How Do You Spell Able — a Quick Spelling Guide

If you’re reading this article, one thing probably came to mind — how do you spell able. Well, the good news is this page explores that topic in detail. First, let’s answer a quick question:

What Does Able Mean?

Able is an adjective that expresses the ability to perform a specific action. This could mean your sister’s ability to ride a tricycle or your cat’s ability to meow only on command. It can also signify skill or capability, such as when describing your child as a talented singer.

What Part of Speech is Able?

Able is an adjective that typically follows a form of ‘be,’ while ably is an adverb and ability is a noun.

-able is a suffix used to generate adjectives from verbs, meaning “capable of, suitable for, fit for.” Examples include:

 Commend + -able → commendable (= capable of being commended); demand + -able → demandable = (fit for demand).

Able signifies skill or capability, such as when describing your child as a talented singer.
Proper Use of -able and -ible

Sentence Examples of Able as an Adjective

  • She will buy her home as soon as she is able
  • They turned out to be able employees. 
  • He is one of the ablest producers in the organization.

How to Use Ability as a Noun in Sentences

  • We applauded the man’s ability to recall.
  • They just never mastered the ability to sacrifice for each other.
  • Our ability to memorize helps our vocabulary.

Sentence Examples of Ably as an Adverb

  • His colleagues ably supported him.
  • She ably anchored the program
  • Cinderella ably did the project.

How Do You Spell Able?

The proper spelling of the English word “able” is [ˈe͡ɪbə͡l], [ˈe‍ɪbə‍l], [ˈeɪ_b_əl]. Able comes from the Latin word habilis, which means “easily handled or apt.” As the h is silent in Latin, it was omitted from the English word ability.

Selected French and Latin terms were the only places where the prefix originally occurred. To the stems of English verbs ending in -ate, we include the suffix -able, giving us words like educable. 

Because of possible misunderstanding with the term able, it was used to generate adjectives from various verbs, nouns, and even verb phrases. Examples of generated adjectives are kickable, reachable, stoppable etc.

For roots ending in -ce or -ge, such as interchangeable and danceable, the terminal silent -e is commonly eliminated when -able is added. 

However, the -e is preserved to prevent these roots from being misunderstood as hard ‘c’ or “g” sounds. Some additional suffixes that begin with a vowel follow a similar pattern, such as -ous in famous vs. courageous.

When adding the suffix -ed, we double the last consonant of a root in the same circumstances. To put it another way: This means that in general, doubling happens when the previous vowel is short and stressed (as in viable) but not when it is long (as in obtainable) or unstressed (as in closable). 

No matter how stressed or unstressed a short vowel is, the last L in British English is usually doubled (as in compellable, modellable). As with other consonants, the final L in American English is typically governed by the same principles (as in compellable, modelable). The two methods of doubling the last L in British and American English differ somewhat, but these are the overall tendencies.

Grammar Usage: The suffixes -able and -ible

The suffixes -able and -ible indicate capability or suitability, but they are different in grammar usage.

-able is a living suffix. This means it can attach to nearly any verb without a hyphen. -ible is not used to create new words. Primarily, -ible endures through ancient words passed down through the generations.

As the living suffix, -able is excellent for coining new words, even though we frequently need to ignore spell check for -able coinages. For instance, our spell check disapproves of sanctionable, channelable, overthrowable, redoable, and torturable, although these terms are acceptable without hyphens.

To create an -able term, consider the verb as if you were forming a -ing participle. For instance, moving becomes moving by deleting the e and adding -ing. So, to form the -able adjective for ‘move,’ we delete the e and add -able: movable.

However, when generating an -able term, ensure there is no corresponding -ible word (see below). For example, convertable is redundant since we already have convertible. In the dictionary, you will find all acceptable -ible terms.

–ible adjectives

In contrast to –able, -ible does not form new words. It only exists in words that have survived from previous eras of English. Here are some of the most common suffixed words:

  • Accessible, credible, edible
  • Admissible, discernible, convertible
  • controvertible, defensible, audible.

Numerous words end in -ible and -able. Sometimes it is tough to recall the correct spelling.

The -ible suffix is for terms of Latin origin. There are around 180 words that end in -ible. There are currently no new words ending in -ible

The -able suffix appears on certain Latin nouns, such as portable and non-Latin terms, such as controvertible, differentiable, and autodegradable.

To Wrap Up

This rule below will assist you in determining the correct spelling. It works frequently (but not always). If you are uncertain about a word, you should probably consult a dictionary. The rule goes thus:

The remaining term is complete when -able is removed from a word, e.g.(renewable, renew). If -ible is off a word, the resulting word is incomplete (sensible, sens). Some exceptions to this criterion are digestible, Notable, flexible, accessible, and contemptible.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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