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

2019-07-31 The end of July is the deadline for revision of schemes which were received in time but which needed some alteration to satisfy submission requirements.

2019-06-02 The Congress has moved on to the next stage: vetting of new spelling schemes submitted and drawing up a short list. The deadline for submission of schemes was 31 May 2019. We received about 33 schemes, ranging from the very conservative to the extremely radical. More ►

2019-05-31 The Call for Proposals closes at the end of May 2019. Any proposal which was submitted by that time, but which needs revision to comply with the requirements of the application form, will be allowed a further two months, ie to the end of July 2019.

International news

2019-07-12 — Maths and spelling tests for trainee teachers 'will be scrapped in an attempt to boost numbers of staff' Currently trainees must pass national tests before being qualifying as teachers. More ►

2019-07-12 — Advising Others to Take Your Advice This week, we answer a question from Ali in Iran. More ►

2019-07-12 — It Might Be Time to Update the Old ‘Alfa-Bravo-Charlie’ Spelling Alphabet But it’s hard to break old habits. More ►

2019-07-10 — From rabbits to gonorrhea: “clap” and its kin More ►

2019-07-10 — They want to end this toxic testing'- Teachers pushing for tests for 11-year-olds to be scrapped Teachers in Norfolk think SATs for 10 and 11-year-olds need to be scrapped and replaced with a new system which is less stressful for pupils and teachers. More ►

2019-07-10 — TV firm looking for adults who can't read for new documentary Do you know someone who would like to learn to read or write? More ►

2019-07-09 — Why your child's Sats matter – and why they don’t Are Sats a good way to assess progress in reading and maths or too much pressure on young children? More ►

2019-07-08 — Māori loanwords enrich Twitter How many basic Māori words do you know the meaning of? More ►

2019-07-07 — Why Ukraine is changing the spelling of its capital 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.

2019-07-13 — MTN sponsors first ever Lagos State Private Schools Spelling Bee competition More ►

2019-07-07 — Ambitious Derby girl spells her way to podium in national competition Her dad said he was over the moon. More ►


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.