Spelling in English

It's an unfortunate fact that when we make a mistake in speaking a second language tolerance is far greater than when a mistake is in writing. This is particularly frustrating for non-native users of English because it's probably the most irregular of all spelling systems that exist. The problem has been made worse in that how a word is written often bears little resemblance to how it is spoken.

So what are the rules?

To answer this question comprehensively is a little self - defeating, as the result is so complicated it's of little practical use - unless you happen to have a photographic memory. In  Five Basic English Spelling Rules, I have tried to provide a summary of the most important points without going into the maze of trying to explain all the inevitable exceptions. If you are ever caught without access to  spelling software, I hope you will find it useful.

If you, like me, find English spelling a depressing enigma, don't worry. We are not alone. Gerard Nolst Trenite famously highlighted its absurdities in the following poem. Try reading it out loud. Good luck!

I take it you already know

 

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble, but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird,

And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -

For goodness sake don't call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

 

 

A moth is not a moth in mother,

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there's dose and rose and lose -

Just look them up - and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cart -

Come, come, I've hardly made a start! A dreadful language? Man alive!

I'd mastered it when I was five!

Why is English spelling (and pronunciation) so confusing?

32 thoughts on “Why is English spelling (and pronunciation) so confusing?

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