The Spelling Society’s Guide To Better Spelling

Redundant Letters

English spelling is full of redundant letters. They were probably retained long after they ceased to be pronounced to distinguish the meaning of words that sound alike (homonyms) but others have no useful purpose whatsoever. Common ones: answer, dumb, gnash, gnome, knife, plumber, wrong – in fact in any word beginning with gn, kn or wr, the first letter is almost certainly silent.

There are many redundant e’s at the end of words such as: are, have, give, were etc. These mislead because they do not act as Magic E, indeed they do not alter the pronunciation of the word at all. Generally words with redundant letters just have to be memorised. BUT note the tips shown in the following paragraphs.

Where a verb ends with a “d” sound in the past tense (technical term: a weak verb), add an –ed rather than a single d (loved, pushed, picked). The e is of course redundant (except in verbs ending in d or t (eg folded, batted), but if you remember this rule, then it removes one category of redundant letters you would otherwise have to memorise!

Any word with a short vowel ending in the “v” sound will also have a redundant e (have, give, glove, live, love, shove etc.) BUT where the vowel is long, the e is not redundant: live (adjective), wives, rave, etc.

The real eccentrics

Some words just can’t be brought within any rules and have to be memorised. They include some very common ones – shown in italics.

Numbers:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten eleven, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, hundred, thousand, million; first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth etc.

 

Days of the Week:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday (Tuesday and Thursday can probably be treated as regular on the basis that they are formerly two words: Thor’s day and Freia’s day!)

 

Months of the year:

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, September, October, November, December.

 

Seasons:

Spring, summer, autumn, winter.

 

Plus the following from the 500 most common English words:

above, among, animal, answer, appear, are, as, base, beauty, before, blue, body, book, both, build, busy, children, colour, come, correct, country, course, cover, develop, do, does, don’t, done, door, early, earth, enough, ever, every, eye, family, field, figure, follow, foot, friend, front, full, give, good, govern, great, group, grow, have, head, heard, hour, house, I, idea, island, knew, know, laugh, learn, leave, listen, live, look, love, low, machine, many, measure, minute, money, more, move, never, nothing, of, often, once, only, own, people, piece, pull, put, ready, river, room, rule, said, second, serve, several, show, slow, snow, some, stood,  sure, the, their, there, though, through, to, took, toward, travel, true, very, want, war, warm, was, watch, water, were, what, where, who, whole, wonder, wood, word, work, world, write, you, young, your.

 

These are all in a sense irregular (according to the rules described above) because:

(i) the letter in red is redundant, or

(ii) the letter or letter combination in blue is a non-standard way of representing the sound in question and can cause confusion (eg stood), or

(iii) the letter in brown should either be doubled or is doubled unnecessarily.

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