Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling

Why does the English language have so many words that are difficult to spell?  The main reason is that English has 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 separate sounds, more than any other language.  Some of the results of this are:

Words that have the same sounds but are spelled differently,

Words that contain letters that have nothing to do with the way the words are pronounced,

Words that contain silent letters; that is, letters that must be included when you write the words even though they are not pronounced,

Spelling rules that have lists of exceptions - words that do not follow the rules and thus must be memorized separately.

This situation exists because English has adopted words from many other languages, or at least has partially adopted them.  Very often, English has accepted the new words with their original spellings, but has not always adopted the original pronunciations, or pronunciations were changed by common habit or political expediency, but the original spellings were never changed to match the new pronunciations.  

The reasons for the Ridiculous English Spelling do not matter, however, because  English is what it is; it has been this way for a long time.  If you want to learn to speak and write it, you must learn it as it is and not how it should be.  Our task is to make it a little easier for you.

Some common inconsistencies:



How they are pronounced

words containing "ough"

  1. thought, bought, fought, brought
  2. enough, rough, tough, slough
  3. through 
  4. though, although, dough, thorough
  5. cough
  6. bough, doughty
  1. end with sound of "ot" as in POT, NOT
  2. end with sound of "uff" as in STUFF
  3. ends with sound of Long U, as in the word THREW or SHOE
  4. end with the sound of Long O, as in NO or GO
  5. ends with the sound "OFF
  6. contain the same sound as "COW" or "NOW" 

Words that sound the same but are spelled differently.

  1. byte, bite, bight
  2. seen, scene
  3. hear, here
  4. sense, cents, scents
  5. their, there, they're
  6. feet, feat
  7. ate, eight
  8. err, heir, air
  9. wheel, weal, we'll
  10. you, ewe
  11. isle, aisle, I'll
  12. ale, ail
  13. gnu, new, knew
  1. Long i + t
  2. Long e + n
  3. Long e + r
  4. all end with the sound of "-ENCE" or "-ENSE"
  5. Long a + r
  6. Long e + t
  7. Long a + t
  8. Long a + r
  9. Long e + L
  10. Long u
  11. Long I + L
  12. Long a + L
  13. N + Long u

Words containing "ight" 

alight, bight, blight, flight, fright, height, light, night, might, right, sight, tight, plight,  

In all of these words, "ight" is pronounced like Long i + t.

Words with Silent Letters

  • gnat, gnaw
  • know, knee, knife, knit, knickers, knuckle
  • psychology, psychiatrist, pneumonia
  • should, could, would
  • isle, aisle, island
  • wrap, wrinkle, write, wrath, wrist, wrought
  • debt, doubt
  • listen, soften, castle, often

All of these words are pronounced as if the red letters were not there, but when you write the words, you MUST include those letters.

Words that look the same but are pronounced differently.

  1. wind - Short i sound
  2. wind - Long i sound
  3. read - Short e sound
  4. read - Long e sound
  5. abuse - with z sound
  6. abuse - with s sound
  7. addict - stress on ad
  8. addict - stress on dict
  9. combine - stress on com
  10. combine - stress on bine
  11. defect - stress on de
  12. defect - stress on fect
  1. moving air outdoors, part of weather
  2. twisting motion, as with a clock spring
  3. past tense, got meaning from written words
  4. present tense of same verb
  5. verb, to injure or do harm
  6. noun - injury or damage
  7. noun - person who acts compulsively
  8. verb - to make dependent on
  9. noun - a harvesting machine
  10. verb - to put together
  11. noun - a flaw
  12. verb - to desert

Words with 'oo' that should sound the same but don't.

  1. book, foot, good, hood, look, moor, poor, stood, wood
  2. aloof, boom, doom, gloom, soon, bloom, broom, noon, proof, roof, zoom
  3. floor, door
  4. flood, blood
  1. these words have the same Short U  vowel sound
  2. these words all have a Long U sound
  3. 'oo' = an O sound as in 'or', 'more'
  4. these words have the same vowel sound as 'bud' and 'cud' 

Some more inconsistencies:

Ways to spell Long 'U'

shoe, grew, through. do, doom, flue, two, who, brute, duty

Ways to spell Long 'O'

go, show, though, sew, beau, float, bone,

Ways to spell Long 'A'

may, weigh, late, pain, rein,  great

Ways to spell Long 'E'

free, bean, magazine, gene, mete, be, mien, receive, believe

Ways to spell Long 'I'

fine, rhyme, fight, align, isometric, bayou

The chart above is just a small sample of why Spelling Rules in English can be almost as much of a problem as spelling itself.  Notice the "i-e" Rule:

Use i before e, except after c, or when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh. 

  • This is a nice, neat little rule concerning words that have the letters i and e together, usually  to form the Long E sound in English: i before e, as in piece or relief.
  • Then the rule says "Except after C".  The ie becomes ei , as in receive and deceit
  • Now you know that the Long E sound in English can be made by 'ie', unless the sound comes after 'c', in which case it is made by 'ei', (except for those times when the Long E sound is made by 'ee' or 'ea' or 'e' or 'i' or 'oe').
  • Then the Rule tells you about another exception - when the i and the e are together in a word and are pronounced like Long A, the e must come before the i.  Examples: neighbor, sleigh, weigh, freight, etc.
  • In this one short Rule, there are already  two exceptions to it covering dozens of other words, but that is not the end.  There are many words that do not follow the Rule or its exceptions: seize, weird, neither, either, foreign, sovereign, forfeit, counterfeit, leisure, heifer, protein, geiger (as in 'counter'), height, sleight, feisty, seismograph, poltergeist, kaleidoscope. 

At this point you may ask, "What can I do about it? How can I figure out how to spell the words in this crazy language?" Believe it or not, there are a few things you can do that will help, but after you remember the rules and learn the 'tricks', you are left with this basic technique: Study, Memorize, Study, Memorize, Study, Memorize.


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