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Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling

Lesson 1. Unusual Facts About Spelling English Words

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:

1. Words that have the same sounds but are spelled differently,

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

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

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


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This situation exists for a variety of reasons.      For some words, the pronunciation has changed over the centuries even though the spelling has not changed.  Some words have been borrowed from other languages, and although they have kept their original spellings,  people over the years began pronouncing the words according to English rules.  Still other words have been borrowed from other languages and have kept their original spellings AND pronunciations, which makes them seem strange by English rules.

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 that a little easier for you









Some common inconsistencies:

Pattern Examples How they are pronounced
words containing "ough"
  1. thought, bought, fought, brough
  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"






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Pattern Examples How they are pronounced
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











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Pattern Examples How they are pronounced
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
  • hour, heir, herb
  • Wednesday, handkerchief (maybe)
  • lamb, limb, dumb, thumb, climb, tomb, comb
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.












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                                   Words that look the same but are pronounced differently.

WIND - noun, Short I sound, moving air outdoors, part of weather WIND - verb, Long I sound, a twisting motion, as with a clock spring
READ - past tense verb, Short E sound, got meaning from written words READ - Long E sound, present tense of same verb
ABUSE - verb, S sounds like Z, to injure or do harm ABUSE - noun, S sounds like S,  an injury, damage or mistreatment
ADDICT - verb, Stress on -DICT-,  to make dependent on ADDICT - noun, Stress on AD-, a person who acts compulsively
COMBINE - verb, Stress on -BINE,  to put together, mix together, join COMBINE -  noun, Stress on COM-,  a harvesting machine
DEFECT - verb, Stress on -FECT;  to desert, run or escape from DEFECT - noun, Stress on DE-,  a flaw
OBJECT - verb, Stress on -JECT, to express opposition  OBJECT - noun, Stress on OB-,  a thing, an article, a goal
SUBJECT - verb, Stress on -JECT,  to cause to submit to or undergo SUBJECT - noun, Stress on SUB-,  topic of study or interest
LEAD - Verb, Long E sound; to conduct, show the way, take first position LEAD - noun, Short E sound,  a soft, very heavy metal
BOW - verb, Rhymes with COW,  bending forward from the waist as a sign of respect BOW - noun, Has Long O sound;  a long stick used to play a violin or shoot an arrow
















 Words that look the same but are pronounced differently.

SOW - verb, Long O sound: to spread seeds onto prepared ground SOW - noun, Rhymes with HOW; a female pig
POLISH - adjective, Long O sound; a person or object from Poland. POLISH - noun, Short sound as in DOLL; a liquid used to shine hard surfaces.  verb, Soft O sound; the act of cleaning or shining.
DESERT -verb, Stress on -SERT; to abandon or run away from. DESERT - noun, Stress on DE-; a rocky, sandy geographical area lacking water
PRESENT - verb, Stress on -SENT; to give to, such as an award PRESENT - Stress on PRE-; as noun - a gift; as an adverb - in attendance, here
DOVE - verb, Long PO sound; to jump head first, as into water. DOVE - noun, Rhymes with LOVE; a pigeon-like bird.
INVALID - adjective, Stress on -VAL- meaning illegal or not acceptable . INVALID - noun, Stress on IN- a person who is physically disabled.
ROW - as a noun, a line or tier of similar objects; as a verb, to propel a small boat with paddles or oars ROW - noun - a disagreement or argument
DOES - Third -person singular form of the verb DO, Rhymes with FUZZ. DOES - noun, Rhymes with NOSE; more than one female deer
SEWER - noun, Long U sound; a channel for waste water.  SEWER - noun, Long O sound; a person who sews or stitches fabric.
TEAR - verb, Long A sound, rhymes with MARE; to rip or shred paper or cloth TEAR - noun, Long E sound, rhymes with HERE; water that comes from the corner of one's eyes















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  Words that look the same but are pronounced differently.

CLOSE - verb, Long O, S sounds like Z, like NOSE; to shut, unopen, seal a container CLOSE - adverb, Long O, S sounds like S; meaning near or almost
BASS - noun, Long A sound, like BASE; the lowest male singing voice, low notes BASS - Short A sound, rhymes with PASS; a species of fresh-water game fish
WOUND - past tense of verb TO WIND, rhymes with FOUND; tightening a spring with a twisting motion. WOUND -  Long U sound, rhymes with TUNED; noun, an injury; as a verb, to cause an injury.






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

1. book, foot, good, hood, look, moor, wood 1. these words have the same Short U  vowel sound as in PUT
2. aloof, boom, doom, gloom, soon, bloom, broom, noon, proof, roof, zoom 2. these words all have a Long U sound as in TUNE
3. floor, door 3. a Long O sound as in  MORE
4. flood, blood 4. these words have the same vowel sound as MUD.






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Words that don't sound like they are spelled

1. one , the number 1 1. pronounced like /WUN/ , rhymes with GUN
2. to - a preposition meaning 'in the direction of' 2. pronounced like /TU/ , Long U sound, rhymes with BOO.
3. who - a pronoun 3. pronounced like /HOO/ , Long U sound, rhymes with BOO.
4. do - a verb meaning 'to perform, act, accomplish' 4. pronounced like /DU/ , Long U sound, rhymes with DEW.
5. shoe - noun, item of clothing worn on and protecting your feet 5. pronounced like /SHU/ , Long U sound,  rhymes with GLUE.
6. two - the number 2 6. pronounced like /TU/ , Long U sound, rhymes with BOO
7. was - singular past tense of the verb TO BE 7. pronounced like /WUZ) , rhymes with FUZZ.
8. of - preposition having many meanings 8. pronounced like /UV/ , Short U sound,  rhymes with LOVE













More strange spelling facts:

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' ine, rhyme, fight, align, isometric, bayou
Ways to spell Long 'O' go, show, though, sew, beau, float, bone,
Ways to spell Long 'U' shoe, grew, through. do, doom, flue, two, who, brute, duty






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 when it sounds like EE, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh. 

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.

GreepleTitle Page            No Jokes Cover-Small             Busy Lizzie Cover-small

Practice reading English.  Check out the following stories at www.mikiemetric.net .

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Exercise: For each of the words in the list below, write the definition (from a dictionary) and write a sentence using the word.

1. scene    
2. seen    
3. scent    
4. sent    
5. cent    
6. err    
7. air    
8. heir    
9. feet    
11. new    
12. knew    
13. hear    
14. here    

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In spite of the fact that there are many English words that do not follow general pronunciation rules, at least 80 percent of English words DO follow normal rules.  Go to Basic English, Lesson 7, to learn how to pronounce all the letters of the English alphabet.

  100's of My Favorite Songs from the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's.

Links to videos, lyrics of the songs and Wikipedia biographies of the artists, plus Then and Now photos. 

To begin learning Rules and Clues to spelling English, please go to the NEXT PAGE.

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