Consonant doubling

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One of the great difficulties in English spelling is whether to double a consonant letter at the end of a verb when adding an inflectional suffix starting with a vowel, such as -ing, -ed and -er. Particular difficulties seem to recur with words such as biased, focus[s]ed, target[t]ing and benefit[t]ed give consistent difficulty to many students - and their teachers. (See also AWE's page on geminate (and germinate).)

For many academics, the canonical, if not necessarily simple, rules for British English are those that govern the Oxford University Press. These were laid down in Hart's Rules. They also form the basis of Burchfield's Fowler (published by OUP). However, other publishers, academic departments and authors of all kinds vary from these in their House Rules, and practice is by no means universal. American English also demonstrates variances with British English over which Americans themselves disagree.

AWE's advice is 
1) look up the House Rules under which you are writing;
2) follow the practice of your reader (teacher or marker, if you are a student).
3) When you don't know the prejudices for which you are writing, follow Hart's Rules.

Hart's Rules on doubling consonants, as rephrased by AWE, using amongst others on-line Fowler's article on 'doubling of final consonants in inflection' [[1]] deal with words whose final (or only) syllable ends with one vowel followed by one consonant. These rules are:

  • With words of one syllable (consisting of a single vowel followed by a single consonant), double the consonant before -ed and -ing, e.g.
    • beg - begged - begging; clap - clapped - clapping; fit - fitted - fitting; squat - squatted - squatting - squatter; stop - stopped - stopping; and cut - cutting.
      • An exception is bus - busing - bused. Another is the group of verbs with terminal '-h', '-w', '-x' and '-y', such as 'to owe'; 'to vex'; and 'to toy'; and verbs (rare in academic writing) formed from exclamations, such as 'to aah' or 'to ooh'.
  • With words of more than one syllable (ending with a single vowel followed by a single consonant), where the stress falls on that last syllable, double the final consonant before -ed and -ing, e.g.
  • With words of more than one syllable (ending with a single vowel followed by a single consonant) where the stress does not fall on that last syllable, the final consonant is not doubled before -ed and -ing, e.g.
    • ballot - balloted - balloting; discomfit - discomfited - discomfiting; market - marketed - marketing - marketeer
      • except (says Hart) worship - worshipped - worshipper - worshipping; and
      • words ending in '-l' (more detail at -l - -ll-, which double the '-l-' in almost all cases (this is largely true in British English but not so true in the American variety, as in annul - annu'lled - annulling; enrol - enrolled - enrolling; label - labelled - labelling; libel - libelled - libelling; appal - appalled - appalling; model - modelled - modelling; install - installed - installing - installer; instil - instilled - instilling;
        • - though here too Hart adds exceptions, travail - travailed - travailing and appeal - appealed - appealing, to which AWE would add, for example, parallel - paralleled - paralleling; apparel - appareled - appareling; and such words as avail - availed - availing and heal - healed - healing, where a single vowel sound is conveyed by two letters. See also -l - -ll-
OED (1885) said s.v. apparel v., Forms: "In inflexions [sic] -l is at present usually doubled before a vowel in G[reat] Brit[ain], left single in U[nited] S[tates]".
There is undoubtedly more variance in the doubling of consonants (or leaving them single) than is dealt with on this page.
               Notice the examples you see - and try to learn from them.