English spelling is broken. Let's fix it!

International English Spelling Congress: time for action

The Society is arranging an international congress to choose a new English spelling scheme. You are invited to take part and share in this world-changing event. Start by visiting the IESC home page.

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.

Latest news

There is an exceptional level of news this week, but much of it is about spelling bees, so these have been placed into their very own Beehive below.

2018-02-13 — Master that spelling: When to write 'ch' or 'tch' in a word More ►

2018-02-12 — How to Re-Invigorate Your Language in Five Easy Steps More ►

2018-02-12 — Evans: In honor of Mardi Gras, a primer on some more unusual names More ►

2018-02-11 — Is it really that difficult to learn Dutch? More ►

2018-02-11 — General Court confirms rejection of FACK JU GÖHTE; rare application of Article 7(1)(f) More ►

2018-02-10 — Why we are so charmed by Tharoor's English More ►

2018-02-08 — How Amazon Alexa Will Forever Change How We Name Companies More ►

2018-02-08 — Lawmakers want all insurance contracts in English More ►

2018-02-07 — How Americans preserved British English Americans today pronounce some words more like Shakespeare than Brits do… but it’s in 18th-Century England where they’d really feel at home. More ►

2018-02-07 — Pyongchang vs. PyeongChang vs. Pyeongchang The spelling of this year’s Olympic host city, explained. More ►

2018-02-07 — Lost in translation An Irishman's Diary on the hidden depths of Hiberno-English More ►

2018-02-06 — You've probably been pronouncing "PyeongChang" wrong How do you pronounce “PyeongChang”? More ►

2018-02-06 — Educationist Decries Poor Spelling, Grammar Among Students The wrong usage of words and improper spellings among students at all levels of education in the country More ►

2018-02-06 — Etymology gleanings for January 2018 Part 2 More ►

2018-02-06 — Master that spelling: when to write '-el', '-le' or '-al' at the end of the word We write ‘table’ NOT ‘tabel’; we also write ‘towel’ NOT ‘towle’; and write ‘local’ NOT ‘locle’. More ►

2018-02-06 — Many Food Names in English Come From Africa Words English has taken from African languages More ►

2018-02-05 — How many points is 'finsta' worth? Urban Dictionary for Scrabble? 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.

2018-02-16 — Cumberland County spellers battle incredible 53 rounds (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-15 — Love of reading helps Beverlye Magnet School's Chaz Spence win Houston County Spelling Bee (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-15 — Steinbach advances to Multi-Regional State Spelling Bee (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-15 — McKayla Long is top spelling star at East Clinton Middle School (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-14 — Patient spellers take spelling bee 12 rounds (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-14 — Adult spelling bee returns in April; teams of 4 can sign up now (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-13 — Top spellers honored at Hilltop (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-13 — GREGARIOU-S' (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-13 — Shifa wins National Spelling Bee contest (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-13 — Eighth-grader at Portland's Lyman Moore Middle School wins Cumberland County Spelling Bee (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-12 — Henley Middle School student wins county spelling bee (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-12 — This week in Fairbanks: BizBee, GoRedForWomen (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-11 — McCauley wins Spelling Bee on 'adios' (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-11 — UAE- 'Xenolith' helps student win Dh25,000 spelling bee prize (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-10 — Broomfield fifth-grader casts winning spell at regional competition (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-09 — Seventh-grader, fifth-grader win Gainesville Schools district spelling bees (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-08 — 25th Times-News Spelling Bee is Thursday, Feb. 15 (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-08 — Competition, sportsmanship reign at St. Columbkille spelling bee (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-08 — Second annual Spanish Spelling Bee celebrates Waxahachie ISD's bilingual students (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-07 — IU Bee gives students chance to compete (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-07 — Town-wide Spelling Bee winner announced (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-06 — Winners crowned at Ashland County Spelling Bee (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-06 — Selinsgrove sixth-grader ready for the spotlight (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-05 — Lautenschleger is spelling bee champ at Strasburg (Spelling Bee) More ►

2018-02-05 — Sakshi and Mukta shine at French Spell Bee contest (Spelling Bee) 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.