English Verbs: When to Drop the IE and Add a K: Rules 2 and 3

By Gillian Hendrie

Continuing our series on correctly spelling continuous verbs, this article explains the second and third rules. We discuss dropping the -ie and adding -k.

As we have seen in the first article (ING-lish: Spelling the -ing Form of Verbs Correctly, Rule 1), forming continuous verbs is, English unfortunately, not a simple matter of attaching -ing to the basic verb. These rules will help you to pick up on the "awkward" verbs and learn to spell these forms correctly.

Rule 2: Drop the IE

Verbs ending in -ie

With these verbs, drop the -ie, replace it with -y and add -ing.


  • die: He is thought to be dying of a broken heart.
  • lie: She was lying about her unfinished homework.
  • tie: You're tying up that parcel too tightly.

This rule may seem confusing to learners as it is almost the opposite of the rule for forming the plurals of nouns ending in -y: For example, the singular cherry has the plural cherries.

Think about the reasons for this rule: If the -ie ending did not change, we would have words with three vowels together: dieing, lieing, etc. While English has a few words with three vowels in a row - for example, courageous - this pattern looks clumsy and is generally to be avoided.

Rule 3: Add a K

Verbs ending in -c

These verbs add the letter k before the -ing ending.


  • picnic: There are many people picnicking in the park.
  • traffic: A special unit was set up to combat the trafficking of drugs.
  • panic: Calm down! Panicking won't help.

The reason for this rule has to do with pronunciation. The letter c has two sounds: soft /s/ and hard /k/, the pronunciation depending on which letter follows the c. (See separate article ESL Tip: The Sounds of The C for further details and examples.) The letter c at the end of a word always has the hard /k/ sound, whereas the c+i combination has the soft /s/ sound. To keep the /k/ sound intact, a "k" must be added before the -ing ending.

Popular Pages