Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Have you ever exclaimed “English spelling is crazy”? There’s every chance that you are not alone. It has often been claimed that English spelling is totally irregular, but let me show you why that is not the case.
The hidden facts you should know
The spelling system is predictable! About 50% of English words are predictable based on sound-letter correspondences only. Think about words such as bring, spell, farmer. They don’t cause much trouble for you to spell them, do they? As a matter of fact, only 4% of English words are completely irregular in spelling, hence crazy.
Let’s see what causes the craziness on the first place. The 44 sounds we use when speaking English are written down using only 26 letters. This results in the fact that many letters can represent more than one sound. Let me show you an example.
Letter A -->
So this complex relationship between spelling and pronunciation is the reason why it is not always easy to see how a written English word should be pronounced, or how a word should be written.
The good news is that you don’t have to learn the spelling and pronunciation of thousands of words one by one. The majority of English words are spelled according to regular patterns, leaving only about 500 words out of over half a million that are completely irregular. That doesn’t sound so crazy anymore, right?
Basic Features of Spelling made clear
Now let’s see some of the basic features of the English spelling system:
There are 21 consonant letters (for example: c, d, f) and 24 consonant sounds.There are 5 vowel letters (a, e, i, o, u) and 20 vowel sounds. Clearly, vowels are the main cause of pronunciation and spelling difficulties.
There are letter combinations, so called digraphs, which represent a particular sound or sounds. Good news: there are rules that can help you!
ph --> /f/ photo, physics, elephant
ch --> most commonly /tʃ/ church, cheese, chocolate
in words with Greek origin /k/ character, ache, chemistry
English letters behave according to their position in words.
A vowel letter written between consonants --> a short vowel sound commonly associated with that letter is pronounced
but, cut, such – fit, bit, hit
Adding a final ‘e’ letter --> change the pronunciation of the word to either a long vowel sound or a diphthong
cut - cute and bit - bite
Word formation is your friend because root words usually keep their spelling and pronunciation in their derived words.
book, booking, bookkeeper, bookshelf
water, watering, watered, watermelon
hand, handle, handy
The advantages of improving your knowledge about English spelling and pronunciation correspondences
And why, you might ask, is it good for you to understand these features of the English spelling and pronunciation? Well, have you ever tried reading an article, a letter or a book full of words you had not the slightest clue how to pronounce? Have you ever heard a word you wouldn’t even attempt to write down?
Using your knowledge of how English words typically behave based on these features will help you
predict the spelling of words you have only heard
make a very good guess about the pronunciation of words that are new to you
So you will never feel confused again.
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