words with ‘x’ at beginning). Those words are not said with a /ks/ sound for the ‘x’; they are said with a /z/ sound. As of right now, we have two separate sounds for the letter ‘x’ using three different letters (‘k’, ‘s’, ‘z’), and there is still one more sound to consider.

Now, read these words: ‘example’, ‘exit’, ‘exemplary’.  Do you hear a /ks/ sound?  What about a /z/ sound? Hopefully you answered yes to the second question, but also realize that it isn’t as simple as a single /z/ sound.  In the previous three words, look at the letters that come directly after the ‘x’ – all of them are vowels.  When a vowel comes after an ‘x’ in the middle of a word, the /ks/ sound that would normally occur changes to a /gz/ sound because a person’s vocal cords are now being used immediately following the ‘x’, thus the sound of the ‘x’ changes as well.  Compare that to a word where the ‘x’ is followed by a consonant (ex. ‘explain’, ‘explicit’, and ‘excellent’), and the difference in that ‘x’ sound becomes more apparent.

At this point, in total, the letter ‘x’ uses a combination of four other letters’ sounds: ‘k’, ‘s’, ‘z’, and ‘g’.  Being able to understand why and when this happens within the English language gives students, struggling or not, a better grasp on how to read words they are unfamiliar with that use ‘x’.  Not only that, but students can also apply this rule to spelling when they are writing and using words that have ‘x’ in them. By having these ‘borrowing’ concepts explained, the surprise of varying sounds from individual letters is better understood and allows the student to be prepared rather than caught off guard or unsure. Below is an example dialogue for introducing this concept.

Tutor: “The next borrower we are going to learn is X.  Borrower X is a lot like Y in that it borrows different sounds depending on where it is in the word.  So once again, what are the 3 places X could be at in a word?”

Student: “Beginning, middle and end.”

Tutor: “You got it!  So I am going to draw a card with three boxes on it.  One for X at the beginning, one for the middle and one for the end.  Can you think of any words that begin with X?”

Student: “X-Ray”

Tutor: “That’s a word I thought of too.  But here is the problem.  X-ray is spelled with a hyphen, so it truly doesn’t begin with the letter X.  And besides, do consonants ever get to say their name?”

Student: “I suppose they don’t.”

Tutor: “Let’s think of a word like xylophone.  What sound is X borrowing in that word?”

Student: “Z”

Tutor: “You’re right!  At the beginning of a word, X will borrow the /z/ sound.  Was it kind of hard to think of words that begin with X?”

Student: “It was unbearably difficult.”

Tutor: “The reason is that X is very rare at the beginnings of words. (The tutor may opt to show the student just how few words there are in the dictionary that begin with X.)  However, many more words have X in the middle….”

The tutor should now repeat this process for words that have X in the middle and end.



The Borrowers: Part Three – The Letter G

After a student has learned Borrower C, we introduce Borrower G. The visual aid for this rule is also a train track. During the introduction, the tutor should point out the similarities and differences between the diagrams for ‘C’ and ‘G’.

Tutor: Believe it or not, there is another borrower rule that is related to Borrower C.  It is Borrower G.

Student: Don’t we already have a sound for ‘G’?

Tutor: You’re right, we do. ‘G’ is unlike the other borrowers because it DOES have a sound of its own – /g/. But, ‘G’ is greedy.  Not only does ‘G’ like to say his own sound, he also likes to take the sound of another letter.  Do you know what other sound ‘G’ can make?

Student: /j/?

Tutor: That’s right! Just like in giraffe or page.  So our job is to predict when ‘G’ will make its own sound, or when it could borrow the sound of ‘J’ instead.  To do this, we need another train!

Tutor: Let’s take a look at the Borrower C picture so you can see how these two trains are the same and the important ways they’re different. Just like the ‘C’-train, it is the same three magic letters that make ‘G’ change – ‘I’ ‘E’ and ‘Y.’ However, what difference do you see when the ‘G’-train comes to the sign post?

Student: It looks like the train has a choice.

Tutor: Exactly! Because ‘G’ has a sound of its own, it always has a choice of keeping it.  The problem is that there is no way to predict whether the ‘G’ will say /g/ or /j/.  It is up to us to decide which way is correct.  Take for instance the word gem.  There are actually two ways of saying this word.  If I make the ‘G’ say /g/, it would sound almost like saying gum: gem.  Does that sound like a word to you?

Student: No way!

Tutor: Right. So we would say in this case that the ‘G’ is going to say /j/ instead: jem.  Now that is a word I know!  Any time ‘G’ has an ‘I,’ ‘E,’ or ‘Y’ behind it the ‘G’ has a CHOICE of whether it says /g/ or /j/ and it always up to the reader to decide which way is correct.

Student: I think I get it!

Tutor: But, there is one time we take ‘G’s choice away. When we have the letters ‘–ge’ at the END of a word, we force the ‘G’ to say /j/.  Why do you think that is?

Student: Hmmm. I don’t know.

Tutor: Believe it or not, if I went through the entire dictionary, I wouldn’t be able to find one word that ends with the letter ‘J.’  We just don’t use ‘J’s at the end of a word.  So, if I can’t use the letter ‘J’ at the end, what is the only other way to spell that sound?

Student: ‘-ge.’

Tutor:  Yes!  And that is why ‘–ge’ at the end can’t have a choice.  There just isn’t any other way to spell that sound at the end of a word.  Now let’s look at some nonsense words and real words that use BorrowerG.