English orthography

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

English orthography is the orthography used in writing the English language, including English spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation. Like the orthographic systems of most world languages, it has a broad degree of standardization, but unlike most languages, English provides more than one way to spell nearly every phoneme, and most letters and letter-combinations can stand for different pronunciations depending on context and meaning. This is largely due to the complex history of the English language[1] together with the absence of systematic spelling reforms. In general, modern English spelling does not reflect the sound changes that have occurred since the late fifteenth century (such as the Great Vowel Shift).[2] There are some variations in English orthography by global regions, some of which resulted from spelling reform efforts that succeeded only partially and only in certain regions.

Function of the letters[edit]

Note: In the following discussion, only one or two common pronunciations of American and British English varieties are used in this article for each word cited. Other regional pronunciations may be possible for some words, but indicating all possible regional variants in the article is impractical.

Phonemic representation[edit]

Further information: Phonemic orthography

As in most alphabetic languages, letters in English orthography may represent a particular sound. For example, the word cat /ˈkæt/ consists of three letters c, a, and t, in which c represents the sound /k/, a the sound /æ/, and t the sound /t/.

Multiple sequences of letters may perform this role as well as single letters. Thus, in the word ship (pronounced /ˈʃɪp/), the digraph sh (two letters) represents the sound /ʃ/. In the word ditch, the three letters tch represent the sound /tʃ/.

Less commonly, a single letter can represent multiple successive sounds. The most common example is the letter x which normally represents the consonant cluster /ks/ (for example, in the word six, pronounced /sɪks/).

The same letter (or sequence of letters) may be pronounced in different ways when it occurs in different positions within a word. For instance, the digraph gh represents the sound /f/ at the end of some words, such as rough /ˈrʌf/. At the beginning of syllables (i.e. the syllable onset), the digraph gh is pronounced /ɡ/, as in the word ghost (pronounced /ˈɡoʊst/). Conversely, the digraph gh is never pronounced /f/ in syllable onsets and is almost never pronounced /ɡ/ in syllable codas (the proper name Pittsburgh is an exception).

Word origin[edit]

Another type of spelling characteristic is related to word origin. For example, when representing a vowel, the letter y represents the sound /ɪ/ in some words borrowed from Greek (reflecting an original upsilon), whereas the letter usually representing this sound in non-Greek words is the letter i. Thus, the word myth /ˈmɪθ/ is of Greek origin, while pith /ˈpɪθ/ is a Germanic word. Other examples include ph pronounced /f/ (which is usually spelt f), and ch pronounced /k/ (which is usually spelt c or k) – the use of these spellings for these sounds often mark words that have been borrowed from Greek.

Some researchers, such as Brengelman (1970), have suggested that, in addition to this marking of word origin, these spellings indicate a more formal level of style or register in a given text, although Rollings (2004) finds this point to be exaggerated as there would be many exceptions where a word with one of these spellings, such as ph for /f/ (like telephone), could occur in an informal text.

Homophone differentiation[edit]

Spelling may also be useful to distinguish between homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings), although in most cases the reason for the difference is historical and was not introduced for the purpose of making a distinction. For example, the words heir and air are pronounced identically in most dialects (as /ˈɛər/). However, they are distinguished from each other orthographically by the addition of the letter h. Another example is the pair of homophones plain and plane, where both are pronounced /ˈpln/ but have two different spellings of the vowel //.[3]

In written language, this may help to resolve potential ambiguities that would arise otherwise (cf. He's breaking the car vs. He's braking the car). Nevertheless, many homophones that are unresolved by spelling still exist (for example, the word bay has at least five fundamentally different meanings).

Marking sound changes in other letters[edit]

See also: Silent e

Another function of some letters in English is to provide information about the pronunciation of other letters in the word. Rollings (2004) uses the term "markers" for letters with this function. Letters may mark different types of information. For instance the letter e in the word cottage /ˈkɒtɨ/ indicates that the preceding g is pronounced //, rather than the more common value of g in word-final position as the sound /ɡ/, such as in tag /ˈtæɡ/. The letter e also often marks an altered pronunciation of a preceding vowel. In the pair ban and bane, the a of ban has the value /æ/, whereas the a of bane is marked by the e as having the value //. In this context, the e is not pronounced, and is referred to as "silent e". A single letter may even fill multiple pronunciation-marking roles simultaneously. For example, in the word wage the e marks not only the change of the a from /æ/ to //, but also of the g from /ɡ/ to //.

Silent letters[edit]

Further information: Silent letter

Multiple functionality[edit]

A given letter or (letters) may have dual functions. For example, the letter i in the word cinema has a sound-representing function (representing the sound /ɪ/) and a pronunciation-marking function (marking the c as having the value /s/ opposed to the value /k/).

Underlying representation[edit]

Like many other alphabetic orthographies, English spelling does not represent non-contrastive phonetic sounds (that is, minor differences in pronunciation which are not used to distinguish between different words). Although the letter t is pronounced by some speakers with aspiration [tʰ] at the beginning of words, this is never indicated in the spelling, and, indeed, this phonetic detail is probably not noticeable to the average native speaker not trained in phonetics. However, unlike some orthographies, English orthography often represents a very abstract underlying representation (or morphophonemic form) of English words.[4]

[T]he postulated underlying forms are systematically related to the conventional orthography ... and are, as is well known, related to the underlying forms of a much earlier historical stage of the language. There has, in other words, been little change in lexical representation since Middle English, and, consequently, we would expect ... that lexical representation would differ very little from dialect to dialect in Modern English ... [and] that conventional orthography is probably fairly close to optimal for all modern English dialects, as well as for the attested dialects of the past several hundred years.[5]

In these cases, a given morpheme (i.e. a component of a word) has a fixed spelling even though it is pronounced differently in different words. An example is the past tense suffix -ed, which may be pronounced variously as /t/, /d/, or - in some accents - /ɨd/ (for example, dip /ˈdɪp/, dipped /ˈdɪpt/, boom /ˈbuːm/, boomed /ˈbuːmd/, loot /ˈluːt/, looted /ˈluːtɨd/). As it happens, these different pronunciations of -ed can be predicted by a few phonological rules, but that is not the reason why its spelling is fixed.

Another example involves the vowel differences (with accompanying stress pattern changes) in several related words. For instance, the word photographer is derived from the word photograph by adding the derivational suffix -er. When this suffix is added, the vowel pronunciations change largely owing to the moveable stress:

Spelling Pronunciation
photograph /ˈftəɡræf/ or /ˈftəɡrɑːf/
photographer /fəˈtɒɡrəfər/
photographical /ˌftəˈɡræfɨkəl/

Other examples of this type are the -ity suffix (as in agile vs agility, acid vs acidity, divine vs divinity, sane vs sanity). See also: Trisyllabic laxing.

Another such class of words includes sign /ˈsn/ and bomb /ˈbɒm/ with "silent" letters g and b, respectively. However, in the related words signature and bombard these letters are pronounced /ˈsɪɡnəər/ and /bɒmˈbɑrd/, respectively. Here it could be argued that the underlying representation of sign and bomb is |saɪɡn| and |bɒmb|, in which the underlying |ɡ| and |b| are only pronounced in the surface forms when followed by certain suffixes (-ature, -ard). Otherwise, the |ɡ| and |b| are not realized in the surface pronunciation (e.g. when standing alone, or when followed by suffixes like -ing or -er). In these cases, the orthography indicates the underlying consonants that are present in certain words but are absent in other related words. Other examples include the t in fast /ˈfɑːst/ and fasten /ˈfɑːsən/, and the h in heir /ˈɛər/ and inherit /ɪnˈhɛrɨt/.

Another example includes words like mean /ˈmn/ and meant /ˈmɛnt/. Here the vowel spelling ea is pronounced differently in the two related words. Thus, again the orthography uses only a single spelling that corresponds to the single morphemic form rather than to the surface phonological form.

English orthography does not always provide an underlying representation; sometimes it provides an intermediate representation between the underlying form and the surface pronunciation. This is the case with the spelling of the regular plural morpheme, which is written as either -s (as in tick, ticks and mite, mites) or -es (as in box, boxes). Here the spelling -s is pronounced either /s/ or /z/ (depending on the environment, e.g. ticks /ˈtɪks/ and pigs /ˈpɪɡz/) while -es is usually pronounced /ɨz/ (e.g. boxes /ˈbɒksɨz/). Thus, there are two different spellings that correspond to the single underlying representation |z| of the plural suffix and the three surface forms. The spelling indicates the insertion of /ɨ/ before the /z/ in the spelling -es, but does not indicate the devoiced /s/ distinctly from the unaffected /z/ in the spelling -s.

The abstract representation of words as indicated by the orthography can be considered advantageous since it makes etymological relationships more apparent to English readers. This makes writing English more complex, but arguably makes reading English more efficient.[6] However, very abstract underlying representations, such as that of Chomsky & Halle (1968) or of underspecification theories, are sometimes considered too abstract to accurately reflect the communicative competence of native speakers. Followers of these arguments believe the less abstract surface forms are more "psychologically real" and thus more useful in terms of pedagogy.[7]

Diacritics[edit]

English has some words that can be written with accent marks. These words have mostly been imported from other languages, usually French.[citation needed] As imported words become increasingly naturalised, there is an increasing tendency to omit the accent marks, even in formal writing. For example, words such as rôle and hôtel were first seen with accents when they were borrowed into English, but now the accent is almost never used. The words were originally considered foreign – and some people considered that English alternatives were preferable – but today their foreign origin is largely forgotten. Words most likely to retain the accent are those atypical of English morphology and therefore still perceived as slightly foreign. For example, café and pâté both have a pronounced final e, which would otherwise be silent under the normal English pronunciation rules. However café is now sometimes facetiously pronounced "caff", while in pâté, the acute accent is helpful to distinguish it from pate.

Further examples of words sometimes retaining diacritics when used in English are: Ångström (partly because the scientific symbol for this unit of measurement is "Å"), appliqué, attaché, blasé, bric-à-brac, Brötchen,[8] cliché, crème, crêpe, façade, fiancé(e), flambé, naïve, naïveté, né(e), papier-mâché, passé, piñata, protégé, résumé, risqué, über-, voilà. Italics, with appropriate accents, are generally applied to foreign terms that are uncommonly used in or have not been assimilated into English: for example, adiós, crème brûlée, pièce de résistance, raison d'être, über (Übermensch), vis-à-vis.

It was formerly common in American English to use a diaeresis mark to indicate a hiatus: for example, coöperate, daïs, reëlect. The New Yorker and Technology Review magazines still use it for this purpose, even though it is increasingly rare in modern English. Nowadays the diaeresis is normally left out (cooperate), or a hyphen is used (co-operate). It is, however, still common in loanwords such as naïve and Noël.

Written accents are also used occasionally in poetry and scripts for dramatic performances to indicate that a certain normally unstressed syllable in a word should be stressed for dramatic effect, or to keep with the metre of the poetry. This use is frequently seen in archaic and pseudoarchaic writings with the -ed suffix, to indicate that the e should be fully pronounced, as with cursèd.

Ligatures[edit]

In certain older texts (typically British), the use of the ligatures æ and œ is common in words such as archæology, diarrhœa, and encyclopædia. Such words have Latin or Greek origin. Nowadays, the ligatures have been generally replaced in British English by the separated digraph ae and oe (encyclopaedia, diarrhoea); but usually economy, ecology, and in American English by e (encyclopedia, diarrhea; but usually paean, amoeba, oedipal, Caesar). In some cases, usage may vary; for instance, both encyclopedia and encyclopaedia are current in the UK.

Phonic irregularities[edit]

Partly because English has never had any formal regulating authority for spelling, such as the Spanish Real Academia Española or the French Académie française, English spelling, compared to many other languages, is quite irregular and complex. Although French, among other languages, presents a similar degree of difficulty when encoding (writing), English is more difficult when decoding (reading), as there are clearly many more possible pronunciations of a group of letters. For example, in French the [u] sound (as in "food"), can be spelled ou, ous, out, or oux (ou, nous, tout, choux), but the pronunciation of each of those sequences is always the same. In English, the /uː/ sound can be spelled in up to 18 different ways (see the Sound to spelling correspondences section below), including oo, u, ui, ue, o, oe, ou, ough, and ew (food, truth, fruit, blues, to, shoe, group, through, grew), but all of these have other pronunciations as well (e.g. as in flood, trust, build, bluest, go, hoe, grout, rough, sew). The Spelling-to-sound correspondences section below presents a summary of pronunciation variations. Thus, in unfamiliar words and proper nouns the pronunciation of some sequences, ough being the prime example, is unpredictable to even educated native English speakers.

Spelling irregularities[edit]

Attempts to regularize or reform the spelling of English have usually met with failure. However, Noah Webster popularized more phonetic spellings in the United States; such as flavor for British flavour, fiber for fibre, defense for defence, analyze for analyse, catalog for catalogue and so forth. These spellings already existed as alternatives, but Webster’s dictionaries helped make them standard in the US.[9] See American and British English spelling differences for details.

Besides the quirks the English spelling system has inherited from its past, there are other idiosyncrasies in spelling that make it tricky to learn. English contains, depending on dialect, 24–27 separate consonant phonemes and 14–20 vowels. However, there are only 26 letters in the modern English alphabet, so there cannot be a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. Many sounds are spelled using different letters or multiple letters, and for those words whose pronunciation is predictable from the spelling, the sounds denoted by the letters depend on the surrounding letters. For example, the digraph th represents two different sounds (the voiced interdental fricative and the voiceless interdental fricative) (see Pronunciation of English th), and the voiceless alveolar sibilant can be represented by the letters s and c.

It is, however, not the shortage of letters which makes English spelling irregular. Its irregularities are caused mainly by the use of many different spellings for some of its sounds, such as the sounds /uː/, /iː/ and /oʊ/ (too, true, shoe, flew, through; sleeve, leave, even, seize, siege; stole, coal, bowl, roll, old, mould), and the use of identical sequences for spelling different sounds (over, oven, move).

Furthermore, English no longer makes any attempt to anglicise the spellings of loanwords, but preserves the foreign spellings, even when they employ exotic conventions like the Polish cz in Czech (rather than *Check) or the Norwegian fj in fjord (although fiord was formerly the most common spelling). In early Middle English, until roughly 1400, most imports from French were respelt according to English rules (e.g. bataille - battle, bouton - button, but not double, trouble). Instead of loans being respelled to conform to English spelling standards, sometimes the pronunciation changes as a result of pressure from the spelling. One example of this is the word ski, which was adopted from Norwegian in the mid-18th century, although it did not become common until 1900. It used to be pronounced /ʃiː/, which is similar to the Norwegian pronunciation, but the increasing popularity of the sport after the middle of the 20th century helped the /skiː/ pronunciation replace it.[citation needed]

There was also a period when the spelling of a small number of words was altered in what is now regarded as a misguided attempt to make them conform to what were perceived to be the etymological origins of the words. For example, the letter b was added to debt (originally dette) in an attempt to link it to the Latin debitum, and the letter s in island is a misplaced attempt to link it to Latin insula instead of the Old English word īġland, which is the true origin of the English word. The letter p in ptarmigan has no etymological justification whatsoever, only seeking to invoke Greek despite being a Gaelic word.

The spelling of English continues to evolve. Many loanwords come from languages where the pronunciation of vowels corresponds to the way they were pronounced in Old English, which is similar to the Italian or Spanish pronunciation of the vowels, and is the value the vowel symbols [a], [e], [i], [o], and [u] have in the International Phonetic Alphabet. As a result, there is a somewhat regular system of pronouncing "foreign" words in English,[citation needed] and some borrowed words have had their spelling changed to conform to this system. For example, Hindu used to be spelled Hindoo, and the name Maria used to be pronounced like the name Mariah, but was changed to conform to this system.

Commercial advertisers have also had an effect on English spelling. They introduced new or simplified spellings like lite instead of light, thru instead of through, smokey instead of smoky (for "smokey bacon" flavour crisps), and rucsac instead of rucksack. The spellings of personal names have also been a source of spelling innovations: diminutive versions of women's names that sound the same as men's names have been spelled differently: Nikki and Nicky, Toni and Tony, Jo and Joe.

As examples of the idiosyncratic nature of English spelling, the combination ou can be pronounced in at least four different ways: /ə/ in famous, // in loud, /ʊ/ in should, // in you; and the vowel sound // in me can be spelt in at least nine different ways: paediatric, me, seat, seem, ceiling, people, machine, siege, phoenix. (These examples assume a more-or-less standard non-regional British English accent. Other accents will vary.)

Sometimes everyday speakers of English change a counterintuitive pronunciation simply because it is counterintuitive. Changes like this are not usually seen as "standard", but can become standard if used enough. An example is the word miniscule, which still competes with its original spelling of minuscule, though this might also be because of analogy with the word mini.[citation needed] A further example is the modern pronunciation of tissue.[specify]

History[edit]

Inconsistencies and irregularities in English pronunciation and spelling have gradually increased in number throughout the history of the English language. There are a number of contributing factors. First, gradual changes in pronunciation, such as the Great Vowel Shift, account for a tremendous number of irregularities. Second, relatively recent loan words from other languages generally carry their original spellings, which are often not phonetic in English. The Romanization of languages (e.g., Chinese) using alphabets derived from the Latin alphabet has further complicated this problem, for example when pronouncing Chinese proper names (of people or places).

The regular spelling system of Old English was swept away by the Norman Conquest, and English itself was supplanted in some spheres by Norman French for three centuries, eventually emerging with its spelling much influenced by French. English had also borrowed large numbers of words from French, which naturally kept their French spellings as there was no reason or mechanism to change them. The spelling of Middle English, such as in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, is very irregular and inconsistent, with the same word being spelled in different ways, sometimes even in the same sentence. However, these were generally much better guides to the then pronunciation than modern English spelling is.

For example, the sound /ʌ/, normally written u, is spelled with an o in son, love, come, etc., due to Norman spelling conventions which prohibited writing u before v, m, n due to the graphical confusion that would result. (v, u, n were identically written with two minims in Norman handwriting; w was written as two u letters; m was written with three minims, hence mm looked like vun, nvu, uvu, etc.) Similarly, spelling conventions also prohibited final v. Hence the identical spellings of the three different vowel sounds in love, grove and prove are due to ambiguity in the Middle English spelling system, not sound change.

There was also a series of linguistic sound changes towards the end of this period, including the Great Vowel Shift, which resulted in the i in mine, for example, changing from a pure vowel to a diphthong. These changes for the most part did not detract from the rule-governed nature of the spelling system; but in some cases they introduced confusing inconsistencies, like the well-known example of the many pronunciations of ough (rough, through, though, trough, plough, etc.). Most of these changes happened before the arrival of printing in England. However, the arrival of the printing press froze the current system, rather than providing the impetus for a realignment of spelling with pronunciation. Furthermore, it introduced further inconsistencies, partly because of the use of typesetters trained abroad, particularly in the Low Countries. For example, the h in ghost was influenced by Dutch.[10] The addition and deletion of a silent e at the ends of words was also sometimes used to make the right-hand margin line up more neatly.[10]

By the time dictionaries were introduced in the mid 17th century, the spelling system of English had started to stabilise. By the 19th century, most words had set spellings, though it took some time before they diffused throughout the English-speaking world. In The Mill on the Floss (1860), English novelist George Eliot satirized the attitude of the English rural gentry of the 1820s towards orthography:

Mr. Tulliver did not willingly write a letter, and found the relation between spoken and written language, briefly known as spelling, one of the most puzzling things in this puzzling world. Nevertheless, like all fervid writing, the task was done in less time than usual, and if the spelling differed from Mrs. Glegg's,–why, she belonged, like himself, to a generation with whom spelling was a matter of private judgment.

The modern English spelling system, with its national variants, spread together with the expansion of public education later in the 19th century.

"Ough" words[edit]

Main article: Ough (combination)

The most notorious group of letters in the English language, ough, is commonly pronounced in at least ten different ways, six of which are illustrated in the construct, Though the tough cough and hiccough plough him through, which is quoted by Robert A. Heinlein in The Door into Summer to illustrate the difficulties facing automated speech transcription and reading. Ough[pronunciation?] is in fact a word in its own right; it is an exclamation of disgust similar to ugh.

  • though: // as in toe (other examples: dough)
  • tough: /ʌf/ as in cuff (other examples: rough, enough, and the name (but not the word) Hough)
  • cough: /ɒf/ as in off (other examples: trough, Gough (name, some pronunciations))
  • hiccough (a now uncommon variant of hiccup): /ʌp/ as in up (unique)
  • plough: // as in cow (other examples: sough, drought, bough, doughty, and the names Slough and Doughty)
  • through: // as in blue
  • nought: /ɔː/ as in caught (other examples: ought, sought, thought, brought)
  • lough: /ɒx/ with a velar fricative like the ch in loch
  • borough: /ə/ (other examples: thorough, names ending in -borough)
  • hough: /ɒk/ (more commonly spelt "hock" now)

The place name Loughborough uses two different pronunciations of ough: the first ough has the sound as in cuff and the second rhymes with thorough.

Spelling patterns[edit]

Spelling-to-sound correspondences[edit]

Vowels[edit]

In a generative approach to English spelling, Rollings (2004) identifies twenty main orthographic vowels of stressed syllables that are grouped into four main categories: "Lax", "Tense", "Heavy", "Tense-R". (As this classification is based on orthography, not all orthographic "lax" vowels are necessarily phonologically lax.)

General American
Letter Lax Tense Heavy Tense-R
a /æ/
man
//
mane
/ɑr/
mar
/ɛr/
mare
e /ɛ/
met
//
mete
/ɜr/
her
/ɪər/
here
i /ɪ/
win
//
wine
/ɜr/
fir
/aɪər/
fire
o /ɒ/
mop
//
mope
/ɔr/
for, fore
u /ʌ/
hug
/juː/
huge
/ɜr/
cur
/jʊər/
cure
u /ʊ/
push
//
rude
/ɜr/
sur
/ʊr/
sure
Received Pronunciation (British)
Letter Lax Tense Heavy Tense-R
a /æ/
man
//
mane
/ɑː/
mar
/ɛər/
mare
e /ɛ/
met
//
mete
/ɜr/
her
/ɪər/
here
i /ɪ/
win
//
wine
/ɜr/
fir
/aɪər/
fire
o /ɒ/
mop
//
mope
/ɔː/
for, fore
u /ʌ/
hug
/juː/
huge
/ɜr/
cur
/jʊər/
cure
u /ʊ/
push
//
rude
/ɜr/
sur
/ʊər/
sure

For instance, the letter a can represent the lax vowel /æ/, tense //, heavy /ɑː/, or (often allophonically) [ɛə] before |r|. Heavy and tense-r vowels are the respective lax and tense counterparts followed by the letter r.

Tense vowels are distinguished from lax vowels with a "silent" e letter that is added at the end of words. Thus, the letter a in hat is lax /æ/, but when the letter e is added in the word hate the letter a is tense /eɪ/. Similarly, heavy and tense-r vowels pattern together: the letters ar in car are heavy /ɑr/, the letters ar followed by silent e in the word care are /ɛər/. The letter u represents two different vowel patterns, one being /ʌ/, /juː/, /ə/, /jʊ/, the other /ʊ/, /uː/, /ʊ/. There is no distinction between heavy and tense-r vowels with the letter o, and the letter u in the /ʊ-uː-ʊ/ pattern does not have a heavy vowel member.

Besides silent e, another strategy for indicating tense and tense-r vowels, is the addition of another orthographic vowel forming a digraph. In this case, the first vowel is usually the main vowel while the second vowel is the "marking" vowel. For example, the word man has a lax a pronounced /æ/, but with the addition of i (as the digraph ai) in the word main the a is marked as tense and pronounced /eɪ/. These two strategies produce words that are spelled differently but pronounced identically, as in mane (silent e strategy), main (digraph strategy) and Maine (both strategies). The use of two different strategies relates to the function of distinguishing between words that would otherwise be homonyms.

Besides the 20 basic vowel spellings, Rollings (2004) has a reduced vowel category (representing the sounds /ə, ɪ/) and a miscellaneous category (representing the sounds /ɔɪ, aʊ, aɪ, aʊ/ and /j/+V, /w/+V, V+V).

Combinations of vowel letters[edit]

To reduce dialectal difficulties, the sound values given here correspond to the conventions at Wikipedia:IPA for English. This table includes H, W and Y when they represent vowel sounds. If no information is given, it is assumed that the vowel is in a stressed syllable.

Deriving the pronunciation of an English word from its spelling requires not only a careful knowledge of the rules given below (many of which are not explicitly known even by native speakers: speakers merely learn the spelling of a word along with its pronunciation) and their many exceptions, but also:

  • a knowledge of which syllables are stressed and which are unstressed (not derivable from the spelling: compare hallow and allow)
  • which combinations of vowels represent monosyllables and which represent disyllables (ditto: compare waif and naif, creature and creator)
Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Minor values
(IPA)
Examples of minor value Exceptions
[clarification needed]
a
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
  • followed by 2 or more
    unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɨ/
/æ/ hatchet, banner, tally
acrobat, cat
national, camera, reality
acid, granite, palace
.
/eɪ/



/ɑː/
ache, ancient, chamber, pastry
bass
nationhood, scathingly
basis, aphasic
father (RP: aft, ask, dance, past)
/ɒ/ yacht
  • before -nge, -ste
  • before single consonant
  • before cons + (-le or r+vowel)
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/eɪ/ arrange, waste
grace, famous, violate
table, hatred, April
chaos, aorta, mosaic
/æ/


/ɨ/
flange, caste
atom, canon, have, manor
macle, sacrifice, theatrical
chocolate, orange
/ɛ/ many, any
/ɑː/ gala, slalom, sonata
debacle, phalange
/aɪ/ naive , /i/ karaoke
before final r or r + cons.
(and in derived terms)
/ɑː/ bar, cart
barred, marring
/ɛə/ scarce
before r + vowel /ɛə/ uncaring, wary, various, glare /æ/ Paris /ɑː/ are
word-final /ə/ lemma, banana /i/ bologna
in word-final -ary Ø ordinary, necessary, dictionary
after /w/ except before /k/, /ɡ/, /ŋ/ /ɒ/ watch, warrior, quantity /æ/ quango
after /w/ before final r or r + cons. /ɔː/ warning, dwarf, war
unstressed /ə/ another, about, woman Ø artistically /i/ karaoke
unstressed, in -age /ɨ/ damage, bondage
aa, ah /ɑː/ baa, aardvark, blah /æ/ Aaron /eɪ/ quaalude
ae usually /iː/ encyclopaedia, paediatrician /ɛ/ aesthetic /eɪ/ reggae, sundae, gaelic
/aɪ/ maestro
/ə/ Michael, polkaed
before r /ɛə/ aerial, aeroplane /ɪə/ chimaera /ə/ anaerobe
ai stressed /eɪ/ daisy, laid, paisley, regain, waif /aɪ/
/ɛ/
/eɪ ɪ/
aisle, bonsai, daimon, krait
said, again, against
dais, laic, mosaic, papain
/æ/ plaid, plaited, daiqiri
/aɪiː/ naif, caique
/i ɪ/ archaism
before r /ɛə/ cairn, millionaire, dairy /aɪ/ hetaira, zaire
unstressed /ɨ/ bargain, mountain /ə/ certain, coxswain, spritsail
ao /aʊ/ cacao, miaow, Taoism /eɪ/
/eɪɒ/
/eɪə/
/ɔː/
gaol
kaon, chaos
aorist, kaolin
extraordinary
/oʊ/ pharaoh
/eɪɔː/ aorta
/eɪoʊ/ baobab
/ɪoʊ/ karaoke
au /ɔː/ aura, cause, chauffer, slaughter /ɒ/
/ɑː/[11]
/aʊ/
/oʊ/
because, laurel, sausage
aunt, draught, laughter
degauss, graupel, trauma (GA)
chauffeur, gauche, mauve
/eɪ/ gauge
/aʊə/ gaur
/ʌ/ because (GA)
/ə/ aurora, meerschaum
aw /ɔː/ awed, flaw, hawk, tawny /ə/ awry
ay /eɪ/ bayonet, essays, grayer, hayride /aɪ/
/ɛ/
aye, bayou, kayak, papaya
mayor, prayer, says
/iː/ cay, quay, parlay
/əj/ gayal
e
  • before single consonant
  • before cons + (-le or r+vowel)
  • final, only vowel in word
  • final, Greek loans
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/iː/ receding, detail, gene
metre, secret
be, she
simile, catastrophe
neon
/eɪ/
/ɛ/

Ø
ukulele, cafe, crepe, seance
ever, lemon, metal, venom
treble, discretion
vineyard, awesome
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
  • followed by 2 or more
    unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɛ/ better, fetch, merry
get, watershed
legacy, elegant, delicate

crevice, epicness
/iː/ egret, lethal, reflex
feces, axes (plural of axis)
legally, devious

evil, scenic, strategic
/ɪ/ pretty
before final r or r + cons.
(and in derived terms)
/ɜː/ herd, kerb, referral /ɑː/ clerk, sergeant
before r + vowel /ɪə/ here, series, reremice, stereo /ɛə/
/ɛ/
/iː/
compere, there, werewolf
derelict, heresy, perish, very
derail, reremind
/ɜː/ were, weregild
word-final Ø mate, discipline, starve, plague /iː/ recipe
unstressed /ɨ/ hatchet, target, poet /ə/ taken, decency, moment /ɪ/ erase, erect
/eɪ/ cafe
usd, before heterosyllabic vowel /i/ create, area, atheism, video /eɪ/ sceance, fideism, rodeo
ea usually /iː/
/ɛ/
dreams, read, cleans, leaf, zeal
dreamt, read, cleanse, deaf, zealot
/eɪ/
/ə/
/ɪə/
/iːə/
/iːeɪ/
break, eagre, great, yea
hydrangea, likeable, ocean
idea, ideal, real, realty
urea, cereal, fealty, laureate
creating, protease, reagent
/ɑː/ orgeat , /æ/ poleax
/ɔː/ ealderman
/ɪ/ mileage , /iːɪ/ lineage
/ɛə/ yeah , /eɪɑː/ seance
/iːæ/ beatify, caveat, reality
before r + cons. /ɜː/ pearly, hearse, yearning, earth /ɑː/ hearken, hearty, hearth /ɪə/ beard, peart
/eɪə/ bearnaise , /i'ɑː/ rearm
before final r or r + vowel
(and in derived terms)
/ɪə/ dearly, hears, yearling, tear /ɛə/
/iːə/
tear, bears, wearing
linear, nuclear, stearin
/ɜː/ heard
/iː/ tearoom
eau /oʊ/ bureau, plateau, tableau /juː/ beauty /ɒ/ bureaucracy
ee usually /iː/ bee, breech, feed, trainee /eɪ/
/i/
matinee, fiancees, nee
bungee, coffee
/ɪ/ breeches, been (GA)
/iːə/ freest, weest
/iːɛ/ reecho , /iːɪ/ reelect
before r /ɪə/ cheering, beer, eerie /iːə/ freer, seers
ei, ey usually /eɪ/ veil, weight, heinous, obey /iː/
/aɪ/
/iːɪ/
caffeine, seize, key, geyser
either, height, heist, heinie, eye
albeit, being, cysteine, deist
/ɛ/ heifer, leisure, seigneur
/æ/ reveille, serein
/eɪ ɪ/ fideist , /iˈaɪ/ deice
after c /iː/ deceive, ceiling, conceit /æ/ ceinture, enceinte
/eɪɪ/ glaceing /iːɪ/ haecceity
before r /ɛə/ heir, madeira, their /ɪə/ weird, weir, eyrie /aɪ/ oneiric, eirenic
unstressed /ɨ/ foreign, counterfeit, forfeit /ə/
/i/
mullein, villein
volleyed
/ɪ/ ageist, herein, ogreish
/aɪ/ walleyed
unstressed, word-final /i/ monkey, curtsey, jersey /eɪ/ survey (n)
eo usually bisyllabic /iːɒ/
/iːoʊ/
/iːə/
eon, geology, reoffer, teleost
creole, geode, leonine, video
galleon, leotard, peon, theory
/ɛ/
/iː/
/ə/
feoffee, jeopardy, leopard
feoff, people
luncheon, pigeon, embraceor
/oʊ/ yeoman , /ɛə/ ceorl
/juː/ feodary , /uːi/ geoduck
/eɪoʊ/ rodeo, teosinte
eu(e),
ew(e),
ieu,
iew
usually /juː/ deuce, feudal, queue,
dew, ewe, view
/ɜː/
/uː/
/iːə/
berceuse, danseuse
leukemia, lewd, lieu (sic)
museum, pileus
/oʊ/ sew, shew
/ɛf/ lieutenant , /jɜː/ milieu
/iːuː/ reuse , /iːʌ/ reutters
/ʌ/ pileup , Ø fauteuil
after /r/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /j/, cons. + /l/ /uː/ rheumatism, sleuth, jewel, blew /iːə/ nucleus
before r /jʊə/ euro, liqueur, neural /ɜː/ masseur, voyeur /ʊə/ pleurisy , /iːɜː/ theurgy
unstressed before r /ju(ə)/ eurhythmic, neurotic /jə/
/ə/
aneurism, derailleur, grandeur
amateur, chauffeur
i
  • before single consonant
  • before cons + (-le or r+vowel)
  • before -nd, -ld, -gh, -gn
  • word-final
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
/aɪ/ shine, cited, guide
title, idle, vibrant
wild, kind, sighed, ensign
alumni, alibi, radii
vial, quiet, prior, pious
/ɪ/ pivot, give, engine
triple
wind (n), gild, Brigham, signal

cordial, orient, copious
/iː/ machine


ski
clientele, lien, skiing
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
  • followed by 2 or more
    unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
  • before cons. + e/i + vowel
/ɪ/ hitch, fiddle, mirror
bit, inflict, hint
cinema, liberty, military

finish, spirit, minute
hideous, position, Sirius
/aɪ/ digram, island, lithesome
indict, pint, ninth
miserly, silently

whitish
shinier, tidied
/æ/ meringue
/iː/ artiste, chenille, pelisse
skis, ambergris
before final r or r + cons.
(and in derived terms)
/ɜː/ bird, fir, stirrer /ɪə/ menhir
before r + vowel /aɪə/ hire, firing, enquiry
unstressed /ɨ/ livid, typical /ə/ pencil, cousin Ø business
usd, before heterosyllabic vowel /i/ familiar, alien, radii, idiot
ie finally /aɪ/ belie, die, untie, vie /i/ goalie, oldie, auntie, movie /eɪ/ lingerie (GA) , /ieɪ/ kyrie
medially /iː/ field, siege, rabies , skied /aɪ/
/aɪə/
/iə/ to /jə/
/iˈɛ /
allied, pied, rabbies, skies
client, diet, science, sliest
ambient, alien, oriel, ugliest
orient (v), acquiesce
/ɪ/ sieve, mischief, kerchief
/ɛ/ friend, hygienic (GA)
/aɪˈɛ/ biennial , /iːɒ/ clientele
/iˈiː/ medieval , /iːə/ lien
before r /ɪə/ cashier, fierce , frontier, pier, /aɪ(ə)/
/iə/ to /jə/
shier, fiery, hierarchy, plier
busier, rapier, glacier, hosiery
/iɛ(ə)/ concierge, premiere
/iˈeɪ/ atelier, bustier, dossier
/iːə/ skier
o
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
  • followed by 2 or more
    unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɒ/ or /ɑː/ doctor, torrent, donkey
dot, bomb, wonk
opera, colonise, cooperate
topic, solid, promise
/ʌ/
/oʊ/


/uː/
won, monkey, front
gross, comb, wonted, both
brokenly, probity, tonicity
meiosis, aerobic
tomb, womb
/ʊ/ wolf
/wʌ/ once
/ɔː/ (GA) long, broth
  • before single consonant
  • before cons + (-le or r+vowel)
  • word-final
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
    (inc. unstressed)
/oʊ/ omen, grove, total
noble, cobra
banjo, go
boa, poet, stoic
cooperate
/ɒ/
/uː/
/ʌ/
/ə/
moral, proper, shone
to, who, move, bosom, doable
come, love, done, colander
purpose, Europe
/ʊ/ woman
/ɪ/ women
/wʌ/ one
Ø colonel
before r /ɔː/ ford, boring, more /ɒ/ forest, borrow, moral /ɜː/ whorl
/ʌ/ borough
after w, before r /ɜː/ word, work, worst /ɔː/ worn, sword, swore /ʌ/ worry
unstressed /ə/ eloquent, wanton, author /ɒ/ neuron
oa usually /oʊ/ boat, coal, load, coax /oʊə/
/oʊæ/
/oʊˈeɪ/
boa, inchoate
coax (cable), ogdoad
oasis, cloaca
/ɔː/ broad
/uːə/ doable
/oʊˈɒ/ koala
before r /ɔː/ boar, coarse /ə/ starboard
oe usually /iː/ amoeba, coelacanth, foetal, phoenix /oʊ/
/uː/
/oʊˈɛ/
doeskin, woeful
shoelace, canoeing
poetic, soever, orthoepic
/ɛ/ foetid, roentgen
/oʊˈiː/ coeval, noesis
/oʊˈɜ/ coerce
/oʊə/ poetry, orthoepy
final vowels /oʊ/ foe, goes, toed, woe /uː/
/oʊɛ/
/oʊə/
shoes, canoe
coed, noel, phloem
goer, loess, poem
/ʌ/ does
/uːə/ doeth, doer
/ɜː/ foehn
/oʊiː/ diploe, kalanchoe
unstressed /ɪ/ oedema, oesophagus /oʊ/ aloe, echoed, oboes, soloed /uː/ hoopoe
oeu /uː/ manoeuvre /ɜː/ oeuvre
oi usually /ɔɪ/ boing, moist, coin, envoi /oʊɪ/
/wɑː/
/ə/
going, egoist, heroin, stoic
bourgeois, coiffeur, patois
connoisseur, porpoise, tortoise
/uːɪ/ doing
/iː/ chamois
/oʊaɪ/ ghettoise, oroide
before r /wɑː/ reservoir, memoir, moire, soiree /ɔɪə/ coir, loir, moira /waɪə/ choir
/ə/ avoirdupois
oo usually /uː/ cool, sooth, boot, goosebumps /ʊ/ wool, soot, foot, gooseberry /oʊ/ brooch
/oʊ ɒ/ coopt, zoology
before k, d /ʊ/ cook, shook, wood, stood /uː/ kook, spook, food, brood /ʌ/ flood, blood
before r /ɔə/ door, flooring /ʊə/ poor, moor, roorback /ə/ whippoorwill
/oʊ ɔː/ coordinate
ou stressed /aʊ/ out, aloud, bough /uː/
/ʌ/
/oʊ/
soup, you, through
touch, trouble, country
soul, dough, boulder
/ʊ/ could, should
/ɒ/ cough, fount (printing)
/juː/ ampoule, coupon (GA)
stressed before r /ɔː/ four, courtesan, discourse /aʊə/
/ɜː/
/ʊ(ə)/
hour, flour, scours
journey, courtesy, scourge
tour, courier, gourd, velour
/ʌ/ encourage, flourish
unstressed /ə/ camouflage, labour, nervous /u/
/ʊ/
entourage, bivouac, bedouin
potpourri, detour
/ʌ/ hiccough
/w/ ratatouille, ouabaine
ow stressed /aʊ/ owl, bow, row, sow, allow /oʊ/ own, bow, row, sow, alow /ɒ/ acknowledge, rowlock
before r /aʊə/ dowry, cowries /oʊ/ cowrites, showroom
unstressed /oʊ/ yellow, teabowl, landowner /aʊ/ peafowl, sundowner /əw/ cassowary, toward (RP)
oy /ɔɪ/ boy, doyenne, foyer, voyage /waɪ/ voyeur, noyade /oʊj/ oyez
/aɪ/ coyote (GA)
u
  • before multiple consonants
  • final vowel in word
/ʌ/ butter, dump, current /ʊ/ put, full, pudding
  • before single consonant
  • before cons + (-le or r+vowel)
  • before heterosyllabic vowel
    (inc. unstressed)
  • word-final
/juː/ luminous, mute, tuba
bugle, rubric
duel, fatuous, druid,
January
/ʌ/
/ʊ/
bunion
sugar
/ɪ/ busy
above after /r/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /j/, cons. + /l/ /uː/ rule, chute, June, flu
truant, fluent, menstruate
before final r or r + cons.
(and in derived terms)
/ɜː/ curdle, burr, furry
before r + vowel /jʊə/ lure, purity, curing /jə/ failure /ɛ/ bury
above after /r/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /j/, cons. + /l/ /ʊə/ rural, jury, plural
after g, before e, i Ø guess, disguise, tongue /juː/
/w/
argue, ague
linguistics, segue
unstressed /ə/ supply /ɨ/ minute, lettuce
ue, ui usually /juː/ cue, hue, nuisance /weɪ/ suede /wiː/ suite
/ɪ/ build, biscuit
above after /r/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /j/, cons. + /l/ /uː/ blue, tissue, fruit, juice
uy /aɪ/ buy, buyout, guyed /iː/
/wi/
guyot, cliquy, plaguy
tuyere, obsequy, soliloquy
/jʊɪ/ toluyl
/uːj/ thuya, gruyere
y
  • before multiple consonants
  • followed by 2 or more
    unstressed syllables
  • next syllable contains /ɪ/
/ɪ/ myth, cryptic
cylinder, typical, pyramid
cynic
/aɪ/ hyphen, psyche
cyclically
cyclist, psychic
  • before single consonant
  • before cons + (-le or r+vowel)
  • word-final, stressed
/aɪ/ typing, style, paralyze
cycle, cypress
sky, supply, bye
before final r or r + cons.
(and in derived terms)
/ɜː/ myrtle, myrrh
before r + vowel /aɪə/ lyre, tyrant, gyrate
unstressed /ə/ sibyl, martyr
unstressed, word-final /i/ city, happy

Consonants[edit]

Notes:

  • In the tables, the hyphen has two different meanings. A hyphen after the letter indicates that it must be at the beginning of a syllable, e.g. j- in jumper and ajar. A hyphen before the letter indicates that it cannot be at the beginning of a word, e.g. -ck in sick and ticket.
  • More specific rules take precedence over more general ones, e.g. "c- before e, i or y" takes precedence over "c".
  • Where the letter combination is described as "word-final", inflectional suffixes may be added without changing the pronunciation, e.g. catalogues.
  • The dialect used is RP.
  • Isolated foreign borrowings are excluded.
Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Other
values
Examples of other values
b, bb usually /b/ bit, rabbit, obtain Ø bdellium, debtor, subtle, combe
finally after m
(and in derived terms)
Ø iamb, climb, combover, numbing /b/ iambic, nimb
c before e, i, y, ae, or oe /s/ cellar, city, cyst,
face, prince, nicer
caesium, coelacanth
/tʃ/
/ʃ/
/k/
/ts/
cello, vermicelli
special, liquorice
Celts, chicer, cyncing
letovicite
initially before n, t Ø cnidarian, ctenoid
elsewhere /k/ cat, cross Ø victual, indict
cc before e, i or y /ks/ accept, eccentric, occidental /k/
/tʃ/
/s/
soccer, recce, siccing
bocce, breccia, cappuccino
flaccid
elsewhere /k/ account, accrue, occur, yucca
ch usually /tʃ/ chase, chin, attached, chore /k/
/ʃ/
/h/
/dʒ/
Ø
ached, anchor, leprechaun
machete, pistachio, welch
chutzpah
sandwich, Greenwich
yacht, Crichton
Greek-derived words /k/ chasm, chimera, chord, lichen Ø drachm
French-derived words /ʃ/ chaise, machine, cached, parachute /k/
/tʃ/
chemist, choir, machination
chassis, cheque, chowder, niche (GA)
ck /k/ tack, ticket
d, dd, dh /d/ dive, ladder, jodhpurs /dʒ/
Ø
graduate, gradual (both also /dj/ in RP)
Wednesday, handsome, sandwich
-dg- before e, i, or y /dʒ/ lodger, pidgin, edgy
f, -ff /f/ fine, off /v/ of
g before e, i, y, ae, or oe /dʒ/ gel, pager, gin, algae (GA)
gentle, rage, gigantic, regimen
/ɡ/
/ʒ/
get, eager, gig, algae (RP)
genre, barrage, gigue, regime
in gm or gn Ø phlegmy, diaphragm
gnome, signed, poignant, reign
/ɡ/
/ʒ/
pigmy, signet, indignant
judgment
elsewhere /ɡ/ go, great, guest, leg, margaric /dʒ/ margarine
gg /ɡ/ dagger, smuggest, staggering /dʒ/ agger, suggest, exaggerate
gh initially /ɡ/ ghost, ghastly, ghetto
elsewhere Ø daughter, through, fraught, brougham
eight, higher, straight, sighed
/ə/ or /oʊ/
/x/ or /k/
/f/
/ɡ/
/ɡh/
/p/
burgh
lough, saugh
laughter, trough, draught, roughage
burgher, ogham, yogh
leghorn, pigheaded
hiccough
h usually /h/ honey, heist, house, manhandle
doohickey, vehicular
Ø honest, heir, hours, piranha
annihilate, vehicle, dinghy
final or after r or ex Ø oh, rhubarb, rhyme, exhibit, exhaust /h/ exhale, exhume (in RP)
j /dʒ/ jump, ajar /j/
/ʒ/
/h/
Ø
Hallelujah
bijou, jongleur, julienne
jalapeno, fajita
marijuana
k, kk, kh usually /k/ key, bake, trekking, sheikh Ø reknit, camiknicks
initially before n Ø knee, knife, knock /k/ knish
l, ll /l/ line, valve, valley Ø
/j/
halve, balk, salmon
tortilla
m, mm usually /m/ mine, hammer
initially before n Ø mnemonic
n, nn usually /n/ nice, funny, anchovis
damnable
/ŋ/
Ø
anxiety
monsieur, condemner, damningly
before /k/ or /ɡ/ /ŋ/ inkling, bangle, anchor /n/ incline, vanguard, mankind
finally after m Ø hymn, autumn, solemn
ng finally and in terms
derived from ng-final words
/ŋ/ long, kingly, singer, clingy /ŋɡ/
/ndʒ/
longer, strongest
stingy (ungenerous)
medially otherwise /ŋɡ/
/ndʒ/
congress, singly, finger, language
binging, wharfinger, dingy, engaol
/nɡ/
/ŋ/
/nʒ/
congrats, engage, vanguard
hangar, lingonberry, tongue
ingenue, lingerie
p, pp usually /p/ pill, happy, soup, corpse, script Ø corps, coup, raspberry, receipt
initially before n, s, t Ø pneumonia, psyche, ptomaine /p/ psst
ph, pph /f/ photograph, sapphire /v/
/pf/
Stephen
camphor
q (not before u) /k/ Iraq, Iqaluit
r, rr, rh, rrh usually /r/ ray, parrot, rhyme, diarrhoea Ø iron
  • before consonant
  • finally
  • before final e
Ø in non-rhotic
dialects like RP
cart, burr, fir, care, walker, tear, hurt
See below for combinations of vowel letters and the letter r
s usually /s/ song, ask, misled /z/
/ʃ/
/ʒ/
Ø
is, lease, lens, raspberry
sugar, tension
vision, closure
islet, aisle, debris, mesne
-s- between vowel sounds
(see also "se" below)
/z/ rose, prison /s/ basis
word-final -s morpheme
after a voiceless sound
/s/ pets, shops
word-final -s morpheme
after a lenis sound
/z/ beds, magazines
sc- before e, i or y /s/ scene, scepter, scissors, scythe /sk/
/ʃ/
sceptic, scirrhus
fascism
sch- /sk/ school, scheme, schizo /ʃ/
/s/
schedule (in RP, otherwise: /sk/), schist
schism (in RP, otherwise: /sk/)
sh /ʃ/ shin, fashion
ss /s/ boss, assign
dresser, dissent, aggressors,
finesse
/ʃ/
/z/
/s s/
tissue, aggression
dessert, dissolve, scissors
disseat, misspell, missort
sw /sw/ switch, swan /s/
Ø
sword, answer
coxswain
t, -tt usually /t/ ten, bitter, etiology
cation, attune, piteous
dishearten,
haste, softer, wallet, gristmill
/ʃ/
/tʃ/
/ʒ/
/d/
Ø
ration, martial, cautious
bastion, nature, fortune, righteous
equation
kindergarten
soften, ballet, Christmas, mortgage
in -sten and -stle Ø hasten, listens, rustling, thistles /t/ tungsten, listless
-tch /tʃ/ batch, kitchen
th /θ/
/ð/
thin, both, north, absinthe
the, bother, smooth, soothe
/t/
/tθ/
/th/
/tʃ/
Ø
thyme
eighth
outhouse, potherb (RP)
posthumous (GA)
asthma
v, -vv /v/ vine, heavy, savvy, reveled, revved
w /w/ sward, swerve, wale Ø
/uː/
/v/
two, sword, answer, gunwale
cwm
Weltanschauung
wh- usually /w/ [12] wheel /f/ whew (RP)
before o /h/ [12] who, whole /w/ whopping, whorl
wr- /r/ [13] wrong, wrist
x initially /z/ xylophone, Xenon, xenophobia
elsewhere /ks/ extent, excuse, axe /ɡz/
/ɡʒ/
/kʃ/
Ø
exit (in some pronunciations)
luxury (in some pronunciations)
anxious
faux-pas
xc before e or i /ks/ excellent, excited
y- /j/ yes, young
z, -zz /z/ gazump, seized, crazier,
rhizophagous, pizzazz,
zoo, quiz
/ʒ/
/ts/
Ø
azure, seizure, brazier (GA)
schizophrenic, pizzas
rendezvous

Combinations of vowel letters and "r"[edit]

Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Minor values
(IPA)
Examples of minor value Exceptions
ayer, ayor /e[ɪ]ə[r]/ layer, mayor
owr, ower /aʊ[ə][r]/ dowry, tower, flowery

Combinations of other consonant and vowel letters[edit]

Spelling Major value
(IPA)
Examples of major value Minor values
(IPA)
Examples of minor value Exceptions
ah /ɑː/ blah
al /æl/ pal, talcum, algae, alp /ɔːl/ bald, falcon (also: /æl/)
alf /ɑːf/ (RP)
/æf/ (GA)
calf, half /æl/ alfalfa, malfeasance /ɔlf/ palfrey
alk /ɔːk/ walk, chalking, talkative /ælk/ alkaline, grimalkin /ɔlk/ balkanise
all /ɔːl/
/æl/
call, fallout, smaller
shall, callus, fallow
/ɒl/
/(ə)l/
wallet, swallow
allow, dialled
/ɛl/ (GA) marshmallow, pall-mall
alm /ɑːm/ alms, balmy, calm, palmistry /ælm/
/ɔːlm/
palmate, salmonella, talmud
almanac, almost , instalment
/æm/ salmon, /ɔːm/ halm
/ɑːlm/ almond (GA)*
/əlm/ signalment
alt /ɒlt/ (RP)
/ɔːlt/ (GA)
alter, malt, salty, basalt /ælt/
/ɔːlt/
alto, shalt, saltation
altar, asphalt
/ɑlt/ gestalt (GA)
/əlt/ royalty, penalty
final -ange /eɪndʒ/ arrange, change, mange, strange /ændʒ/ flange, phalange /ɑːnʒ / melange
/ɒndʒ/ blancmange
/ɪndʒ/ orange
final -aste /eɪst/ chaste, lambaste, paste, taste /æst/ cineaste, caste (GA), pleonaste /ɑːst/ (out)caste (RP)
/əsteɪ/ namaste
unstressed ci- before a vowel /ʃ/ special, gracious /si/ species
-cqu /kw/ acquaint, acquire /k/ lacquer, racquet
final -ed after /t/ or /d/ /ɨd/ loaded, waited
final -ed after a voiceless sound /t/ piped, enserfed, snaked /ɛd/ biped, underfed /ɨd/ naked
final -ed after a lenis sound /d/ limbed, enisled, unfeared /ɛd/ imbed, misled, infrared
eh /eɪ/ eh, prehniet, tempeh /ɛə/ yeh /ɛ/ feh /ə/, keffiyeh
final -es after a fricative /ɨz/ mazes, washes, axes, bases, pieces /iːz/ axes, bases, feces, oases
unstressed ex- before vowel or h /ɨɡz/ exist, examine, exhaust /ɛks/ exhale
gu- before a /ɡw/ bilingual, guano, language /ɡ/ guard, guarantee
final -le after non-l consonant /əl/ little, table /l/ orle, isle /leɪ/ boucle
final -(a)isle /aɪl/ aisle, isle, enisle, lisle
final -ngue /ŋ/ tongue, harangue, meringue /ŋɡeɪ/ merengue, distingué /ŋɡi/ dengue
oh, final or before a consonant /oʊ/ oh, kohlrabi, ohm, pharaoh /ɒ/ demijohn, johnny /ɔː/ bohrium
/ə/ matzoh
old /oʊld/ blindfold, older, bold /əld/ scaffold, kobold (also /ɒld/
olk /oʊk/ yolk, folklore /ɒlk/ polka (RP), kolkhoz /oʊlk/ polka (GA)
oll /ɒl/ dollhouse, pollen, trolley, holly /oʊl/ tollhouse, swollen, troller, wholly /ɔː/ atoll (GA), /ɔɪ/ cholla
/əl/ caroller, collide
olm /ɒlm/ olm, dolmen /oʊlm/ enrolment, holmium /oʊm/ holm (oak)
ong /ɔːŋ/
/ɑːŋg/
songstress, along, strong, wronger
congress, jongleur, bongo, conger
/ɑːndʒ/
/ɑːŋ/
/ɔːŋg/
/ʌŋɡ/
/ʌndʒ/
congeries, longevity, pongee
tonger, bong, dugong, tongs
longer, strongest, elongate
monger, humongous, mongrel
sponger, longe, spongy
/ʌŋ/ among, tongue
/ɑːng/ongoing, nongraded
/əng/ congratulate, lemongrass
/əndʒ/ congeal, congestion
/ɒnʒ/ allonge /oʊnʒ/ congé (GA)
qu- /kw/ queen, quick /k/ liquor, mosquito
final -que /k/ mosque, bisque /keɪ/ manque, risqué /kjuː/ barbeque, /i/ pulque
final -re after a consonant /ər/ timbre, acre, ogre, centre /reɪ/, /ri/
/rə/
cadre (GA), compadre, emigre
genre, oeuvre, fiacre
ro /rɒ/ rod /roʊ/ roll /ə(r)/ iron
unstressed sci- before a vowel /ʃ/ conscience, luscious, prosciutto /sai/ sciatica, sciamachy, sciential /ʃi/ conscientious (RP), fasciated
/sɪ/ (RP) omniscient, prescience
-scle /səl/ corpuscle, muscle /skəl/ mascle
-se after a vowel (noun) /s/ house, excuse, moose, anise, geese /z/ prose, nose, tease, guise, compromise /si/ posse
-se after a vowel (verb) /z/ house, excuse, choose, arise, please /s/ grouse, dose, lease, chase, promise
unstressed -si before a vowel /ʃ/ expansion /ʒ/
/zi/
division, illusion
physiology, busier, caesium, flimsiest
/si/ tarsier
unstressed -ssi before a vowel /ʃ/ mission /si/ potassium, dossier
unstressed -sure /ʒər/ leisure, treasure /ʃər/ tonsure, censure
unstressed -ti before a vowel /ʃ/ nation, ambitious /ʒ/ equation /ti/ patio, /taɪ/ cation
/ʃi/ mollities
unstressed -ture /tʃər/ nature, picture

* According to the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary, 75% of Americans pronounce "almond" as /ˈɑːlmənd/.
† Where GA distinguishes between /ɑː/ and /ɔː/ in the letter combination ong, RP only has the vowel /ɒ/

Sound-to-spelling correspondences[edit]

The following table shows for each sound the various spelling patterns used to denote it, starting with the prototypical pattern(s) followed by others in alphabetical order. Some of these patterns are very rare or unique (such as "gh" for /p/, "ph" for /v/, "i" for /ɑː/). The symbol "…" stands for an intervening consonant.

Consonants[edit]

Consonants
IPA Spelling Examples
/p/ p, pp, gh, pe, ppe pill, apps, hiccough, thorpe, shoppe
/b/ b, bb, be, bh bit, ebb, barbe, bhang
/t/ t, tt, bt, cht, ct, ed, ght, pt, te, th, tte, tw ten, sett, doubt, yacht, victual, dressed, lighter, pterodactyl, forte, thyme, cigarette, two
/d/ d, dd, de, dh, ed, ld (in some dialects: t, tt) dive, odd, bdellium, horde, dharma, abandoned, solder (waiter, flatter)
/ɡ/ g, gg, gge, gh, gu, gue gig, egg, pogge, ghost, guard, catalogue
/k/ c, k, cc, ch, ck, cq, cqu, cque, cu, ke, kh, kk, lk, q, qu, que, x cat, key, account, chord, tack, acquire, lacquer, sacque, biscuit, burke, khaki, trekker, polka-dotted, quorum, liquor, mosque, excitement
/m/ m, mm, chm, gm, lm, mb, mbe, me, mh, mme, mn mine, hammer, drachm, phlegm, salmon, climb, combe, forme, mho, femme, autumn
/n/ n, nn, cn, dn, gn, gne, kn, ln, mn, mp, nd, ne, nh, nne, pn, sne nice, inn, cnidarian, Wednesday, gnome, coigne, knee, Lincoln, mnemonic, comptroller, handsome, borne, piranha, tonne, pneumonia, mesne
/ŋ/ ng, n, nc, ngh, ngue sing, link, charabanc, dinghy (GA), tongue
/r/ r, rr, l, re, rh, rre, rrh, rt, wr fur, burr, colonel, forewarn, rhyme, murre, myrrh, mortgage, wrong
/f/ f, ff, fe, ffe, gh, lf, ph, phe, pph, (u) fine, chaff, carafe, gaffe, laugh, half, physical, ouphe, sapphire, (lieutenant (RP))
/v/ v, vv, f, ph, lve, ve, w vine, savvy, of, Stephen, halve, have, weltanschauung
/θ/ th, the, chth, phth, tth, fth (in some dialects) thin, absinthe, chthonic, phthisis, Matthew, (twelfth)
/ð/ th, the them, breathe
/s/ s, ss, c, cc, ce, ps, sc, sce, sch (in some dialects), se, sse, st, sth, sw, z song, mess, city, flaccid, ounce, psalm, scene, coalesce, (schism), horse, finesse, listen, asthma (RP), sword, quartz
/z/ z, zz, cz, s, se, ss, sth, ts, tz, x, ze, c (in some dialects) zoo, fuzz, czar, has, tease, dissolve, asthma (GA), tsarina, tzar, xylophone, breeze, (electricity)
/ʃ/ sh, c, ce, ch, che, chi, chsi, ci, s, sc, sch, sci, she, shi, si, ss, ssi, ti shin, speciality, ocean, machine, quiche, marchioness, fuchsia, special, sugar, crescendo, schmooze, conscience, galoshe, cushion, expansion, tissue, mission, nation
/ʒ/ g, ge, j, s, si, ti, z, zh, zi genre, beige, bijou, leisure, division, equation, seizure, zhoosh, brazier
/tʃ/ ch, tch, c, cc, che, chi, cz, t, tche, te, th, ti, tsch, tsh chop, batch, cello, bocce, niche (GA), falchion, Czech, nature, escutcheon, righteous, posthumous (GA), bastion (GA), putsch, Wiltshire
/dʒ/ g, j, ch, d, dg, dge, di, dj, ge, gg, gi magic, jump, sandwich (RP), graduate, judgment, bridge, soldier, adjust, barge, suggest, Belgian
/h/ h, wh, j, ch, x he, who, fajita, chutzpah, Quixote
/j/ y, i, j, ll, ye yes, onion, hallelujah, tortilla, aye
/l/ l, ll, le, lh, lle line, shall, aisle, pelham, gazelle
/w/ w, u, o, ou, we, wh (in most dialects) we, persuade, choir, Ouija board, awesome, what
/hw/ wh (in Hiberno-Eng. and Southern Am. Eng.) wheel
/wr/ wr (in Scottish Eng.) wren
/x/ ch (in Scottish Eng.) loch
/ks/ x, cc, chs, cks, cques, cs, cz, kes, ks, lks, ques, xc, xe, xs, xsc, xsw sax, accent, tachs, backs, sacques, sacs, eczema, burkes, yaks, caulks, toques, excel, axe, exsert, exscind, coxswain
/ɾ/ tt, dd, t, d(see flapping) better, daddy, united, Cody

Vowels[edit]

Vowels
IPA Spelling Examples
/iː/ e, e…e, i, i…e, a, ae, ay, ea, ee, ei, eo, ey, eye, ie, ie...e, oe, oi, ue, ui, uy, y be, cede, ski, machine, bologna, algae, quay, beach, bee, deceit, people, key, volleyed, field, hygiene, amoeba, chamois, dengue, beguine, guyot, city
/ɪ/ i, y, a, a...e, ai, e, ea, ee, ei, i...e, ia, ie, ii, o, oe, u, u...e, ui bit, myth, orange, chocolate, bargain, pretty, mileage, breeches, counterfeit, medicine, carriage, sieve, shiitake, women, oedema, busy, minute (RP), build
/uː/ u, u...e, oo, eu, ew, ieu, ioux, o, o…e, oe, oeu, ooe, ou, ough, ougha, oup, ue, ui, w, wo tutu, flute, too, sleuth, yew, lieu, Sioux, to, lose, shoe, manoeuvre, cooed, soup, through, brougham, coup, true, fruit, cwm, two
/ʊ/ oo, u, o, or, ou, oul look, full, wolf, worsted, courier, should
/eɪ/ a, a…e, aa, ae, ai, ai...e, aig, aigh, al, ao, au, ay, e (é), e...e, ea, eg, ei, ei...e, eig, eigh, eighe, ee (ée), eh, er, es, et, ey, ez, ie, oeh, ue, uet bass, rate, quaalude, reggae, rain, cocaine, arraign, straight, Ralph (Br.), gaol, gauge, pay, ukulele (café), crepe, steak, thegn, veil, beige, reign, eight, weighed, matinee (soirée), eh, dossier, demesne, ballet, obey, chez, lingerie (GA), boehmite (GA), merengue, bouquet
/ə/ a, e, o, u, y, a...e, ae, ah, ai, au, ea, eau, eh, ei, eig, eo, eou, eu, gh, ie, o...e, oa, oe, oh, oi, oo, ou, ough, u...e, ua, ue, ui, uo tuna, oven, icon, opus, beryl, gunwale, anaerobe, Messiah, mountain, aurora, Eleanor, bureaucrat, keffiyeh, mullein, foreign, truncheon, timeous, amateur (RP), burgh, mischievous (GA), awesome, starboard, biocoenosis, matzoh, porpoise, whipoorwill, callous, borough (RP), minute (GA), piquant, guerillla, circuit (GA), languor
/oʊ/ o, o…e, aoh, au, eau, eo, ew, oa, oe, oh, oo, ou, ough, oughe, ow, owe so, bone, pharaoh, mauve, beau, yeoman, sew, boat, foe, oh, brooch, soul, though, furloughed, know, owe
/ɛ/ e, a, ae, ai, ay, e...e, ea, ei, eo, ie, ieu, u, ue, oe m'et, many, aesthetic, said, says, there, deaf, heifer, jeopardy, friend, lieutenant (RP), bury, guess, foetid
/æ/ a, aa, ai, al, au, ea, ei, i hand, Aaron, plaid, salmon, laugh (GA), poleax, enceinte, meringue
/ʌ/ u, o, o…e, oe, oo, ou, wo, au (some dialects) sun, son, come, does, flood, touch, twopence, (because)
/ɔː/ o, o...e, a, al, ao, au, augh, aughe, aw, awe, eo, oa, oh, oo, ou, ough, u, uo, ure, cord, more, fall, walk, extraordinary, author, caught, overslaughed, jaw, awe, ealdorman, broad, bohrium, door, four, bought, surest (RP) fluoridate (RP), sure (RP)
/ɒ/ o, a, ach, au, eau, oh, ou, ow lock, watch, yacht, sausage, bureaucracy, demijohn, cough, acknowledge
/ɑː/ a, a...e, aa, ah, au (RP), e, ea, i (GA), o (GA) father, garage, baa, blah, aunt (RP), sergeant, heart, lingerie (GA), lot (GA)
/aɪ/ ae, ai, aie, aille, ais, ay, aye, ei, eigh, ey, eye, i, i…e, ia, ie, ic, ig, igh, ighe, is, oi, oy, ui, uy, uye, y, y...e, ye maestro, krait, shanghaied, canaille (RP), aisle, kayak, aye, heist, height, geyser (GA), eye, mic, fine, diaper, tie, indict, sign, high, sighed, isle, choir, coyote, guide, buy, guyed, tryst, type, bye
/ɔɪ/ oi, oy, awy, eu, oll, uoy foil, toy, lawyer, Freudian, cholla, buoy
/aʊ/ ou, ow, ao, aow, au, ough, oughe, owe, (eo) out, now, cacao, miaow, gauss, bough, ploughed, vowed, (Macleod)
/ɑː(r)/ ar, aar, are, arr, arre, arrh, ear, er, uar, our (some dialects) car, bazaar, are, parr, bizarre, catarrh, heart, sergeant, guard, (our)
/ɛə(r)/ are, aer, air, aire, ar, ayer, ayor, ayre, e'er, eah, ear, eir, eor, er, ere, err, erre, ert, ey're bare, aerial, hair, millionaire, scarce, prayer, mayor, fayre, ne'er, yeah, bear, heir, ceorl, moderne, where, err (variant), parterre, couvert, they're
/ɪə(r)/ ere, aer, e're, ea, ear, eer, eir, eor, er, ers, ier, iere, ir, oea here, chimaera, we're, idea (RP), ear, beer, weir, theory, series, revers, pier, premiere, souvenir, diarrhoea (RP)
/ɜr/
/ɜː/
er, ir, ur, ear, ere, err, erre, eur, irr, irre, oeu, olo, or, ore, our, ueur, urr, urre, yr, yrrh defer, fir, fur, earl, were, err, interred, chauffeur, birr, stirred, hors d'oeuvre, colonel, worst, wore, adjourn, liqueur, purr, murre, myrtle, myrrh
/juː/ u, u…e, ew, eau, eo, eu, ewe, ieu, iew, ou, ue, ueue, ui music, use, few, beauty, feodary, feud, ewe, adieu, view, ampoule, cue, queue, nuisance

See also[edit]

Orthographies of English related languages[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ A short history of English spelling
  2. ^ English language. (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/188048/English-language
  3. ^ Often this is because of the historical pronunciation of each word where, over time, two separate sounds become the same but the different spellings remain: plane used to be pronounced ˈpleːn, but the sound merged with the // sound in plain, making plain and plane homonyms.
  4. ^ Rollings 2004: 16-19; Chomsky & Halle 1968; Chomsky 1970
  5. ^ Chomsky & Halle 1968:54
  6. ^ Chomsky 1970:294; Rollings 2004:17
  7. ^ Rollings 2004:17–19
  8. ^ Included in Webster's Third New International Dictionary,1981
  9. ^ Algeo, John. "The Effects of the Revolution on Language", in A Companion to the American Revolution. John Wiley & Sons, 2008. p.599
  10. ^ a b Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Twisted Story of English Spelling, by David Wolman. Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-136925-4. [1]
  11. ^ Pronounced /æ/ in GA
  12. ^ a b or /hw/ in Hiberno-English and Southern American English
  13. ^ /wr/ in Scottish

Bibliography[edit]

Albrow, K. H. (1972). The English writing system: Notes towards a description. Schools Council Program in Linguistics and English Teaching, papers series 2 (No. 2). London: Longmans, for the Schools Council.
Aronoff, Mark. (1978). An English spelling convention. Linguistic Inquiry, 9, 299–303.
Bell, Masha (2004), Understanding English Spelling, Cambridge, Pegasus.
Bell, Masha (2007), Learning to Read, Cambridge, Pegasus.
Bell, Masha (2009), Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling, Cambridge, Pegasus.
Brengelman, Fred H. (1970). Sounds and letters in American English. In The English language: An introduction for teachers (pp. 77–98). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Brengelman, Fred H. (1970). Generative phonology and the teaching of spelling. English Journal, 59, 1113–1118.
Brengelman, Fred H. (1971). English spelling as a marker of register and style. English Studies, 52, 201–209.
Brengelman, Fred H. (1980). Orthoepists, printers, and the rationalization of English spelling. Journal of English and German Philology, 79, 332–354.
Carney, Edward. (1994). A survey of English spelling. London: Routledge.
Chomsky, Carol. (1970). Reading, writing and phonology. Harvard Educational Review, 40 (2), 287–309.
Chomsky, Noam; & Halle, Morris. (1968). The sound pattern of English. New York: Harper and Row. (Particularly pp. 46, 48–49, 69, 80n, 131n, 148, 174n, 221).
Cummings, D. W. (1988). American English spelling: An informal description. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801879566
Derwing, Bruce; Priestly, Tom; Rochet, Bernard. (1987). The description of spelling-to-sound relationships in English, French and Russian: Progress, problems and prospects. In P. Luelsdorff (Ed.), Orthography and phonology. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Dixon, Robert. (1977). Morphographic spelling program. Eugene, OR: Engelman-Becker Press.
Emerson, Ralph. (1997). English spelling and its relation to sound. American Speech, 72 (3), 260–288.
Hanna, Paul; Hanna, Jean; Hodges, Richard; & Rudorf, Edwin. (1966). Phoneme – grapheme correspondences as cues to spelling improvement. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Jespersen, Otto. (1909). A modern English grammar on historical principles: Sounds and spellings (Part 1). Heidelberg: C. Winter.
Luelsdorff, Philip A. (1994). Developmental morphographemics II. In W. C. Watt (Ed.), Writing systems and cognition (pp. 141–182). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
McCawley, James D. (1994). Some graphotactic constraints. In W. C. Watt (Ed.), Writing systems and cognition (pp. 115–127). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Mencken, H. L. (1936). The American language: An inquiry into the development of English in the United States (4th ed.). New York: A.A. Knopf.
Rollings, Andrew G. (1998). Marking devices in the spelling of English. Atlantis, 20 (1), 129–143.
Rollings, Andrew G. (1999). Markers in English and other orthographies. In L. Iglesias Rábade & P. Nuñez Pertejo (Eds.), Estudios de lingüística contrastiva (pp. 441–449). Universidad de Santiago.
Rollings, Andrew G. (2003). System and chaos in English spelling: The case of the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative. English Language and Linguistics, 7 (2), 211–233.
Rollings, Andrew G. (2004). The spelling patterns of English. LINCOM studies in English linguistics (04). Muenchen: LINCOM EUROPA.
Sampson, Geoffrey. (1985). Writing systems: A linguistic introduction. London: Hutchinson.
Seymour, P. H. K.; Aro, M.; & Erskine, J. M. (2003). Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies. British Journal of Psychology, 94 (2), 143–174.
Simpson, J. A.; & Weiner, E. S. C. (Eds.). (1989). Oxford English dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Steinberg, Danny. (1973). Phonology, reading and Chomsky and Halle's optimal orthography. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 2 (3), 239–258.
Stubbs, Michael. (1980). Language and literacy: The sociolinguistics of reading and writing. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Venezky, Richard L. (1967). English orthography: Its graphical structure and its relation to sound. Reading Research Quarterly, 2, 75–105.
Venezky, Richard L. (1970). The structure of English orthography. The Hague: Mouton.
Venezky, Richard L. (1976). Notes on the history of English spelling. Visible Language, 10, 351–365.
Venezky, Richard L. (1999). The American way of spelling. New York: Guildford Press.
Weir, Ruth H. (1967). Some thoughts on spelling. In W. M Austin (Ed.), Papers in linguistics in honor of Leon Dostert (pp. 169–177). Janua Linguarum, Series Major (No. 25). The Hague: Mouton.

External links[edit]