How the worst English spellings could be improved

Irregular 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. The English writing system has more exceptions than all others. The few spellings that are regular are sometimes used silently, without connection to any sound (e.g. debt, receipt). But some irregularities hinder literacy learning much more than others. The most damaging are the irregular spellings for short /e/ and short /u/, followed by the many variants for /ee/, surplus -e endings and omitted or needlessly doubled consonants (column, collect – college).

Below you can see 1,393 irregularly spelt common words affected by those irregularities – the ones 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 or surplus consonant doubling.

The 794 words with omitted or surplus consonant doubling all have to be learned one by one, but they do even more damage by undermining the systematic doubling used in 504 words which helpt to differentiate between long and short vowels, as in ‘made madder‘. If doubling was used systematically, it would be easy to grasp, and this huge 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.

Even improving just the 129 words with irregularly spelt /e/ or /u/ would make a big difference to children at the start of their schooling, because they are mostly very common words which children know and use. If they were had regular spellings, young children would get much less muddles and put off learning in their early school years.

  1. 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’).
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.
Leisure’ and ‘lieutenant’ have different pronunciations in the UK and US.

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.
+ In UK also: geezer, leever (for geyzer, lever).

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),    abrasiveabusiveadhesiveaggressiveapprehensivecomprehensive,  compulsive,  conclusive,  creativecursivedecisive,  defensive,  depressive,  derisive,  detectivedismissive,  divisiveeffusive,  elusive,  evasive,  excessive,  exclusive,  expensive,  explosive,  expressive,  extensivefugitive,  impressiveimpulsiveincisive,  inclusiveinitiative,  intensiveinvasivemassive,  motive,  narrative,  objectiveobtrusiveoffensive,  oppressivepassive,  pensive,  permissive,  perspectivepersuasivepossessive,  productive,  progressive,  prospectiveradioactive,  repulsiverespective,  responsive,  selective,  sensitive,  subjectivesubmissive,  subversive,  successive.    

5) Respellings for 574 words with currently omitted or variant consonant doubling and 219 words with 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,  similesugartenor/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,  simmilyshugger,  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, effusivegiraffe, 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 too (if, us, rough, yes) and are confusing young children     (doll – roll – stole,   shall – call – crawl).

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