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

International English Spelling Congress

2020-09-08 As a result of articles published by the BBC, The Times and The Guardian, we have had a large number of applications to register with the IESC. This is excellent news of course — the more participants, the more meaningful the exercise. But our admin systems are struggling a bit to cope. When you apply, you should receive a holding response within 48 hours. We have had a few cases where our response email has bounced, so if you don't hear from us within this time period, please do get in touch and let us know, so we can fix it. Once we have processed your application, you will be added to the mailing list and will receive full details on how to vote when the time comes.

2020-07-10 Following access problems with the English Spelling Reform subreddit, the Society has created its own Reddit community: TheEnglishSpellingSoc. Links to the old subreddit have been changed to access the new.

2020-05-18 The IESC project is now hosting open discussion of the shortlisted proposals on the Society Blog – there are separate threads for each of the shortlisted schemes and also for discussion on the Congress generally. There is also a Reddit subthread for The English Spelling Society. It is not necessary to register in order to take part in these discussions, but unless you register as a participant (it's free), you will not be able to vote in the final selection later in 2020. [2020-07-12 Link to subreddit updated]

International news

2020-09-30 — Children’s games and some problematic English spellings More ►

2020-09-26 — Researchers gain deep insights into the structure of birds’ brains A cortex-like canonical circuit in the avian forebrain. More ►

2020-09-18 — The Write Offs: What happened when eight adults who struggled with reading and writing took a crash course in literacy A new documentary follows eight people of all ages as they learn to read and write – and aims to end the shame of adult illiteracy. More ►


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

2020-09-25 — Children with dyslexia just learn differently': Cork mum says son's early diagnosis crucial An early dyslexia diagnosis helps children get essential learning support in school. More ►

2020-09-22 — Bamboo Learning Introduces Bamboo English Voice-Based English Language Arts Curriculum for Children in Grades K–5 to Use on Alexa Devices at Home. More ►

2020-09-21 — Rotary Sunrise, LIFE donate spelling programme to East End Primary Literacy is for Everyone (LIFE) and Rotary Sunrise joined forces to supply East End Primary students with a new spelling programme. 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.

2020-09-25 — 7-y-o whiz kid - Can spell the longest word in English vocabulary Abysenya Gordon is just seven years old, and to the amazement of her family, is spelling words most adults cannot even pronounce. 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.