The Grammarphobia Blog

A full-size question

Q: The word “full” takes two l’s while “beautiful” and “plentiful” take only one. Is there a reason for this? Is there a rule? Perplexed!

A: “Full” and “ful” confuse a great many people who are otherwise good spellers. At the beginning of a word, the spelling is generally “full,” as in “fullback,” “fullness,” “full-time,” “full-service,” and so on. But at the end of a word, the spelling is always “ful,” as in “beautiful,” “awful,” “scornful,” “lawful,” “careful,” “thoughtful,” “harmful,” and many others.

The ending “ful” was derived from “full,” and many adjectives used to have a double-l ending, as in these archaic spellings: beautefull (1526), wondurfull (1355), carefull (1394), and skilfulle (1300s). (The dates are from the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Over time, the “full” endings lost their final “l,” making these words shorter—and easier to misspell.

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