The three Rs

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The three Rs (as in the letter R)[1] are three basic skills taught in schools: reading, writing and arithmetic (usually said as "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic"). The phrase appears to have been coined at the beginning of the 19th century.

The term has also been used to name other triples (see Other uses).

Origin and meaning[edit]

The skills themselves are alluded to in St. Augustine's Confessions: Latin: ...legere et scribere et numerare discitur 'learning to read, and write, and do arithmetic'.[2]

The phrase is sometimes attributed to a speech given by Sir William Curtis circa 1807: this is disputed.[3][4][5] An extended modern version of the three Rs consists of the "functional skills of literacy, numeracy and ICT".[6]

The educationalist Louis P. Bénézet preferred "to read", "to reason", "to recite", adding, "by reciting I did not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or of the textbook. I meant speaking the English language."[7]

Other uses[edit]

More recent meanings of "the three Rs" are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Obsolete Skill Set: The 3 Rs". Retrieved 2022-03-21.
  2. ^ Confessions 13:1:20 Loeb Classical Library, p. 37
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition, 2008, s.v. 'R' I:3
  4. ^ Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd edition, 2013, s.v., p. 457, excerpted in The Free Dictionary
  5. ^ John Limbird, The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 124 (January 22, 1823), p. 75
  6. ^ Functional Skills
  7. ^ L. P. Benezet, "The Teaching of Arithmetic I, II, III: The Story of an Experiment," Journal of the National Education Association, Volume 24(8): 241-244 (November 1935)