English spelling is broken. Let's fix it!

English spelling is broken ...

English spelling is broken. Examples like comb, bomb and tomb, or height and weight, abound. And no-one seems to know whether the down pipe from a gutter is a rone, a rhone, a roan or something else.

English spelling has been chopped and changed by countless scribes, printers, invaders and others since the Roman alphabet was first used to write Old English during the seventh century, and it does not match the way we speak today.  The English Spelling Society exists to repair our broken spelling.

In this website you can discover the past, present and future of English Spelling:

• Discover the amazing history of English spelling — how it came to be the way it is, and what happened to previous attempts to put it right.
• Find out just how crazy English spelling is today — and how much that costs in economic and social terms.
• See what The English Spelling Society is planning to do — and how you can help.

English spelling is broken. Together, we can do something about that.

Society news

International English Spelling Congress

2021-01-08 The December 2020 / January 2021 issue of the IESC Newsletter, and a supplement, are published. Thet are available online at TheEnglishSpellingSoc.

2020-11-28 The first meeting of the second session was held using Zoom. About 30 people linked up. The main purpose of this meeting was to test the systems and procedures in advance of the main meeting which is scheduled for 2021-01-28. If you plan to attend it, please let the IESC admin (spellconf@gmail.com) know by the 2020-12-31, so that appropriate preparations can be made in time.

2020-09-08 As a result of articles published by the BBC, The Times and The Guardian, we have had a large number of applications to register with the IESC. This is excellent news of course — the more participants, the more meaningful the exercise. But our admin systems are struggling a bit to cope. When you apply, you should receive a holding response within 48 hours. We have had a few cases where our response email has bounced, so if you don't hear from us within this time period, please do get in touch and let us know, so we can fix it. Once we have processed your application, you will be added to the mailing list and will receive full details on how to vote when the time comes.

2020-07-10 Following access problems with the English Spelling Reform subreddit, the Society has created its own Reddit community: TheEnglishSpellingSoc. Links to the old subreddit have been changed to access the new.

2020-05-18 The IESC project is now hosting open discussion of the shortlisted proposals on the Society Blog – there are separate threads for each of the shortlisted schemes and also for discussion on the Congress generally. There is also a Reddit subthread for The English Spelling Society. It is not necessary to register in order to take part in these discussions, but unless you register as a participant (it's free), you will not be able to vote in the final selection later in 2020. [2020-07-12 Link to subreddit updated]

International news

2020-12-27 — Miss Peller’s dictionary takes a new look at everyday words I thought long and hard about what to give you as a (belated) Christmas gift, and settled upon a dictionary. More ►

2020-12-26 — Will technology end the English language's global domination? English has been globally dominant for hundreds of years, but tech threatens to end that hegemony. More ►


Many news items are particularly relevant to educators at all levels from primary to tertiary. These stories will be coralled in this section.

2021-01-07 — English learning at home trend with Monkey Stories app in Southeast Asia Monkey Stories is the optimal solution for Indonesian parents with children aged 2-10, which helps their children learn English at home and comprehensively develop 4 skills of Listening - Speaking - Reading - Writing. More ►

2021-01-05 — Homeschool essentials: The best learning resources for teaching English, history and geography With the stay at home order in place, these are the educational tools you need to make teaching from home a breeze. More ►

2020-12-28 — Clever ways to use Alexa to make your life easier More ►



Spelling bees are always popular news stories. While the Society does not belittle the hard work that students put in for these events, or deny that they teach useful skills, the fact remains that the mere existence of spelling bees is perhaps the best illustration of the irregularity of English spelling.

Imagine if we had numbering bees, where contestants, instead of spelling out the letters in a word, had to spell out the numerals in a number. "Contestant, spell eighty-five thousand, nine hundred and forty-three." The contestant pauses, and then speaks: "8-5-9-4-3."

The Society looks forward to a day when spelling bees would be just as ludicrous as numbering bees.

No bees today.


Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.
Did You Know:

• Ask your friend what Y-E-S spells. They won't have any difficulty saying yes. Then ask what E-Y-E-S spells. It's easy when it's written down, but surprisingly difficult when it's spoken. See a YouTube video of this.

• Who has not heard i before e, except after c. A University of Warwick statistician put it to the test. He plugged a list of 350,000 English words into a statistical program to see if the math checked out. It didn't.

• When Adam met Eve for the first time, he said Madam, I'm Adam. This is a palindrome — a phrase or sentence in which the letters, words or even lines read the same in either direction. Adam hoped to impress the most beautiful woman in the world, but she more than matched him by replying simply, Eve. Not bad given that writing, and therefore palindromes, and English ones in particular, had not yet been invented! More palindromes, and a wonderful palindromic poem.

• How would you pronounce ghoti? Pronounce it like this:

and you get ... fish! Thanks to Charles Ollier for writing this in 1855 — and for showing that English spelling has been ludicrous for quite some time.

• One of the arguments in favour of keeping English spelling unchanged is to show the etymology of words. For example, the silent s in island shows the link to the Latin insula. But island actually derives from the Old English íglund, not from the Latin at all. More examples at Mental Floss.


Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.

​Spelling reform is not a new idea!

Benjamin Franklin "The same is to be observed in all the letters, vowels, and consonants, that wherever they are met with, or in whatever company, their sound is always the same. It is also intended that there be no superfluous letters used in spelling, i.e. no letter that is not sounded [...]"  Franklin proposed a spelling scheme with 6 new letters. (Franklin 1806 p359)

Theodore Roosevelt "It is merely an attempt [...] to make our spelling a little less foolish and fantastic." Theodore Roosevelt promoted the Simplified Spelling Board's gradual reform (see Twain below). (Roosevelt 1906, p3)

Mark Twain "It is my belief that an effort at a slow and gradual change is not worth while. [...] It is the sudden changes [...] that have the best chance of winning in our day. Can we expect a sudden change in our spelling? I think not. But I wish I could see it tried. [...] By a sudden and comprehensive rush the present spelling could be entirely changed and the substitute spelling be accepted, all in the space of a couple of years; and preferred in another couple. But it won't happen, and I am as sorry as a dog." (Twain 1997, pp208-212)

Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.