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Is there any rhyme or reason to when one should double the last consonant when adding -ed or -ing?

It has always been a word that intuitively I wish to spell with two Ts. So does anyone know why it's not writting?

Could it just be that the T is harder when said in a continuous tense while the T is harder, for example, in the word bite than in its continuous form?

  • 3
    Because if it had two /t/s in the center, it'd have to rhyme with "sitting" rather than "biting". – user21497 Jan 16 '13 at 8:42
  • General Reference. – tchrist Jan 16 '13 at 9:18

You spell it with one ‹t› because if it were spelt with two, it would rhyme with hitting instead of with fighting.

As for how “hard” your ‹t› is, compare these:

  • writing [ˈɹʷʌɪɾɪŋ]
  • written [ˈɹʷɪʔn̩]
  • riding [ˈɹʷaɪɾɪŋ]
  • ridden [ˈɹʷɪɾn̩]
  • tighten [ˈtʰʌɪʔn̩]
  • photon [ˈfoʊˌtʰɑn]

Notice how only the last one has a “real” ‹t› in the middle of it.

Edit: Integrating some comments.

You’re right that the ‹t› in writing is different from the one in written. The one in writing is still heard, although it is often a simple flap: [ɾ]. However, the ‹t› in written often reduces to a mere glottal stop: [ʔ]. That means it is not heard; the glottis just stops moving for a moment.

Phonemic /t/ in English has several different allophones, which vary by word and sometimes by speaker. Expect to hear /t/ realized as any of [tʰ], [t], [ɾ], and [ʔ], depending on various complex factors.

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  • I'm not sure about that, I mean fight and hit sound different and neither are loosing an E like write is... – Carolina Loza Jan 16 '13 at 8:56
  • What do you mean by General Reference? The hardness is analogous to the double R effect which is loudly more noticeable in romance languages. – Carolina Loza Jan 16 '13 at 9:13
  • @CarolinaLoza Ahah! Then you are indeed talking about something else altogether. That is what I was wondering. Please see my addition where I show you the different kinds of t’s that you have in pronunciation there. As for mere spelling effects rather than phonetic ones, then yes, this is General Reference. – tchrist Jan 16 '13 at 9:15
  • unfortunately I don't know how to read dictionary phonetics (a bloody hindrance if peering into other languages, don't trust 'em then!) but yes.. the only one which seems peculiar in the list is tighten, i would pronounce it almost akin to Titan (though not quite THAT hard) or want to skip it altogether and pronounce it by omission – Carolina Loza Jan 16 '13 at 9:20
  • @CarolinaLoza Yes, that’s right: tighten and Titan should be homophones. The middle <t> is not usually a simple flap [ɾ] as it is in the middle of writing or in the word cara in Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese, but rather as you say it is often simply “omitted”, here represented by using a glottal stop [ʔ] as I have written it above. Note that per your question, there is no analogy in English with the difference between Spanish pero and Spanish perro, where the first is a simple flap /ɾ/ and the second a fully rolled /r/. Also, those are phonemically distinct in Spanish. – tchrist Jan 16 '13 at 9:32
  1. Because it's write + -ing, with the e dropped, giving us writing.
  2. Because it's pronounced /ˈraɪtɪŋ/ not /ˈrɪtŋ/ and in English the doubled letter of writting would give us the latter short vowel sound (rhyming with hitting and sitting) rather than the long vowel sound it has (rhyming with sighting and biting).
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  • That makes a bit more sense, so only when a word ends in a consonant would we double it? – Carolina Loza Jan 16 '13 at 9:16
  • @CarolinaLoza that's the general rule, but unfortunately there's some inconsistency there when it comes to unstressed vowels, and also with some exception so to the dropped e. Worse, they are differently inconsistent between different forms of English - but even that isn't consistent - though the good part of that is that this article about those differences details the general rules, as well as the differences. – Jon Hanna Jan 16 '13 at 9:48

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