Kids Corner

for kids

Why is English spelling so mixed up, crazy and irregular?


Page editor: N Paterson. Contact by email or form.

There are 3,500 words in English that contain exceptions to the spelling 'rules'. And some of the rules have hundreds of exceptions.

How did we get
into this situation?

What happened historically that we spell 'month' and 'mother' with an 'o' instead of a 'u'?


Have you ever been puzzled by why so many of our words end with a seemingly useless 'e' such as 'have' and 'gone'?


Are you sometimes not sure if you should double a letter or not?

Why is that?

How long does it take an average English child to learn to spell well?


How long does it take an average Italian child to learn to spell well?


Why the difference?


Can spelling be modernised?

Tell me more...

What's the cost of having such a difficult spelling system?

The cost

Want to find out what is being DONE to end this madness?

What's being done?

Do YOU want to do something about it?


So it's not you; it's the system. But take heart! Here's a list of 71 common tricky-to-spell words which will help you focus on memorising the ones most people are most likely to misspell.

Common misspellings
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:

  • gh as in cough
  • o as in women
  • ti as in nation

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.