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

2021-08-09 — 6-year-old Indian girl creates world record by reciting 10 longest English words Praanvi Gupta displays awesome word power and enters the International Book of Records. More ►

2021-08-06 — Why is the English language so weird and inconsistent? Blame the printing press. More ►

2021-07-28 — North-south divide no more! Scientists reveal how pronunciation of words in south-east England have been slowly replacing those in north for decades... with everyone set to talk the same in 45 years. More ►

2021-07-26 — Typos, tricks and misprints Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology. More ►

International English Spelling Congress

Following the press release announcing the results of the Congress, there have naturally been comments in the press. Most of these, as expected, object to any spelling reform as "dumbing down." These articles are collected here; and as an added incentive to read them, a brief rebuttal has been appended to each.

2021-05-23 — Spelling out a whole load of trouble if we start altering our language Prince Philip was a former patron of the Simplified Spelling Society (now the English Spelling Society) More ►

2021-05-20 — Should spellings of some words be made easier? A new proposal has been put forward by the The English Spelling Society, that the spellings of some words would be made a lot easier. More ►

2021-05-07 — You gotta spell proper, argues columnist John Nurden I have been in this bizness long enough to know that we shouldn't fro stones at greenhouses. More ►

2021-05-01 — Should we write English as it’s spoken? Or just leave it as it is… Despite its anti-phonic spelling, English has become the language of many nations — albeit through colonisation and conquest. More ►


Many news items are particularly relevant to educators at all levels from primary to tertiary. These stories will be coralled in this section.

2021-07-29 — Why our kids can’t read: it’s the ideology, stupid English teaching underwent a dramatic and far-reaching revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More ►

2021-07-26 — Phonemic awareness and phonics for learners of every age More ►

2021-07-25 — Universities will be forced to deduct marks for poor written English in students' work and will face tough sanctions if they don't Universities will be required to teach students 'relevant skills under proposals. If 'students not penalised for poor written English' institutions would break rules. It also says that universities may be in breach of their registration conditions. More ►

2021-07-21 — Salt Spring Literacy Summer Camp Begins July 26 More ►

2021-07-14 — Teach phonics in schools to help students master English Three generations of citizens have graduated from our high schools with substandard spelling ability and weaknesses in writing ability. By now, most teachers grounded in phonics have retired. More ►

2021-07-10 — The reading framework: teaching the foundations of literacy Guidance for schools to meet existing expectations for teaching early reading. 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.

2021-07-23 — First Black student wins 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee Dr. Jessica Johnson - Guest Column More ►

2021-07-21 — The decay of the art of lying, or homonyms and their kin More ►

2021-07-20 — What a ride it’s been for spelling bee champion Zaila Avant-garde She traveled cross-country, has been on all the morning shows, to Walt Disney World and in parades. More ►

2021-07-18 — Zaila Avant-garde Talks About How She Came To Her Spelling Success Zaila Avant-garde, the first African American winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, talked about how she got started in competitive spelling and what she has planned for the future. More ►

2021-07-16 — I Ran The Classroom Spelling Bee For 20 Years. Here’s What Needs To Change. Zaila Avant-garde should not be the exception. More ►

2021-07-11 — Zaila Avant-garde – 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee champ – stands where Black children were once kept out When Zaila Avant-garde, 14, won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on July 8, 2021, she became the first Black American to win in the competition’s history. Shalini Shankar, a scholar of spelling bees, breaks down the importance of this historical moment. More ►

2021-07-09 — Zaila Avant-garde, 14, becomes first Black US student to win Scripps National Spelling Bee Zaila also holds three Guinness world records for basketball dribbling, and says ‘spelling is really a side thing I do’ More ►

2021-07-09 — First African American spelling bee champ breezes to win Zaila Avant-garde, 14, from Harvey, Louisiana celebrates with the championship trophy after winning the finals of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee at Disney World Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. More ►

2021-07-09 — Zaila Avant-garde won the national spelling bee, but that wasn’t her first real victory The 14-year-old is also a Guinness World Record holder. More ►

2021-07-08 — Programming Note: Plano Middle Schooler Is a Finalist in National Spelling Bee The Scripps Spelling Bee has come down to 11 talented kids, including Dhroov Bharatia, a seventh grader from Wilson Middle School in Plano. 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.