Faulty spelling systems make learning to read and write harder and slower than regular ones. The more exceptions a system has the harder it is to master. English is less systematic than most. Nearly all of its spellings have some exceptions. The few that don’t are sometimes used without connection to sound (e.g. debt, receipt). But some irregularities retard literacy learning much more than others. The most damaging are the irregular spellings for short /e/ and short /u/, the many variants for /ee/, surplus -e endings and omitted or needlessly doubled consonants (column, collect v college).
Below you can see 1,393 irregularly spelt common words affected by those irregularities and which are most responsible for making learning to read and write English roughly ten times slower than systematically spelt languages: 61 words with short /e/ , 68 short /u/, 326 with variants for /ee/, 146 words with surplus -e endings and 794 words with omitted, alternative or surplus consonant doubling.
The 794 words with omitted or surplus consonant doubling all have to be learned one by one. They do further damage by undermining the systematic doubling used in 504 words for differentiating between long and short vowels, as in ‘made madder‘. If doubling was used systematically, it would be easy to understand and use, and this learning burden would not exist.
Amending all five major flaws in English spelling would make it much more rule-governed and much easier and less time-consuming to learn and teach. The words next to the ones with irregular spellings show how they would be spelt if they were spelt systematically, using the main English spelling patterns.
- Words with irregular spellings for /e/ in the left-hand column would look as shown on the right, if they were spelt regularly and had regularly doubled consonants as well (e.g. ‘reddy’ like ‘teddy’).
|Bred/bread, breadth, breast, breath, dead, deaf, dealt, |
death, dread, dreamt, head, health, led/lead, leant/lent, leapt, meant, red/read, realm, spread, sweat, thread, threat, wealth. Breakfast, cleanliness, cleanse, endeavour, feather, heather, instead, leather, measure, stealthy, treacherous, treadmill, treasure, weather/whether. Heaven, heavy, jealous, meadow, peasant, pheasant, pleasant, ready, (already), steady, weapon, zealous. Berry/bury, any, many. Jeopardy, leopard. Heifer. Friend, every, said, says. Wednesday.
Bred, bredth, brest, breth, ded, def, delt,
deth, dred, dremt, hed, helth, led, lent, lept, ment, red, relm, spred, swet, thred, thret, welth. Brekfast, clenliness, clense, endevour, fether, hether, insted, lether, mesure, stelthy, trecherous, tredmill, tresure, wether. Hevven, hevvy, jellous, meddow, pezzant, phezzant, plezzant, reddy,(alreddy), steddy, weppon, zellous. Berry, enny, menny. Jeppardy, leppard. Heffer. Frend, evry, sed, ses, Wensday.
2) With regularly spelt short /u/ the 68 words below would become:
|Among, Monday, monger, mongrel, monk, monkey, month, mother, smother. Comfort, company, compass; front, nothing, son/sun, ton/tun, tongue, sponge. Wonder, worry. Brother, other. Above, come, dove, glove, love, shove, some/sum. Done/dun, none/nun. Does. Country, young. Enough, rough/ruff, slough, tough, hiccup/hiccough, southern, touch. One/won, once Blood, flood. Colour/color, dozen, honey, money, onion, stomach, thorough, cover, covet, covey, covenant, govern, oven, shovel, slovenly. Double, couple, trouble. courage, cousin, nourish.||Amung, Munday, munger, mungrel, munk, munky, munth, muther, smuther. Cumfort, cumpany, cumpass; frunt, nuthing, sun, tun, tung, spunge. Wunder, wurry. Bruther, uther. Abuv, cum, duv, gluv, luv, shuv, sum. Dun, nun. Dus. Cuntry, yung. Enuff, ruf, sluf,slou, tuf, hickup, suthern, tuch. Wun, wunce Blud, flud. Cullour/cullor (UK/US) duzzen, hunny, munny, unnion, stummac, thurru, cuvver, cuvvet, cuvvy, cuvvenant, guvvern, uvven, shuvvel, sluvvenly. Dubble, cupple, trubble. currage, cuzzin, nurrish.|
3) With regularised spellings for the /ee/ sound
|119 words which are currently spelt with ea would become: Appeel, beecon, beed, beek, beem, beerd, beest, beever, beneeth, bleech, bleek, bleet, breethe, ceese, cheet, cleen, cleer, colleegue, conceel, congeel, creem, creese, creeture, deel, deen, decreese, defeet, diseese, dreem, dreery, eech, eeger, eegle, eer, eese, eest, Eester, eet, feer, feest, feeture, freek, geer, gleem, gleen, heep, heet, heeth, heethen, heeve, increese, leef, leegue, leen, leep, leese, leesh, leest, leeve, meegre, meel, meen, meesles, neer, neet, ordeel, peech, peet, pleed, pleese, pleet, preech, queesy, reech, reelly, reep, reer, reeson, releese, repeet, retreet, reveel, screem, seel, seer, seeson, seet, sheef, sheeth, smeer, sneek, speek, speer, squeek, squeel, squeemish, steem, streek, streem, teech, teek, teese, theeatre, treecle, treeson, treet, treety, veel, ween, weery, weesel, weeve, wheet, wreeth, yeer, yeest, zeel. + Leed/led, teer/tear|
|47 words which now have 2 spellings would be: Bee, beech, been, beet, breech, cheep, creek, deer, discreet, eery, feet, flee, freeze, Greece/greece, heel, leech, leek, meet, need, pee, peek, peel, peer, reed, reek, reel, see, seem, seen, sheer, steel, sweet, tee, teem, wee, week, weel; eev, eevs, jeens, heer, kee, peece, seeling, seemen, serial, sheek|
|78 words now with an open e would change to: Hee, mee, shee. Adheesiv, areena, cafeteeria, ceedar, chameeleon, Chineese, comeedian, compeet, compleet, concreet, conveen, conveenient, deecent, deemon, eequal, eera, eeven, eevil, expeerience, exteerior, extreem, feemale, feever, freequent, geenie, geenius, heero, hyeena, impeerial, infeerior, ingreedient, intermeediate, leegal, leegion, leenient, mateerial, meedium, meer, meeteor, meeter, millipeed, mysteerious, obeedient, peeriod, peeter, polytheen, preceed, preevious, queery, reecent, reecess, reegion, reelay, scheem, seequence, seequin, seeries, seerious, seerum, speecies, spheer, stampeed, strateegic, supeerior, supreem, sweed, teedious, theem, theeory, thees, torpeedo, trapeez, veehicle, Veenus, zeero.|
|28 now with open i (e.g. albino): Albeeno, aubergeen, bikeeni, clementeen, debree, fateeg, guilloteen, macheen, magazeen, margareen, mareen, plasticeen, raveen, routeen, sardeen, tamboureen, tangereen, trampoleen, uneek, poleece, anteek, moskeeto, presteege, regeem, peeza, Vaseleen, skee, suveneer.|
|26 now with ie: Acheev, beleef, beleev, breef, cheef, deesel, feeld, feend, feerce, greef, greev, hygeenic, medeeval, neece, peerce, preest, releef, releev, sheeld, shreek, seege, theef, theev, teer, weeld, yeeld.|
|13 with ei: conceev/conceet, deceev/deceet, perceev, receev/receet. Caffeen, codeen, proteen, seeze, weer, weerd.|
|Oddments: Peeple; catheedral, seecret.|
6) 146 words have surplus –e endings which obscure their vowel-lengthening function in words like ‘define, bone, care, endure, advise, inflate, ignite, drive, save, survive’.
|Destine, determine, discipline, doctrine, examine, engine, famine, feminine, genuine, heroine, imagine, intestine, jasmine, masculine, medicine, urine, gone, shone.|
|Are, (cf. car, care). Conjure, exposure, failure, figure, fissure, injure, measure, pleasure, pressure, procedure, treasure. Adventure, agriculture, architecture, capture, caricature, creature, culture, departure, expenditure, feature, fracture, furniture, future, gesture, lecture, legislature, literature, manufacture, miniature, mixture, nature, picture, puncture, scripture, signature, structure, temperature, torture, venture, vulture.|
|Purchase, premise, promise, purpose. (cf. atlas, devise, propose).|
|Accurate, adequate, affectionate, candidate, chocolate, climate, considerate, corporate, delicate, desperate, extortionate, fortunate, frigate, illiterate, immaculate, immediate, intermediate, intricate, laureate, legitimate, obstinate, palate, passionate, pirate, private, proportionate, senate, Composite, Definite, exquisite, favourite, granite, infinite, opposite. In 25 words the –ate endings are used for two different words (to deliberate a deliberate act). Advocate, alternate, appropriate, approximate, articulate, associate, certificate, co-ordinate, degenerate, delegate, deliberate, designate, desolate, dictate, duplicate, elaborate, estimate, graduate, intimate, laminate, moderate, separate, subordinate, syndicate, triplicate (cf. inflate).|
|Give, forgive, have, live (cf. drive, save, alive), abrasive, abusive, adhesive, aggressive, apprehensive, comprehensive, compulsive, conclusive, creative, cursive, decisive, defensive, depressive, derisive, detective, dismissive, divisive, effusive, elusive, evasive, excessive, exclusive, expensive, explosive, expressive, extensive, fugitive, impressive, impulsive, incisive, inclusive, initiative, intensive, invasive, massive, motive, narrative, objective, obtrusive, offensive, oppressive, passive, pensive, permissive, perspective, persuasive, possessive, productive, progressive, prospective, radioactive, repulsive, respective, responsive, selective, sensitive, subjective, submissive, subversive, successive.|
5) Respellings for 574 words with currently omitted or variant consonant doubling and 219 words surplus doubling.
|328 words merely lack doubling after their short, stressed vowels: abillity, abollish, abomminable, academmic, acaddemy, aggony, aluminnium, Amerrica, annimal, apollogise, aquattic, Arrab, arrable, arrid, asparragus, astonnish, astrollogy, astronnomy, athlettic, attom, atommic, authorrity, avvenue, avverage, bannish, bannister, barommeter, batton, bennefit, billious, boddy, bottany, briggand, Brittish, cabbin, cabbinet, calammity, cammera, cannopy, cappita, cappital, carramel, carravan, carrol, cattapult, cattegory, cavvalry, cavvern, cavvity, charriot, charrity, cherrish, clarrity, clevver, clinnical, collony, commedy, commet, commic, comparrison, connifer, conspirracy, continnue, coppy, corral, creddit, crimminal, crittic, critical dammage, decidduous, deddicate, dellicacy, delivver, delluge, demmocrat, demolish depputy, derrelict, devellop, devvil, dilappidated, diplomattic, distribbute, domminate, dommino, draggon, drivvel, drivven, econommic, econnomy, eddit, edducate, electronnic, ellement, elevven, elligible, elimminate, emmerald, emmigrate, empirrical, enammel, ennemy, ennergy, eppic, epidemmic, eppisode, equivvalent, evver, evvidence, experriment, fabbulous, facillities, fammily, fammished, fedderal, fellon, finnish, flaggon, florrist, forrest, gallaxy, garrage(UK), givven, glammour, grannary, grattitude, gravvity, habbit, havvoc, hazzard, hellicopter, herrald, herritage, herroin, herron, hexaggonal, hiddeous, historric, holliday, horroscope, hovvel, hovver, iddiot, immage, inhabbit, inherrent, inherrited, itallic, jagguar, Jannuary, javvelin, latteral, lattitude, lavvender, lemmon, lepper, libberal, libberty, lilly, limmit, linnear, litteral, litterary, lizzard, lozzenge, maddam, magnettic, magnifficent, majorrity, mannage, mannual, mannuscript, mathemattics, meddal, meddical, mellody, mellon, memmorise, memmory, mennu, merrit, mettal, metropollitan, millitary, minneral, minnimal, minnimum, minnister, minorrity, mirracle, moddern, moddest, monnitor, monottonous, monnument, morral, morallity, navvigate, nebbula, nevver, numerrical, oblitterate, oppera, opperate, opinnion, orrange, organnic, orrigin, Paciffic, pallace, pannic, parrasol, parrish, pathettic, pellican, pennalty, pennetrate, perril, perriscope, perrish, pettal, pitty, plannet, plattinum, poettic, pollicy, pollish, polittical, pollitics, poppular, popularrity, povverty, prelimminary, premmier, primarrily, priorrity, privvilege, probabillity, probbable, prodduct, proffit, prohibbit, promminent, propper, propperty, prossecute, provverb, provvidence, punnish, quivver, raddical, raddish, rappid, ravvenous, reallity, refference, reffuge, rellic, remmedy, revverend, riddicule, rivver, rivvet, robbin, sallad, sallary, sallon, sattin, satturate, Satturn, savvage, scavvenge, semmi, sevven, shivver, shrivvel, signifficant, incerrity, sinnister, skelleton, snivvel, sollid, sollitary, spanniel, speciffic, spinnach, spirrit, stattic, sterrilise, strattegy, strennuous, studdy, supersonnic, tallent, tallon, tappestry, tellescope, tellevision, teppid, tettanus, theollogy, therrapist, thermommeter, timmid, tollerate, tonnic, toppic, transparrent, tribbute, troppics, vallentine, vallid, vallue, vannish, ventrilloquist, verry, viddeo, viggorous, vinnegar, vitallity, vollume, volluntary, vommit, waggon, wizzard, wizzened, yetti.|
|73 words do not use ck, dg, ss or zz, as in ‘beckon, badger, passive, buzzard’. With regular doublingthey would look as follows: crockodile, deckade, deckorate, dockument, execkutive, fackulty, plackard, reckognise, reckord(n), record(v), ridickulous, seckond(n),second(v), seckondary, seckular, vackuum, brockoly, hickup, ockupye, pickolo, suckulent, tobacko, ecko, meckanism, checkered, lacker, lickor, lickorish, adgile, didgit, exadgerate, fridgid, ledgend, ledgislate, lodgic, madgic, oridginal, refridgerate, redgiment, redgister, ridgid, tradgic, vedgetable, assid, antissipate, capassity, dessimal, electrissity, explissit, glassier(UK), munissipal, spessimen, velossity, adolessent, convalessent, cressent, fassinate, clozzet, depozzit, dezzert, hezzitate, mizzerable, pozzitive, prezzence, prezzent, prezzident, prizzon, rezzident, rizzen, vizzit.|
|55 words are without doubled consonants after irregularly spelt short vowels. 18 with short /e/ and 21 with short /u/ have already been shown above. The remaining 16 are: busy, women, chrysalis, cylinder, cynical, synagogue, synonym, syrup, lyric, tyranny, typical, physics, physical laurel, sausage. With regular spellings and doubling they would become: Bizzy, wimmen, chrissalis, cillinder, cinnical, sinnagog, sinnonim, sirrup, lirric, tirrany, tippical, fizzics, fizzical, lorrel, sossage.|
|34 words do not have the -ccle doubling in endings, like ‘apple, little, etc.’ couple, double, trouble, apostle, bristle, bustle, camel, chapel, chisel, drivel, enamel, gravel, gristle, grovel, hovel, hustle, jostle, level, model, muscle/mussel, novel, panel, rustle, shrivel, snivel, subtle, swivel, thistle, travel, treble, trestle, triple, whistle, wrestle. They should be: cupple, dubble, trubble, apossle, brissle, bussle, cammle, chapple, chizzle, drivvle, enammle, gravvle, grissle, grovvle, hovvle, hussle, jossle, levvle, moddle, mussle, novvle, pannle, russle, shrivvle, snivvle, suttle, swivvle, thissle, travvle, trebble, tressle, tripple, wissle, ressle.|
|85 words have assorted additional irregularities: Adequate, comparative, feminine, frigate, heroine, minute(x2) negative, olive, palate/palette/pallet, primitive, relative, senate, amateur, camouflage, catalogue, cemetery, column, foreign, honest, honour, monarch, monastery, shadow, sheriff, scissors, solemn, widow, premise, promise, menace, novice, analysis, anonymous, anorak, beret, cabaret, café, chalet, calendar, caterpillar, chemical, chemistry, civil,dynamic, elephant, endeavour, laminate(x2), lieutenant, moderate(x2), pacify, platypus, plumber, polythene, qualify, quality, quarantine, rebel(x2), refuse(x2), regular, salmon, Saturday, separate(x2), similar, simile, sugar, tenor/tenner, valiant, venison, verify, , detach. They should be addequat, comparrativ, femminin, friggat, herroin, minnit(n,v) + minute(adj), neggativ, olliv, pallet, primmitiv, rellativ, sennat, ammatur, cammuflage, cattalog, semmetry, collum, forren, onnest, onner, monnark, monnastry, shaddo, sherrif, sizzers, sollem, widdo, premmis, prommis, mennis, novvis, anallisis, anonnimous, annorac, berray, cabbaray, caffay, challay, callender, catterpiler, kemmical, kemmistry, sivvil,dinammic, ellefent, endevver, lamminate(v) + lamminat(adj), leftennent(UK), lutennent(US), modderate(vb) + modderat(adj), passifye, plattipus, plummer, pollytheen, quollifye, quollity, quarranteen, rebble(n) + rebel(vb), reffuse (n) + refuse(vb), regguler, sammon, Satterday, sepparate(vb) + sepparat(adj), simmiler, simmily, shugger, tenner, vallient, vennisen, verrifye, detatch.|
219 words have surplus consonant doubling – not after a short, stressed vowel.
Some of them have other irregularities as well (affectionate, excellent), including missing doubling (satellite).
abbreviate, accompany, accomplish, accord, accordance, accordion, account, accrue, accumulate, accuse, accustom, occur, occurrence, cockerel, cocktail, mackerel, add/ad, odd, address(uk), affair, affect, affection, affectionate, affluent, afford, chauffeur, differential, diffusion, effect, efficient, effluent, effusive, giraffe, graffiti, offence, offend, offensive, official, officious, paraffin, sheriff, sufficient, aggravate, aggressive, egg, alliance, allotment, allow, allowance, allowed/aloud, ballistic, balloon, bull, bulldoze, cell/sell, collage, collapse, collect, collection, collide, constellation, controlled, excellent, hello, illegal, illegible, illiterate, illuminate, illusion, illustration, installation, intellectual, jewellery, llama, marvellous, parallel, pastille, roller, satellite, swollen, tonsillitis, traveller(UK), wholly, accommodation, ammunition, command, commemorate, commence, commission, commit, commodities, commotion, communication, communion, community, commuter, immaculate, immediate, immense, immersion, immortal, immune, programme, programmer, recommend, anniversary, announce, annoy, annul, connect, Finn/fin, inn, mayonnaise, personnel, questionnaire, savannah, tyranny, appal, apparatus, apparent, appendix, applaud, applause, appliance, apply, appoint, appreciate, apprehensive, apprentice, approach, appropriate(adj), appropriate(vb), approve, approximate(adj), approximate(vb), hippopotamus, opportunity, oppose, sapphire, supply, support, suppose, arrange, array, arrest, arrive, barricade, correct, correlation, correspond, curriculum, err, erratic, hurrah, interrupt, irregular, irrigation, purr, serrated, surrender, surreptitious, surround, terrific, torrential, verruca, abscess, assail, assassin, assassinate, assault, assemble, assert, assessment, assessor, assign, assist, assistant, associate(n), associate(vb), assort, assume, cassette, compass, congress, cypress, dessert, embassy, essential, fission, fortress, gross, guess, harness, lasso, mattress, moose/mousse, necessarily, necessary, possess, possessive, possibility, recess, witness, attach, attack, attain, attempt, attend, attention, attorney, attract, attribute, battalion, butt/but, cigarette, omelette, palette, silhouette, pizza
|abreeviate, acumpany, acumplish, acord, acordence, acordion, acount, acrue, acumulate, acuse, acustom, ocurr, ocurrence, cocrel, coctail, macrle, ad, od, adress(uk), afair, afect, afection, afectionat, afluent, aford, shofer, diferential, difusion, efect, eficient, efluent, efusiv, giraf, grafeety, ofence, ofend, ofensiv, oficial, oficious, parrafin, sherrif, suficient, agravate, agressiv, eg, aliance, alotment, alow, alowence, aloud, balistic, baloon, bul, buldoze, sel, colage, colapse, colect, colection, colide, constelation, controled, exelent, helo, ileegal, iledgible, ilitterat, iluminate, ilusion, ilustration, instalation, intelectual, jewelry, lama, marvelous, parralel, pastil, roler, sattelite, swolen, toncilitis, travvler(UK), holy, acomodation, amunition, comand, comemmorate, comence, comission, comit, comoddities, comotion, comunication, comunion, comunity, comuter, imackulat, imeediat, imence, imersion, imortal, imune, program, programer, recomend, aniversary, anounce, anoy, anull, conect, Fin/fin, in, mayonaise, personell, questionair, savanna, tirrany, apaul, aparatus, aparrent, apendix, aplaud, aplause, aplience, aplye, apoint, apreeciate, aprehensiv, aprentice, aproach, apropriat(adj), apropriate(vb), aproove, aproximat(adj), aproximate(vb), hipopottamus, oportunity, opose, saffire, suplye, suport, supose, arainge, aray, arest, arive, baricade, corect, corelation, corespond, curickulum, er,erattic, hurah, interupt, iregguler, irigation, pur, serated, surender, sureptitious, suround, teriffic, torential, verooca, abces, asail, asassin, asassinate, asault, asemble, asert, asesment, asessor, asine, asist, asistent, asociat(n), asociate(vb), asort, asume, caset, cumpas, congres, siperes, desert, embacy, esential, fision, fortres, groce, ges, harnes, lasoo, matres, mooce, necesarrily, nessesary, posess, posessiv, posibillity, reeces, witnes, atatch, atack, atain, atempt, atend, atention, atorny, atract, atribute,batallion, but, sigaret, omlet, palet, silooet, peetsa|
In addition to the above irregularities, several dozen words have needlessly doubled -ff, -ll, -ss (puff, well, fuss ) at the end of short words. They have many exceptions (if, us, rough, yes) and can also be confusing (doll – roll – stole, shall – call – crawl).