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-ible or -able

Many words end in -ible and -able. Sometimes it is difficult to remember which spelling to use.

The -ible ending is for words of Latin origin. There are about 180 words ending in -ible. No new words are being created with -ible endings. Here are the most common examples:

accessible
admissible
audible
collapsible
combustible
compatible
comprehensible
contemptible
credible
defensible
destructible
digestible
divisible
edible
fallible
flexible
gullible
horrible
illegible
implausible
inaccessible
incontrovertible
incredible
indefensible
indelible
inedible
insensible
intelligible
invincible
invisible
illegible
irresistible
irreversible
ostensible
permissible
plausible
possible
responsible
reversible
sensible
susceptible
suggestible
tangible
terrible
visible

The -able ending is for:

  • some Latin words, for example: dependable
  • non-Latin words, for example: affordable, renewable, washable
  • new (modern) words, for example: networkable, windsurfable

Rule of thumb
This rule can help you decide the correct spelling. It works most (but not all!) of the time. Remember, if you are not sure about a word, it is probably best to use a dictionary. Here is the rule:

  • If you remove -able from a word, you are left with a complete word.
  • If you remove -ible from a word, you are not left with a complete word (note that accessible, contemptible, digestible, flexible and suggestible above are among the exceptions to this rule).

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