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Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling

Lesson 1. Some Basic Facts About English Spelling

Photos of My America by Trucker Mike

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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:

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.

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Some common inconsistencies:

Pattern Examples How they are pronounced
words containing "ough"
  1. thought, bought, fought, brought
  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" 
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
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.
Words that look the same but are pronounced differently.
  1. WIND - noun, moving air outdoors, part of weather
  2. WIND - verb, a twisting motion, as with a clock spring
  3. READ - past tense verb, got meaning from written words
  4. READ - present tense of same verb
  5. ABUSE - verb, to injure or do harm
  6. ABUSE - noun - injury, damage or mistreatment
  7. ADDICT - noun - person who acts compulsively
  8. ADDICT - verb - to make dependent on
  9. COMBINE - noun - a harvesting machine
  10. COMBINE - verb - to put together, mix together, join
  11. DEFECT - noun - a flaw
  12. DEFECT - verb - to desert, run or escape from
  13. OBJECT - noun - a thing, an article, a goal
  14. OBJECT - verb - express opposition 
  15. SUBJECT - noun - topic of study or interest
  16. SUBJECT - verb - to cause to submit to or undergo
  17. LEAD - to conduct, show the way, take first position
  18. LEAD - noun - a soft, very heavy metal
  19. BOW - noun - a stick-like article strung with hair or cord, used to play a violin or shoot an arrow
  20. BOW - verb - bending forward from the waist as a sign of respect
  21. SOW - noun - a female pig
  22. SOW - verb - to spread seeds onto prepared ground
  23. POLISH - as a noun, a liquid used to clean and shine hard surfaces. as a verb, the act of cleaning or shining
  24. POLISH - adjective, a person or thing from Poland
  25. DESERT - noun, a rocky, sandy geographical area lacking water
  26. DESERT - to abandon or run away from
  27. PRESENT - as a noun - a gift; as an adverb - in attendance, here
  28. PRESENT - verb - to give to, such as an award
  29. DOVE - noun - a pigeon-like bird
  30. DOVE - verb, to jump head first, as into water
  31. INVALID - noun - a person who is physically disabled
  32. INVALID - adjective meaning illegal or not acceptable
  33. ROW - as a noun, a line or tier of similar objects; as a verb, to propel a small boat with paddles or oars
  34. ROW - noun - a disagreement or argument
  35. DOES - Third -person singular form of the verb DO
  36. DOES - more than one female deer
  37. SEWER - noun, a person who sews, stitches fabric
  38. SEWER - a channel for waste water 
  39. TEAR - noun - water that comes from the corner of one's eyes
  40. TEAR - verb - to rip or shred paper or cloth
  41. CLOSE - adverb meaning near or almost
  42. CLOSE - verb - to shut, unopen, seal
  43. BASS - a species of fresh-water game fish
  44. BASS - as a noun, the lowest male singing voice, low notes
  45. WOUND - as a noun, an injury; as a verb, to cause an injury
  46. WOUND - past tense of verb TO WIND, tightening a spring with a twisting motion.
  1. WIND - Short i sound
  2. WIND - Long i sound
  3. READ - Short e sound
  4. READ - Long e sound
  5. ABUSE - with z sound
  6. ABUSE - with s sound
  7. ADDICT - stress on ad
  8. ADDICT - stress on dict
  9. COMBINE - stress on com
  10. COMBINE - stress on bine
  11. DEFECT - stress on de
  12. DEFECT - stress on fect
  13. OBJECT - stress on ob 
  14. OBJECT - stress on ject 
  15. SUBJECT - stress on sub 
  16. SUBJECT - stress on ject 
  17. LEAD - Long E, rhymes with 'seed'
  18. LEAD - Short E, rhymes with 'bed'
  19. BOW - Long O. rhymes with 'go' ---------------------------------------------------
  20. BOW - a diphthong of Soft A +Long U (as in COW)
  21. SOW - a diphthong of Soft A + Long U (as in HOW)
  22. SOW - Long O, rhymes with 'no'
  23. POLISH - Short O sound, like the O in 'doll'  ---------------------------------------
  24. POLISH - Long O sound, as in 'pole'
  25. DESERT - Stress on 'de' , pronounced with Short E
  26. DESERT - Stress on 'sert' , rhymes with 'shirt'
  27. PRESENT - stress on 'pre' with Short E sound (PRE-zent)
  28. PRESENT - stress on 'sent' (pre-ZENT)
  29. DOVE - Short O or U sound as in 'love'
  30. DOVE - Long O sound, as in 'drove'
  31. INVALID - Stress on 'in' (IN-valid)
  32. INVALID - Stress on 'val'  (in-VAL-id)
  33. ROW - Long O, rhymes with 'go'  ---------------------------------------------------
  34. ROW - O is a diphthong (ah-oo) as in 'cow'
  35. DOES - 'OE' pronounced like Schwa as in 'but' - /duz/
  36. DOES - Long O sound , rhymes with 'nose'
  37. SEWER - 'ew' has a Long O sound, as in 'sower'
  38. SEWER - 'ew has a Long U sound. Rhymes with 'newer'
  39. TEAR - Long E sound, rhymes with 'beer' -----------------------------------------
  40. TEAR - Long A sound, rhymes with 'fair'
  41. CLOSE - Long O with /S/ sound
  42. CLOSE - Long O with /Z/ sound
  43. BASS - Short A sound, rhymes with 'mass'
  44. BASS - Long A sound, rhymes with 'face'
  45. WOUND - OU sounds like Long U, rhymes with 'tuned'
  46. WOUND - OU sounding like a diphthong /AH-OO/, rhymes with 'sound'
Words with 'oo' that should sound the same but don't.
  1. book, foot, good, hood, look, moor, poor, stood, wood
  2. aloof, boom, doom, gloom, soon, bloom, broom, noon, proof, roof, zoom
  3. floor, door
  4. flood, blood
  1. these words have the same Short U  vowel sound
  2. these words all have a Long U sound
  3. 'oo' = an O sound as in 'or', 'more'
  4. these words have the same vowel sound as 'bud' and 'cud' 
Words that don't sound like they are spelled
  1. one , the number 1
  2. to - a preposition meaning 'in the direction of'
  3. who - a pronoun
  4. do - a verb meaning 'to perform, act, accomplish'
  5. shoe - item of clothing worn on and protecting your feet
  6. two - the number 2
  7. was - singular past tense of the verb TO BE
  8. of - preposition having many meanings
  1. pronounced like /WUN/ , rhymes with 'gun'
  2. pronounced like /TU/ , rhymes with 'true'
  3. pronounced like /HOO/ , rhymes with 'shoe'
  4. pronounced like /DU/ , rhymes with 'dew'
  5. pronounced like /SHU/ , rhymes with 'glue'
  6. pronounced like /TU/ , rhymes with 'boo'
  7. pronounced like /WUZ) , rhymes with 'fuzz'
  8. pronounced like /UV/ , rhymes with 'love'
 

Some more inconsistencies:

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

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, 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.

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    
10.feat    
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. 

Practice reading Everyday English with the songs' Lyrics and the histories of the singers and bands at www.mikiemetric.com .

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