Exceptions to Spelling Rules

The resources in this series teach common patterns and rules for reading and spelling words. However, there are exceptions to every rule. These exceptions do not diminish the strength of teaching students common rules that provide a starting point for reading words. Students need a wide range of "tools" to help them learn and remember how to read and spell words.

Irregular words do not fit the typical letter-sound correspondence that students have learned. Certain high-frequency words, such as said, was, do, to, what, and they, are irregular. Words that include exceptions to syllable-type conventions are also considered to be irregular. For example, the a in have makes its short vowel sound, rather than the long vowel sound that is typical of vowel-consonant-e syllables.

Some irregular words should be memorized, becoming what are known as “sight words”—words that are instantly recognized as a whole. Some words may be considered irregular because a student has not yet learned the sound of a particular letter pattern. Little would be an irregular word for students who have not yet learned about consonant-le syllables.

Choose irregular words that appear frequently in students’ reading and writing. Such words are more useful to students. If a student can already read an irregular word, it is not necessary to explicitly teach it.

Below are links to several word lists. Students should be able to read these words quickly and accurately and be familiar with their meanings.

Dolch word list contains 220 frequently encountered words in alphabetical order.

Fry word list contains 1,000 most frequently encountered words in ranked order from most to least frequent.

Word Zones for 5,586 Most Frequent Words

1,000 Most Frequent Words in Middle and High School Texts