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

2020-02-10 The Expert Commission has completed its task of assessing the 35 Proposed Spelling Schemes which were accepted for consideration, and reducing them to a short list of 6. See the shortlisted proposals. The Note on Methodology explains how the Expert Commission made their choices.

The next step in the IESC project is to hold open discussion of the shortlisted proposals. 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. There are several discussion forums:

International news

2020-03-23 — The battle for English More ►

2020-03-18 — Here's Proof That the English Language Is Super Hard and Makes No Sense None of these words rhyme: though, through, tough, bough, cough. More ►

2020-03-08 — Kids praised on spelling techniques despite social media use “Young people are extremely dextrous and actively switch between text-speak and formal language.”More ►

2020-03-06 — The furious debate over how to spell fracking More ►

2020-03-03 — A Legal Right to Literacy 10 Kids Sued California for Failing to Teach Them to Read. Could Their Settlement Set a Precedent for Other Struggling Schools?More ►

2020-02-29 — Children are reading less than ever before, research reveals Just a quarter of under-18s read each day, study shows in run-up to World Book Day More ►

2020-02-28 — Spelling Revolution, entertaining history “An Inconvenient Alphabet” by Beth Anderson and Elizabeth Baddeley More ►

2020-02-27 — Don’t Pick Your Nose, 15th-Century Manners Book Warns The taboo on booger hunting stretches back centuries, reveals a book recently digitized by the British Library. More ►

2020-02-25 — Children of migrants do better in school than English-speaking students Children of migrants are outperforming English-speaking students in writing and spelling. 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.

2020-03-20 — So close! Eighth grader places second in regional spelling bee. More ►

2020-03-20 — National Spelling Bee called off because of coronavirus If possible, the Bee will explore options to reschedule for later this year. More ►

2020-03-10 — ‘Toxophilite’ wins Sacramento spelling bee for Roseville 8th-grader Next up, Washington. More ►

2020-03-08 — St. John's Prep's seventh-grader with 'superpower' for spelling to compete in national bee Ben St. Hilaire smiles next to his trophies earned in spelling bees Thursday, March 5, 2020, at his home in St. Cloud. More ►

2020-03-07 — Mesita Elementary School student spells 'montage' to win 2020 El Paso Regional Spelling Bee More ►

2020-03-02 — John Eoh from Discovery Elementary School is Kern County's 2020 Scripps National Spelling Bee Champion 34 students competed at the 2020 Kern County Scripps National Spelling Bee. More ►

2020-03-01 — Telegram Spelling Bee champ had a leg up on the competition in St. John's Julia Evans takes to Holy Heart Theatre stage with broken ankle. More ►

2020-02-29 — 2020 Spelling bee results: Auburn sixth grader Emma Sroka wins for the second consecutive year More ►

2020-02-24 — 30 Students to Compete in 32nd Annual Anne Arundel County Spelling Bee Twenty public school students and 10 private school students will vie to become the champion of the 32nd annual Anne Arundel County Spelling Bee on February 29, 2020. 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.