Good English spellings

#literacy

English consonant spellings are mostly good – much better than vowels ones.

Except for doubled ones like ‘very – merry’ or ‘arrive – arise’.

They are really vowel spellings too, because they are meant to show that a stressed vowel is short (dinner), rather than long (diner): improvingenglishspelling.blogs...

Doubled consonants have the same pronunciation as single ones.

While the43 main vowel graphemes all have some exceptions,

8 of the 41 consonant spellings have none:

bed, jam/jog/jug, gorge, ring, pin, this, thing, van.

They are not as perfect as Finnish or Estonian spellings:

B and p can be redundant (doubt, pterdodactyl); th is used for 2 sounds; the /j/ sound is spelt j only before a, o and u, and –ge consistently only in endings; /v/ is spelt v at the beginning and in the middle of words, but ve and the end.

Nevertheless, in those positions of words, those 8 consonant spelling are regular.

Another 21 consonant graphemes are pretty good too.

11 have only 5 exceptions or fewer, as shown in brackets:

seek –unique (5), quick – choir (4), chest cello(1), dad – add (3),

house– who (4), last– llama (1), tap – two (4), delicate – democrat (3),

have –chav (3), zip– xylophone (1) measure – azure (3);

10 have between 6 – 19 exceptions:

crab/ clot – chrome, chlorine (10), lilac –stomach (9), neck –cheque(6),

kept – chemistry (7), risk – mosque (10), fix – accept (15),

clutch – much (7), fidget– digit (11), mum– dumb (19), yes – use (11)

Merely 12 consonant spellings have over 25 irregular or unpredictable variants: cat, cot, cut - character, queue; (33), fish– photo, rough (44);

garden– ghastly, guard (28); jelly, jig – gentle, ginger (18j – 20g);

nose– knot, gnome (34); rug– rhubarb, write (27);

set – centre, scene(49); face – case (65); shop – chute, sure (30);

ignition, mention – mission, pension, suspicion (81); window– which (31);

-se: rose –froze (33), wise– size (UK 31 – 3, US 11 – 22).

(All the irregularly spelt common words for each grapheme are listed onenglishspellingproblems.blogsp...)

Apart from having fewer variant spellings, English consonant spellings are also better than vowel ones, because relatively few of them have irregular sounds like ‘supper sugar’ ‘get germs’ or ‘this thing’.

Learning to sound out the main consonant spellings and their blends, with words like ‘cap, lap, clap’, ‘bed, bend, lend, blend’ or ‘sing, sting, string’ is clearly an excellent way of setting children off on the road to literacy. But the easy fun which can be had with such spellings is sadly spoilt before long, by the hundreds of troublesome vowel spellings. 

But that’s for another day.  

Author Profile

Masha  Bell

Masha Bell

Retired teacher of English and modern languages, now literacy researcher and writer

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