English Spelling

For anyone learning English, including English-speaking children learning to read and write, English spelling is a nightmare! English is a difficult language to spell as there are few consistent rules of either spelling or pronunciation. Generally I don't have much difficulty. English is my first language, I love reading, enjoyed learning lists of words for weekly school spelling tests and was not disadvantaged by dyslexia or similar problems. This means that I don't often make spelling mistakes.For this I am grateful.

Spelling gives clues to language origins, so to spell English words it can help to know Latin, French, German, Flemish, Scandinavian languages and classical Greek among others. Language origin is one of the main arguments against spelling reform as is the fact that there is no agreed authority to determine spelling which depends therefore on accepted practice and usage. I think the efforts of the English Spelling Society to simplify the way English is spelt are unlikely to succeed. However would it be possible to get the whole UK to agree, and - even harder - the entire English speaking world? I like the way language (including spelling and pronunciation) evolves dynamically.

Enough of the serious stuff - now for some fun. 'Potato' is one of the easier words to spell in English now that most people have dropped the 'e' on the end, except in the plural potatoes. It would be possible but confusing to change its spelling to
Here's how that works:
GH is pronounce P as in Hiccough
OUGH is pronounced O as in DOUGH
PHTH is pronounce T as in PHTHISIS
EIGH is pronounced A as in EIGHT
TTE is pronounced T as in GAZETTE
EAU is pronounced O as in PLATEAU
(Not a good idea - that would get away from its 16th century origin in the Spanish 'patata'.)

Now you've found a different way to spell potato, try something similar for FISH. Can't be bothered? Here's one alternative spelling:
Here's how that works;
GH as in TOUGHO as in WOMENTI as in NATION

Finally for some more fun. Listen to this 102 year old challenging the way English is spelt. enjoy!

For a previous post on this topic see How to Spell

Image credit: wikimedia commons


  1. What an astonishing man. Not only is his brain 'in gear' but the agility he displays in flicking over the letters to illustrate his points is very rare in someone of his age.
    The points he makes are of course perfectly valid, but all in all I prefer the English spelling. Perhaps because, like you, I have no problem with it.
    Personally I am only mildly irritated by bad spelling but, bad grammar is another matter entirely.
    OOps Sorry, your soapbox not mine :-)

  2. You are welcome to get on your soapbox when commenting on this blog. I don't like 'incorrect' grammar either - not so sure about calling it 'bad'. 'Correct' grammar is only a matter of accepted usage by the 'educated' and the people who write the grammar guides. It is always evolving. Like spelling and punctuation it is subject to local and dialect variations which is one of the things that makes English such a richly interesting language.


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