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

2020-02-14 — Ask An Italian: Dyslexia In Italian And English When “ghost” is pronounced “fish” — a problem for dyslexics More ►

2020-02-10 — How dyspraxia changed young writer’s life According to the NHS, dyslexia is a learning difficulty that can cause problems with a person’s reading, writing and spelling. More ►

2020-02-10 — 11 reasons why the English language is difficult to learn The English language has a lot of weird spelling, grammar, and pronunciation rules. More ►

2020-02-10 — Primary schools: Everything you need to know Your guide to the different stages of primary education in England, including performance tables and assessment. More ►

2020-02-07 — Test Your Kid’s Vocabulary By Playing These Mind Games Ranging from board games to mobile apps and online games, here are some mind games you can use to test your kid’s vocabulary. More ►

2020-02-06 — SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE A Social Media Tale Otto English takes us on a journey through the history of the English language, the exceptionalism of Empire and the furious and curious of Twitter. More ►

2020-02-03 — Why Is “Airplane” Also Spelled “Aeroplane”? The spelling differences go beyond the invention of the airplane. More ►

2020-01-31 — Lithuania needs to accept life with English language, change law – linguists Lithuania's Law on State Language needs to be amended and adapted to the existing reality, linguists say, adding that the state needs to learn side-by-side with the English language. More ►

2020-01-30 — Burnley primary school children brush up on their maths and English skills Pupils from a Burnley primary school have been brushing up on their maths and English in the form of a 'Spelling Bee' and 'Able Maths' workshop. More ►

2020-01-30 — The word columnist offers a mea culpa I have been writing “In a Word” for almost two years, and I have made mistakes. To the readers who have written in when I have erred: This is for you. 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.

2020-02-14 — South Plainfield Fourth and Fifth Graders Compete in 6th Annual Spelling Bee A total of 19 South Plainfield students put their knowledge of the English language to the test on Feb. 5 in the borough’s 6th Annual Spelling Bee. More ►

2020-02-12 — Rei wins North Smithfield Spelling Bee After three years as a finalist, 8th-grader Gracie Rei has claimed the title of North Smithfield Spelling Bee Champion. More ►

2020-02-12 — Elementary Students Ready For County Spelling Bee Fairfield Elementary fourth-grader Christian Moy says some of the words for the spelling bee are "out of this world." More ►

2020-02-11 — On spelling bee contest! Spelling is crucial in helping students improve reading skills, expand vocabularies and build English skills. More ►

2020-02-09 — SS3 pupil wins spelling Bee Fourteen year-old Ifeoluwa Ademuwa, an SS3 student of Chrisfield College has won the first prize of MTN Nigeria kid-CEO spelling B competition. More ►

2020-02-06 — This African champ spells success e-m-p-a-n-o-p-l-y The Scripps National Spelling Bee seems like the quintessential American tradition. But like so many parts of life in the U.S., if you look a little closer, there’s an international story to be told – one letter at a time. More ►

2020-02-06 — Garland ISD celebrates the 2020 Spelling Bee English and Spanish winners This year’s Garland ISD Spelling Bee featured fierce competitors, proud parents, and four first-place winners. More ►

2020-02-05 — Nigeria: Spelling Bee - Saving Young Nigerians' Ailing Grammar Skills Uchechukwu Nnaike highlights the impact of spelling competitions on the performance of students, especially in terms of reversing the trend of poor grammar among youths. More ►

2020-02-05 — Put-in-Bay student wins county spelling bee This year, the county’s top speller not only emerged from one of its smallest schools, but also overcame any barriers that come along with learning English as a second language. More ►

2020-02-03 — Spelling Bee returns with 5th season Spelling Bee is back. More ►

2020-02-03 — MAPS hosts district spelling bee More than 30 students from grades fifth through eighth squared off against one another. More ►

2020-01-30 — Sam Coleman wins WJHS Spelling Bee More ►

2020-01-30 — UMFK to host regional round for National Spelling Bee More ►

2020-01-29 — Jonesville student wins county spelling bee Jonesville sixth-grader Gibson Vestal claimed the victory and will go on to compete in the regional spelling bee in March. 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.