The Spelling Society’s Guide To Better Spelling

From pronunciation to spelling

It’s difficult enough predicting the pronunciation from English spelling, let alone the other way round. English is a million miles away from the “two way phonemicity” of easy spelling systems such as Spanish or Italian. However, there are a few cases where you can make reasonably firm predictions:

(a)    Many consonant sounds can only be represented by one letter, so when you hear that sound you know which letter will represent it: big, dog, gun, hit, lack, me, no, pin, queen, run, toe, vine, zebra.

(b)   The short vowel sounds can normally be represented by one vowel only: cat, bet, bit, sock, run.

(c)    The long vowel sound “oi” can only be represented by that combination, or by oy before a vowel or at the end of a word (eg boy, royal).

(d)   The sound in “found” can only be represented by that combination, or by ow at the end of a word or before a vowel or an –n: proud, town, cow, tower).

(e)    The “kw” sound will almost always be represented by a qu, except in words of foreign origin.

(f)    The “k” sound at the end of a word is usually spelled with a “ck” as in thick, crack, fleck  (exceptions, romantic, pacific etc). Also when the sound is followed by an e,i or y (cricket, sticky, lucky).

(g)   The “k” sound followed by e, i, or y must always be represented by a k (keen, kitten, frisky).

(h)   The “j” sound at the beginning of a word (unless g) is usually a single j (jam, jingle, jerry). At the end of a word it is usually  spelled with a –dge as in cadge, judge, fudge, kedge, hedge, etc. Exceptions after an n (eg range, flange), also privilege.

(i)     With some exceptions, the sound “ch” becomes “tch” when following a short vowel (switch, glitch) but remains as “ch” following any other vowel (approach).

(j)     The Daft Rascal - Americans and British pronounce quite a lot of words differently, although these differences are usually consistent, so we still understand each other (just, in some cases!).One particular difference is the words illustrated in the following sentence:

“The daft rascal pranced and gasped when I showed my last staff pass.”

The words in question are spelled with a single a – which is pronounced as short throughout most of the English Speaking World, including the USA and many English regional accents (try saying the sentence in Yorkshire or Lancashire!). But British Received Pronunciation (aka BBC English), pronounces them as if the a were an “aa” as in bazaar. If you use that pronunciation, it will help you to remember the spelling if you note that the combinations underlined usually fall into this pattern (eg aft, asc, ans,  asp, ast, aff, ass).

(k)   Remember the advice about –ed in the past tense and words ending in the v sound.

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