Word class and spelling in English

J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2021 Jun;47(6):1027-1035. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000969. Epub 2020 Nov 5.


The spelling of an English word may reflect its part of speech, not just the sounds within it. In 2 preregistered experiments, we asked whether university students are sensitive to 1 effect of part of speech that has been observed by linguists: that content words (e.g., the noun inn) must be spelled with at least 3 letters, whereas function words (e.g., the preposition in) may have only 2 letters. Participants heard VC (vowel-consonant) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC; consonant-vowel-consonant) nonwords that were used as nouns (content words) or prepositions (function words). Participants either spelled the items on their own or chose between options with single and double final consonants (e.g., ib vs. ibb). Participants in the choice task favored final consonant doubling for VCs that were used as nouns. They usually chose single final consonants for VCs that were used as prepositions and for CVCs. Effects of word class were also found in the spelling production task. Final consonant doubling was less common in the production task than the choice task, reflecting participants' reluctance to produce this relatively uncommon spelling pattern. Our results support the view that spelling performance reflects the combined influences of multiple patterns, both phonological and nonphonological. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Phonetics
  • Sound
  • Young Adult