Double up at the end

Last week I wrote about the effects texting has had on common grammar errors. As it happens, this week’s column is inspired by a text as well.

From time to time, a friend of mine who designs ads will double check grammar and spelling issues with me. I received this text from her this week: “Benefitting is never correct, right? There’s only one ‘T’?”

While I told her to go with two “Ts,” the better answer would have been that, technically, they are both correct. Though this is one of the many cases in which English shows its non-standard colors, my answer was based on more than aesthetic preferences.

You may remember this rule from grade school: When adding suffixes to words, double the final consonant if the preceding vowel would change from short to long. Since this column is about an irregular rule, let’s look at an irregular character for our example: The Mad Hatter.

The word “hatter” is a synonym for “milliner,” or someone who makes hats. It’s formed from the noun “hat” and the suffix “-er,” which is used to turn nouns or verbs into a word which indicates someone/something which does the noun or verb (“bake” becomes “baker,” “teach” becomes “teacher,” etc.). You’ll notice that “baker” doesn’t gain a second “K,” but “hatter” does gain a second “T.” Why is this?

In the original word “bake,” the “A” vowel sound is already long. Adding a second “K” would form a word that sounded more like “backer.” Without his second “T,” our wonderfully wacky Mad Hatter would turn into the Mad Hater, and “Alice in Wonderland” would probably have been a very different story.

The same principle applies to “benefitting.” Without the second “T,” we would (normally) get a word that sounded like “benefighting.” Since the words “fighting” and “benefit” seem to me fairly at odds with one another, I prefer to add the second “T” and avoid confusion.

Of course, since English can do everything but agree with itself, both “benefiting” and “benefitting” are considered technically correct. But that’s a fight for another day.