Tuesday, August 9, 2022

It’s a wonder anyone who speaks English can spell anything correctly

In some languages -- Albanian and Armenian, for instance -- once a person learns the alphabet he or she can spell every word in the language correctly because each letter has one and only one sound. Not so in English. There are many ways to spell a sound in English.

Here are a few examples out of thousands that cause people learning English as a second language to shake their heads in bewilderment:

  • Words with Long I sound: bite, bight, byte, blight, bright, fight, flight, fright, height, kite, knight, light, mite, might, night, plight, quite, rite, right, site, sight, slight, spite, sprite, tight, white, wight, write, wright

  • Words with Long A sound: ate, bate, bait, crate, date, eight, fate, fete, freight, gate, gait, grate, great, hate, late, mate, pate, plate, prate, rate, sate, slate, state, strait, straight, trait, wait, weight

  • More words with Long A sound: bay, bray, cay, clay, claim, day, dray, epee, fey, flay, fray, gay, gray, grey, hay, hey, jay, lay, lei, may, nay, neigh, pay, play, pray, prey, quay, ray, say, shay, slay, sleigh, spray, stay, stray, strain, sway, tray, train, trey, vain, vein, way, weigh, yea

  • Words with Long E sound: bee, brie, clean, fee, flee, flea, free, gee, glee, glean, he, key, knee, lea, me, peek, peak, plea, see, sea, she, tee, tea, three, tree, wee

  • Words with Long O sound: beau, blow, crow, dough, dote, faux, float, flow, foe, fro, go, goat, gloat, glow, groat, grow, grown, ho, hoe, joe, know, lo, low, moat, mote, mow, no, roe, row, sew, so, sow, show, shoat, slow, snow, stow, tableau, though, throat, throw, toe, tow, whoa, woe

  • More words with Long I sound: aisle, buy, by, bye, cry, die, dye, dry, eye, fie, fly, fry, guise, guy, high, I, isle, lie, lye, my, nigh, pi, pie, ply, pry, rye, shy, sigh, sly, spy, spry, sty, tie, try, vie, why, wry

  • Words with Short U sound: buff, bluff, cuff, chuff, duff, enough, fluff, guff, gruff, huff, muff, puff, rough, snuff, stuff, tough

  • Words with "Aw" sound: awe, aught, bought, brought, caught, cough, dawn, doff, fawn, fought, fraught, lawn, nought, off, ought, sauce, sought, taut, taught, thought, trough, wrought

  • Words with Long "oo" sound: boo, blew, blue, brew, broom, bruise, clue, crew, cruise, do, dew, due, few, flew, flue, fuse, gloom, goo, glue, grew, hew, hue, igloo, loo, lieu, moo, mew, new, queue, revue, review, room, rue, sue, slough, slew, stew, strew, to, too, two, through, threw, true, view, woo, you

  • Words with "Ow" sound: aloud, bough, bow, brow, chow, cloud, cow, clown, down, drown, frau, frown, gown, how, loud, now, plow, plough, prow, proud, row, sow, town, vow, wow, zowie

I could go on but your eyes would glaze over, if they haven't already glazed over.

Don't despair, however. You could be trying to learn Mandarin Chinese, which doesn't have an alphabet. It has more than 100,000 characters instead.


  1. Some kids certainly have problems with this issue. Learning to spell is another challenge.

    1. Keith, my point was that the challenge is more, well, challenging n English than in some other languages.

  2. Not to mention regional accents.
    I remember a riddle about how should the (non-) word "ghoti" be pronounced. Answer = "fish".

    1. Tasker, I never thought of it as a riddle. If memory serves, it was first put forth by George Bernard Shaw in his advocating of simplified spelling. The gh is pronounced like the gh in 'enough', the o is pronounced like the o in 'women', and the ti is pronounced like the ti in 'nation'. --- hence, ghoti = fish!

    2. Didn't know it was from GBS - you learn something every day but it doesn't seem simplified to me. The examples are exactly the onesI remember. Why not "enuff", "wimmin" and "nayshun"?


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