I'm wondering why we have double letters in words that make the same sound as if it were a single letter. For example apple. The pp makes a p sound, and sound the same as if the word was spelt aple.

A few more examples:

  • sell
  • hill
  • fuss
  • watt
  • happy
  • sunny
  • blossom

I've also notices that the double letters make the same sound as if it were a single letter is not entirely true across the board - especially if the repeated letter is a vowel, for example;

  • feet
  • hoop
  • teen
  • spoon
  • beetle

Why is this? Why do some letters have double letters when having a single letter makes the same sound. It seems to only be for words above 3 characters.

From what I've seen, vowels need the double letter to make another sound, but consonants don't.

  • This is a very broad topic. There is a whole tag for doubled-consonants with 47 questions. Note that "apple" and "maple" have different vowel sounds.
    – herisson
    Nov 25, 2016 at 11:48
  • @sumelic thanks for that new tag. My overall question is why we have double consonants in words when a single consonant makes the same sound.
    – hd.
    Nov 25, 2016 at 11:57
  • As mentioned in e.g. the answers to this question (english.stackexchange.com/questions/5200) double consonants don't usually indicate a different consonant sound, but they may indicate the pronunciation of the preceding vowel sound.
    – herisson
    Nov 25, 2016 at 12:04
  • "Why" questions can be a bit vague. Are you interested most in how double consonants work in the current English spelling system, or in the history of how double consonants came to be used in English spelling?
    – herisson
    Nov 25, 2016 at 12:06
  • 2

3 Answers 3


I'm not a native speaker but I see it this way:

Two consonants in a word give us a different pronunciation like in:

  • apple and aple are different in pronunciation [ˈap(ə)l] and [ˈeɪp(ə)l]
  • little, better (double t sounds like d)
  • ladder, bidder (without the double d, it wouldn't be [a] but [eɪ] instead)
  • well (without the double consonants I think it wouldn't be [w], but [v] instead)
  • sunny (without double n would be pronounced as [sjuni] instead of [sʌni])
  • happy (without the double p would be [hāpi] instead of [hapi])
  • watt (without double t would be [wat] instead of [wɒt])

As with vowels i think it will be:

  • feet and fit are differently pronounced [fiːt] longer i and [fɪt] shorter i. Same works for teen, beetle, tree.
  • hoop, spoon have a longer sounding u. [huːp], [spuːn]. You cant' write spun [spʌn], hup [hʌp], because they are pronounced differently and there is no long u in English as a letter.
  • Interesting. Though, I've never been taught how to interpret, for example, [sjʌni], so I'm not following :(. Perhaps if I didn't lack the understanding on that, I could better understand.
    – hd.
    Nov 25, 2016 at 13:08
  • 4
    Single t sounds just like d as well, in later, water, title, and so forth. Nov 25, 2016 at 15:44
  • @PeterShor Haven't noticed that neither in Am.E nor in Br.E. only the doubled t Nov 25, 2016 at 16:11
  • 3
    Well ... t never sounds like d in BrE, and whether it sounds like d in AmE has nothing to do with whether it's doubled or not. See Wikipedia. Nov 25, 2016 at 16:22
  • Waiter sounds like Wader? Nov 25, 2016 at 16:49

The double consonants in well and apple are making the vowel short as in pest and fast. If the p were not doubled in apple, the word would rhyme with maple; compare apple with dapple.

  • 2
    And what hapens to "well", how would we pronounce wel? What about spel does the double L make any diference to the pronunciation?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2016 at 13:51
  • Сompare apple [æp.(ə)l] with dapple [dæp.(ə)l]. Both are pronounced equally. Nov 25, 2016 at 14:10
  • @Mari-LouA I guess it would be [spiː.l] for spel like in speleology and [spel] for spell. Nov 25, 2016 at 14:14
  • Could it be that well [wel] would change to wel [wæl]? Nov 25, 2016 at 14:22
  • Makes not the damn slightest diference :) (note the single "p" in happen, and the single "f" in different in my previous coment, did you mispronounce different or happen?) English spelling may have some patterns, but there are no hard or fast rules where pronunciation is concerned, regardles of double leters or not.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 25, 2016 at 16:48

The "T" sound equivalent to "D" as in "water" is true in the American context, but not in British English.. We do differentiate the two sounds. (I'm Australian) We are not immune however from butchering the language. Its a kind of running joke, but some Aussies say "STRINE" when attempting to describe their nationality.

  • 1
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