National Curriculum KS2 Y5 & Y6: Spelling

Statutory requirements

Pupils should be taught to:

  • use further prefixes and suffixes and understand the guidance for adding them
  • spell some words with ‘silent’ letters [for example, knight, psalm, solemn]
  • continue to distinguish between homophones and other words which are often confused
  • use knowledge of morphology and etymology in spelling and understand that the spelling of some words needs to be learnt specifically, as listed in English Appendix 1 [see the table below on this page]
  • use dictionaries to check the spelling and meaning of words
  • use the first three or four letters of a word to check spelling, meaning or both of these in a dictionary
  • use a thesaurus.
Statutory requirements Rules and guidance (non-statutory) Example words (non-statutory)
Endings which sound like /ʃəs/ spelt –cious or –tious Not many common words end like this. If the root word ends in –ce, the /ʃ/ sound is usually spelt as c – e.g. vice – vicious, grace – gracious, space – spacious, malice – malicious. Exception: anxious. vicious, precious, conscious, delicious, malicious, suspicious, ambitious, cautious, fictitious, infectious, nutritious
Endings which sound like /ʃəl/ –cial is common after a vowel letter and –tial after a consonant letter, but there are some exceptions.
Exceptions: initial, financial, commercial, provincial (the spelling of the last three is clearly related to finance, commerce and province).
official, special, artificial, partial, confidential, essential
Words ending in –ant, –ance/–ancy, –ent, –ence/–ency Use –ant and –ance/–ancy if there is a related word with a /æ/ or /eɪ/ sound in the right position; –ation endings are often a clue. Use –ent and –ence/–ency after soft c (/s/ sound), soft g (/dʒ/ sound) and qu, or if there is a related word with a clear /ɛ/ sound in the right position. observant, observance, (observation), expectant (expectation), hesitant, hesitancy (hesitation), tolerant, tolerance (toleration), substance (substantial)
There are many words, however, where the above guidance does not help. These words just have to be learnt. innocent, innocence, decent, decency, frequent, frequency, confident, confidence (confidential), assistant, assistance, obedient, obedience, independent, independence
Words ending in –able and –ible
Words ending in –ably and –ibly
The –able/–ably endings are far more common than the –ible/–ibly endings. As with –ant and –ance/–ancy, the –able ending is used if there is a related word ending in –ation. adorable/adorably (adoration), applicable/applicably (application), considerable/considerably (consideration), tolerable/tolerably (toleration)
If the –able ending is added to a word ending in –ce or –ge, the e after the c or g must be kept as those letters would otherwise have their ‘hard’ sounds (as in cap and gap) before the a of the –able ending. changeable, noticeable, forcible, legible
The –able ending is usually but not always used if a complete root word can be heard before it, even if there is no related word ending in –ation. The first five examples opposite are obvious; in reliable, the complete word rely is heard, but the y changes to i in accordance with the rule. dependable, comfortable, understandable, reasonable, enjoyable, reliable
The –ible ending is common if a complete root word can’t be heard before it but it also sometimes occurs when a complete word can be heard (e.g. sensible). possible/possibly, horrible/horribly, terrible/terribly, visible/visibly, incredible/incredibly, sensible/sensibly
Adding suffixes beginning with vowel letters to words ending in –fer The r is doubled if the –fer is still stressed when the ending is added. referring, referred, referral, preferring, preferred, transferring, transferred
The r is not doubled if the –fer is no longer stressed. reference, referee, preference, transference
Use of the hyphen Hyphens can be used to join a prefix to a root word, especially if the prefix ends in a vowel letter and the root word also begins with one. co-ordinate, re-enter, co-operate, co-own
Words with the /i:/ sound spelt ei after c The ‘i before e except after c’ rule applies to words where the sound spelt by ei is /i:/.
Exceptions: protein, caffeine, seize (and either and neither if pronounced with an initial /i:/ sound).
deceive, conceive, receive, perceive, ceiling
Words containing the letter-string ough ough is one of the trickiest spellings in English – it can be used to spell a number of different sounds. ought, bought, thought, nought, brought, fought, rough, tough, enough, cough, though, although, dough, through, thorough, borough, plough, bough
Words with ‘silent’ letters (i.e. letters whose presence cannot be predicted from the pronunciation of the word) Some letters which are no longer sounded used to be sounded hundreds of years ago: e.g. in knight, there was a /k/ sound before the /n/, and the gh used to represent the sound that ‘ch’ now represents in the Scottish word loch. doubt, island, lamb, solemn, thistle, knight
Homophones and other words that are often confused In the pairs of words opposite, nouns end –ce and verbs end –se. Advice and advise provide a useful clue as the word advise (verb) is pronounced with a /z/ sound – which could not be spelt c. advice/advise, device/devise, licence/license, practice/practise, prophecy/prophesy
More examples:
aisle: a gangway between seats (in a church, train, plane). isle: an island.
aloud: out loud. allowed: permitted.
affect: usually a verb (e.g. The weather may affect our plans). effect: usually a noun (e.g. It may have an effect on our plans). If a verb, it means ‘bring about’ (e.g. He will effect changes in the running of the business).
altar: a table-like piece of furniture in a church. alter: to change.
ascent: the act of ascending (going up). assent: to agree/agreement (verb and noun).
bridal: to do with a bride at a wedding. bridle: reins etc. for controlling a horse.
cereal: made from grain (e.g. breakfast cereal). serial: adjective from the noun series – a succession of things one after the other.
compliment: to make nice remarks about someone (verb) or the remark that is made (noun). complement: related to the word complete – to make something complete or more complete (e.g. her scarf complemented her outfit).
descent: the act of descending (going down). dissent: to disagree/disagreement (verb and noun).
desert: as a noun – a barren place (stress on first syllable); as a verb – to abandon (stress on second syllable) dessert: (stress on second syllable) a sweet course after the main course of a meal.
draft: noun – a first attempt at writing something; verb – to make the first attempt; also, to draw in someone (e.g. to draft in extra help). draught: a current of air.
farther: further. father: a male parent
guessed: past tense of the verb guess. guest: visitor
heard: past tense of the verb hear. herd: a group of animals
led: past tense of the verb lead. lead: present tense of that verb, or else the metal which is very heavy (as heavy as lead)
morning: before noon. mourning: grieving for someone who has died
past: noun or adjective referring to a previous time (e.g. In the past) or preposition or adverb showing place (e.g. he walked past me). passed: past tense of the verb ‘pass’ (e.g. I passed him in the road)
precede: go in front of or before. proceed: go on
principal: adjective – most important (e.g. principal ballerina) noun – important person (e.g. principal of a college). principle: basic truth or belief
profit: money that is made in selling things. prophet: someone who foretells the future
stationary: not moving. stationery: paper, envelopes etc.
steal: take something that does not belong to you. steel: metal
wary: cautious. weary: tired
who’s: contraction of who is or who has. whose: belonging to someone (e.g. Whose jacket is that?)

Notes and guidance (non-statutory)

As in earlier years, pupils should continue to be taught to understand and apply the concepts of word structure so that they can draw on their knowledge of morphology and etymology to spell correctly.

Word list – years 5 and 6

  • accommodate
  • accompany
  • according
  • achieve
  • aggressive
  • amateur
  • ancient
  • apparent
  • appreciate
  • attached
  • available
  • average
  • awkward
  • bargain
  • bruise
  • category
  • cemetery
  • committee
  • communicate
  • community
  • competition
  • conscience*
  • conscious*
  • controversy
  • convenience
  • correspond
  • criticise (critic + ise)
  • curiosity
  • definite
  • desperate
  • determined
  • develop
  • dictionary
  • disastrous
  • embarrass
  • environment
  • equip (–ped, –ment)
  • especially
  • exaggerate
  • excellent
  • existence
  • explanation
  • familiar
  • foreign
  • forty
  • frequently
  • government
  • guarantee
  • harass
  • hindrance
  • identity
  • immediate(ly)
  • individual
  • interfere
  • interrupt
  • language
  • leisure
  • lightning
  • marvellous
  • mischievous
  • muscle
  • necessary
  • neighbour
  • nuisance
  • occupy
  • occur
  • opportunity
  • parliament
  • persuade
  • physical
  • prejudice
  • privilege
  • profession
  • programme
  • pronunciation
  • queue
  • recognise
  • recommend
  • relevant
  • restaurant
  • rhyme
  • rhythm
  • sacrifice
  • secretary
  • shoulder
  • signature
  • sincere(ly)
  • soldier
  • stomach
  • sufficient
  • suggest
  • symbol
  • system
  • temperature
  • thorough
  • twelfth
  • variety
  • vegetable
  • vehicle
  • yacht

Notes and guidance (non-statutory)

Teachers should continue to emphasis to pupils the relationships between sounds and letters, even when the relationships are unusual. Once root words are learnt in this way, longer words can be spelt correctly if the rules and guidance for adding prefixes and suffixes are also known. Many of the words in the list above can be used for practice in adding suffixes.

Understanding the history of words and relationships between them can also help with spelling.


  • Conscience and conscious are related to science: conscience is simply science with the prefix con- added. These words come from the Latin word scio meaning I know.
  • The word desperate, meaning ‘without hope’, is often pronounced in English as desp’rate, but the -sper- part comes from the Latin spero, meaning ‘I hope’, in which the e was clearly sounded.
  • Familiar is related to family, so the /ə/ sound in the first syllable of familiar is spelt as a.


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