The English Spelling Society announced plans today to host an International Congress with the aim of choosing a new English spelling scheme.

People from across the English Speaking World will be able to participate in an International debate on the difficulties and problems of the current English spelling system.

The first session of the Congress will be held on Wednesday 30th May and will provide a platform for speakers to focus on the irregularity of English spelling, its economic and social costs and what measures may be taken to remedy this. Participants from across the English Speaking World will be able to take part via a webinar.

Following the first session, an Expert Commission will be appointed to choose a short list of alternative spelling systems which will be presented to a reconvened Congress where a final choice will be made. It is the Society's hope that the approved alternative spelling scheme will be promoted to run alongside traditional spelling informally until such time as it gains sufficient acceptance in the English Speaking World. At that stage it will be possible to promote it as a formal alternative to traditional spelling.

The Chair of the Society, Jack Bovill, said: ‘This is not an attempt at top-down regulation. It is a genuine opportunity for ordinary people across the world who have some interest in the reform of our highly irregular spelling to come together and discuss what improvements might be effective and feasible.’

The Congress is the first event of its type and is being arranged in consultation with the Society's sister organisation, the American Literacy Council.

Registration for the event begins today online via

Possible spelling test for readers/listeners:

A spelling survey carried out in the US and in the UK showed that more than 50% of people had trouble with some of these words. (Spelling survey details in notes below.)

Choose the correct spelling for the following words:


  1. definitely
  2. definately
  3. definatley
  4. definitley


  1. seperately
  2. separately
  3. separatley
  4. seperatley


  1. acommodation
  2. accomodation
  3. accommodation
  4. accomerdation


  1. embarassed
  2. embarrased
  3. embarrassed
  4. embaressed


  1. leasion
  2. liason
  3. liasion
  4. liaison 

Define the following homophones:

i. they’re / their / there =

  1. in that place
  2. they are
  3. something that belongs to someone

ii. affect / effect =

  1. to influence
  2. the result of something

iii. stationary / stationery

  1. paper for letter writing
  2. not moving

iv. its / it's =

  1. it is, it has
  2. belong to it (possessive of it)


Notes for Editors

1. The spelling survey in the USA was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of The English Spelling Society. A sample of 1,000 adults aged between 18 and 80 years from across the USA responded to the survey. Fieldwork was conducted using an online methodology, and took place between 15th January and 20th January 2009. Data has been weighted to the known population in the USA.

The spelling survey in the UK was carried out by ICD Research/ID Factor on behalf of The English Spelling Society. A sample of 1000 adults aged between 18 and 80 years from across the UK responded to the survey. Fieldwork was conducted using an online methodology, and took place in April 2008. Data has been weighted to the known population in the UK.

2. Press Inquiries should be directed to: Vikki Rimmer 07886673412

3. For details of the proposed Congress visit

4. The English Spelling Society was founded in 1908. It is headquartered in the UK but has members throughout the world.

Its objects are:

  • Raising awareness and promoting research on the economic and social costs of English spelling
  • Providing resources on the development of English spelling and of the movement to update it
  • Seeking to open minds to the possibility of an eventual update of English spelling in the interests of improved literacy

To register for the event and to find out more visit


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.