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

2019-08-31 A total of thirty-five spelling schemes have been accepted for consideration by the Expert Commission. The commission's task is to assess them and select about six for a shortlist. This is expected to take around a year to complete. The shortlisted schemes will then be presented to participants for discussion and eventually a vote. You can still register as a participant, take part and cast your vote. It's too late to propose a new spelling scheme, however. 

International news

2020-01-14 — How Many Words Are There in the English Language? Of course, it's impossible to provide an exact number of words in English, since new words are being added to the dictionary, and falling out of use, pretty much constantly. More ►

2020-01-10 — Speech-disrupting brain disease reflects patients' native tongue Dementia-related language symptoms differ in Italian and English speakers, study finds.More ►

2019-12-27 — Will Brexit spell the end of English as an official EU language? Though the UK is leaving, English is likely to remain a lingua franca in Brussels. Just don’t expect it to stand still. More ►

2019-12-22 — How to spell, according to second graders More ►

2019-12-17 — Extraneous vowels and doctor productivity: an international comparison George Bernard Shaw once quipped that the United States and the United Kingdom (and, by default, the Commonwealth) are “two nations, divided by a common language.” We assume he was referring to the United States’ system of spelling, which began to diverge from Britain’s in the 1830s under the influence of dictionarian Noah Webster. More ►

2019-12-15 — Meet the grammar champs of North Staffordshire! Results have improved across Stoke-on-Trent and the county over the last year. More ►

2019-12-14 — Third of 11‑year‑olds miss target for 3Rs Only 60 per cent of boys met the target compared with 70 per cent of girls. More ►

2019-12-13 — Times tables focus helps boost primary school maths Sats results, experts say More than half a million 11-year-olds across England took national curriculum tests in May. 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.

2020-01-08 — Scripps National Spelling Bee Launches Word Club App More ►

2020-01-08 — Harrison County Spelling Bee leads to the national stage 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.