Why Isn’t Edited Spelt ‘Editted’?

Why Isn’t Edited Spelt ‘Editted’?

Dear Lifehacker, I find your Mind Your Language column fascinating. I’m not a native English speaker and am often annoyed by how bad grammar is on the internet. I have a question though. As I learnt English, when a verb that ends in a consonant preceded by a vowel (such as skip, hop, step, permit) is converted to present/past tense, you repeat the consonant (skipped, hopped, stepping, permitting). Yet why does ‘edit’ become ‘edited’ and not ‘editted’? Thanks, Spellingbound

Picture by John Pratt/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dear Spellingbound,

Thank you for the kind words. I could attempt to produce partial reasons for this exception. The truth, however, is simpler and more annoying. In living languages, very few rules are absolutely consistent. With spelling, what counts is what we all agree upon, and those agreements are not always completely rule-based.

Take one of the most commonly-quoted English spelling rules: I before E except after C. That ensures that you can spell ‘believe’ and ‘receive’ correctly. But it won’t help you spell ‘veil’ correctly. The rule will help you learn the spelling of many verbs, but you still have to learn the exceptions. That’s true of all languages. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and learn a spelling that seems in no way logical.

‘Edited’ falls into this category. There are some evident historical reasons for this spelling (the verb partly derives from the word ‘editor’). But knowing that isn’t of much practical help. Ultimately, ‘edited’ (and ‘credited’ and ‘debited’) form a separate sequence which you simply have to memorise, independently of the broadly useful rule that verbs ending in a single voiced consonant generally double that consonant in the past and present tense.

Created languages such as Esperanto often tout consistency of spelling as a virtue. Yet none of these languages have ever been massively adopted. Languages that survive are rarely entirely consistent; learning their spellings involves learning both rules and exceptions. As our French brethren would have it: c’est la vie.

Cheers Lifehacker

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      • The purpose of consonant doubling is supposed to be to keep STRESSED, SHORT vowels SHORT, when the consonant after them is followed by another vowel, as in ‘better, bitter, butter’ or ‘beggar, cellar…’, as opposed to ‘peter, biter, cuter’. This is the so-called ‘long open’ and ‘short closed’ vowel principle. One consonant , which is not followed by another vowel, keeps the vowel before it short (cat, bet, bit, hot, cut). Add a vowel, and the preceding one becomes long: late, zero, bite…. Hence ‘dined, pined’, but ‘thinned, pinned’ and ‘rested, pranged, pinged’. Because this is supposed to apply to stressed vowels only, we get ‘entered, summoned’, but ‘preferred’ and ‘omitted’.

        If we could rely on that rule, consonant doubling would be a doddle. It isn’t, because in longer words, the rule is applied totally randomly: copy poppy, rabbit habit, ballad salad. (There is a whole page on Doubled letters at http://www.EnglishSpellingProblems.co.uk ).

        Apart from the silly British habit of doubling a final ‘-l’ even when the ‘e’ before it is not stressed (travelled, marvelled)., dozens of words have doublings which are unconnected with keeping a stressed vowel short (apply – cf apple, accuse – cf acute). – In short, English consonant doubling is mostly random and unsystematic, and most people have no idea what purpose it serves. They just do their best to memorise which words have them.

        This is really pointless, and could easily be improved. All that needs to happen is for sensible, rule-governed doubling to become regarded as acceptable as the erratic doublings listed in dictionaries.

        The ‘i’ before ‘e’ rule is equally useless.
        1) U have to know that the ‘s’ sound is spelt ‘c’ and not ‘s’, ‘ceiling’ rather than ‘seating’ or ‘sequence’.
        2) U also need to be sure that the ‘ee’ sound happens to be spelt ‘ei’ or ‘ie’, rather than ‘ea’, ‘e-e’, ‘ee’ or ‘i-e’ (seat, concede, proceed, police).
        3) There are quite a few exceptions (seize, weird, protein….)

        The spellings for the ‘ee’ sound are as random as consonant doubling, but consonant doubling affect a few hundred words more. Those two spellings happen to be the two most chaotic areas of English spelling.

      • PS I am not sure if I am allowed to mention the following on here, but I’ll risk it., and hope that nothing worse can happen than for the post to be deleted.
        I have just written another book on English spelling – SPELLING IT OUT: the problems and costs of English spelling.
        It’s a very cheap ebook. Apart from explaining how English spelling ended up as chaotic as it is and some of the consequences this brings, I have identified the irregularities which are chiefly responsible for making learning to read and write English difficult and very time-consuming. I have also made some suggestions for reducing them.

        I am certain that anyone who is really interested in English spelling, will find the book interesting, even if they disagree with some of it. So I very much hope that mentioning it on here is ok.

        • Never mind the shameless plug… I just bought your book and wouldn’t have known about it otherwise!

          This type of thing interests me greatly as I deal with it on a daily basis due to my work teaching phonological skills with a focus on reading and spelling. These types of questions come up all the time!

    • “I before E,
      Except after C,
      And in sounds of A.
      As in neighbour and weigh.

      And much of the older writings, inter-personal especially, find the word “edited” more nobly spelt as editted.

  • Re. “I before E”. The correct rule is “I before E except after C when the sound is EE”. Without the last five words the rule is extremely inconsistent; with the inclusion of those words the rule has very few exceptions. The problems arise from bad teaching of a simple rule rather than a rule which does not work.

    With regard to “edited”, I was taught that when the stress of a two syllable word falls on the first syllable (edit, focus, credit, debit) then the -ed suffix does not double the last consonant; single syllable words always double the consonant. Note that “permit” has the stress on the second syllable, therefore the final consonant is doubled.

    Most of the rules work admirably, but only if people know them.

    • Even that “when the sound is EE” part doesn’t account for words like:

      species, weird, seize, fancied, fancies, caffeine, protein, policies, codein

      I could keep going if you want. There’s still plenty of exceptions.

        • Actually, the rule is “I before I, except after C, when the sound is EE, except for plurals or conjugations of words that end in Y, some medical/pharmacological names, when the “EE” sound is actually part of two different sounds like “EE” followed by “ERR”. Also Species and Seize doesn’t count.”

          Everybody knows the full rule though, why are we even arguing about this?

          • I’ve always heard it as “I before E, except after C, or when sounded like AY in neighbour and weigh, unless the word is just weird.”

    • Maths can be weird too though.

      Take the fraction 1/3. You multiply that by 3 and you get 1. But take that as a decimal 0.3333333….. and multiple that by 3, you get 0.9999999…..

      Now, logic will tell you that while 0.9999999….. is very close to 1, it’s not actually equal to 1. So you’ve got 2 numbers which are theoretically equal to each other (1/3, and 0.33333…..) that do not equal the same number when multiplied by the same amount. Because of how limits and asymptotes work however, you say “Well, it’s close enough to 1, it might as well be 1”, but in reality it’s not. There’s nothing really logical about that, it’s saying two different numbers are equal to each other.

      Sorry it’s a bit off-topic since this section isn’t “Mind your Maths”, but I’ve found this kind of stuff intriguing.

      • is that entirely true though… 1/3 doesn’t equal 0.3333333…. it equals 0.3333333 recurring. if you multiple 0.333333 recurring by 3 you would get 1.
        Its just our calculators, minds etc cannot deal with infinite numbers so we shorten it….. a lot, rounding it off to the acceptable level of decimal places that you want. Because your rounding it off, you are removing part of what you are multiplying by 3, thats why its accepted to round it to 1.

  • Esperanto works! I’ve used it in speech and writing in about fifteen countries over recent years. I recommend it to anyone interested in foreign travel, as a way of making friendly local contacts.

    Ity’s not a rival to English, but it does have its place.

  • Dear article author,
    The full rule is “I before E, except after C, when then sound is ‘ee’ ” (i.e. when it rhymes with flea or pee, but not when it rhymes with hail or male [like veil does] ). I haven’t been able to find any examples in english where this rule breaks. In fact, most of the time the opposite is true too – so when the sounds *isn’t* “ee”, it’s usually E before I (e.g. stein, veil).

    One problem word – “(n)either”, but I let that one off the hook since it can be pronounced Nee-ther or Nye-ther

  • Yes, 0.99999 recurring IS equal to 1 – if it isn’t, find a number that lies between them. Better still, find the average of 0.9999 recurring and 1 – that would be (1 + 0.9999 recurring ) / 2, whch would be 0.99999 recurring!

    Would it be off topic to suggest that one of the most misspelled words is “misspelled”?

  • Created languages such as Esperanto often tout consistency of spelling as a virtue. Yet none of these languages have ever been massively adopted. Languages that survive are rarely entirely consistent; learning their spellings involves learning both rules and exceptions. As our French brethren would have it: c’est la vie.

    Are you seriously claiming that natural languages cannot or do not have consistent spelling? Just as an example, Spanish has almost completely consistent spelling for speakers of dialects that make a distinction between “ll” and “y”, and “z/c” and “s”. The only exceptions are the loss of distinction between “b”/”v” and the silent “h”. There are plenty of languages, however, with even more consistent spelling than Spanish, for example Malay/Indonesian, Swahili or Serbo-Croatian. In many languages, there is essentially a one-to-one correspondence between how words are written and how they are pronounced.

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