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Lettris is a curious tetris-clone game where all the bricks have the same square shape but different content. Each square carries a letter. To make squares disappear and save space for other squares you have to assemble English words (left, right, up, down) from the falling squares.
Boggle gives you 3 minutes to find as many words (3 letters or more) as you can in a grid of 16 letters. You can also try the grid of 16 letters. Letters must be adjacent and longer words score better. See if you can get into the grid Hall of Fame !
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Tips: browse the semantic fields (see From ideas to words) in two languages to learn more.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (November 2011)|
English orthography is the alphabetic spelling system used by the English language. English orthography, like other alphabetic orthographies, exhibits a set of relationships between speech sounds and the corresponding written words. In most other languages, these relationships are regular enough to be called rules. In standard English spelling, however, nearly every sound can be spelled in more than one way, and most spellings and all letters can be pronounced in more than one way and often in many different ways. This is largely due to the complex history of the English language, together with the absence of systematic spelling reforms implemented in English, in contrast to the position in a number of other languages.
Note: In the following discussion, only one or two common pronunciations of American and British English varieties are used in this article for each word cited. Other regional pronunciations may be possible for some words, but indicating all possible regional variants in the article is impractical.
As in most alphabetic languages, letters in English orthography may represent a particular sound. For example, the word cat // consists of three letters ⟨c⟩, ⟨a⟩, and ⟨t⟩, in which ⟨c⟩ represents the sound /k/, ⟨a⟩ the sound /æ/, and ⟨t⟩ the sound /t/.
Multiple sequences of letters may perform this role as well as single letters. Thus, in the word ship (pronounced /ˈʃɪp/), the digraph ⟨sh⟩ (two letters) represents the sound /ʃ/. In the word ditch, the three letters ⟨tch⟩ represent the sound /tʃ/.
Less commonly, a single letter can represent multiple successive sounds. The most common example is the letter ⟨x⟩ which normally represents the consonant cluster /ks/ (for example, in the word ex-wife, pronounced /ˌɛksˈwaɪf/).
The same letter (or sequence of letters) may be pronounced in different ways when it occurs in different positions within a word. For instance, the digraph ⟨gh⟩ represents the sound /f/ at the end of some words, such as rough /ˈrʌf/. At the beginning of syllables (i.e. the syllable onset), the digraph ⟨gh⟩ is pronounced /ɡ/, as in the word ghost (pronounced /ˈɡoʊst/). Conversely, the digraph ⟨gh⟩ is never pronounced /f/ in syllable onsets and is almost never pronounced /ɡ/ in syllable codas (the proper name Pittsburgh is an exception).
Another type of spelling characteristic is related to word origin. For example, when representing a vowel, the letter ⟨y⟩ in non-word-final positions, represents the sound /ɪ/ in some words borrowed from Greek (reflecting an original upsilon), whereas the letter usually representing this sound in non-Greek words is the letter ⟨i⟩. Thus, the word myth // is of Greek origin, while pith // is a Germanic word. Other examples include ⟨ph⟩ pronounced /f/ (which is usually spelt ⟨f⟩), and ⟨ch⟩ pronounced /k/ (which is usually spelt ⟨c⟩ or ⟨k⟩) – the use of these spellings for these sounds often mark words that have been borrowed from Greek.
Some researchers such as Brengelman (1970), have suggested that, in addition to this marking of word origin, these spellings indicate a more formal level of style or register in a given text, although Rollins (2004) finds this point to be exaggerated as there would be many exceptions where a word with one of these spellings, such as ⟨ph⟩ for /f/ (like telephone), could occur in an informal text.
Spelling may also be useful to distinguish between homophones (words with the same pronunciation but different meanings), although in most cases the reason for the difference is historical and was not introduced for the purpose of making a distinction. For example, the words heir and air are pronounced identically in most dialects (as //). However, they are distinguished from each other orthographically by the addition of the letter ⟨h⟩. Another example is the pair of homophones plain and plane, where both are pronounced // but are have two different spellings of the vowel /eɪ/.
In written language, this may help to resolve potential ambiguities that would arise otherwise (cf. He's breaking the car vs. He's braking the car). Nevertheless, many homophones that are unresolved by spelling still exist (for example, the word bay has at least five fundamentally different meanings).
Some proponents[who?] of spelling reform view homophones as undesirable and would prefer that they were eliminated. But this would create more spelling inconsistencies (such as the break/brake example above) that would need to be resolved via the linguistic context, as they are in the spoken language.
Another function of some letters in English is to provide information about the pronunciation of other letters in the word. Rollins (2004) uses the term "markers" for letters with this function. Letters may mark different types of information. For instance the letter ⟨e⟩ in the word cottage // indicates that the preceding ⟨g⟩ is pronounced /dʒ/, rather than the more common value of ⟨g⟩ in word-final position as the sound /ɡ/, such as in tag //. The letter ⟨e⟩ also often marks an altered pronunciation of a preceding vowel. In the pair ban and bane, the ⟨a⟩ of ban has the value /æ/, whereas the ⟨a⟩ of bane is marked by the ⟨e⟩ as having the value /eɪ/. In this context, the ⟨e⟩ is not pronounced, and is referred to as "silent e". A single letter may even fill multiple pronunciation-marking roles simultaneously. For example, in the word wage the ⟨e⟩ marks not only the change of the ⟨a⟩ from /æ/ to /eɪ/, but also of the ⟨g⟩ from /ɡ/ to /dʒ/.
Some letters do not provide any information about contemporary English pronunciation. For example, in Old and Middle English [v] was an allophone of /f/ occurring between vowels. The deletion of historical final schwas (weak vowels) at the end of words such as give and have phonemicized /v/, but the now-silent ⟨e⟩ remained at the end of most /v/-final words. Words spelled with final ⟨v⟩ such as rev and Slav remain comparatively rare.
A given letter or (letters) may have dual functions. For example, the letter ⟨i⟩ in the word cinema has a sound-representing function (representing the sound /ɪ/) and a pronunciation-marking function (marking the ⟨c⟩ as having the value /s/ opposed to the value /k/).
Like many other alphabetic orthographies, English spelling does not represent non-contrastive phonetic sounds (that is, minor differences in pronunciation which are not used to distinguish between different words). Although the letter ⟨t⟩ is pronounced by some speakers with aspiration [tʰ] at the beginning of words, this is never indicated in the spelling, and, indeed, this phonetic detail is probably not noticeable to the average native speaker not trained in phonetics. However, unlike some orthographies, English orthography often represents a very abstract underlying representation (or morphophonemic form) of English words.
[T]he postulated underlying forms are systematically related to the conventional orthography ... and are, as is well known, related to the underlying forms of a much earlier historical stage of the language. There has, in other words, been little change in lexical representation since Middle English, and, consequently, we would expect ... that lexical representation would differ very little from dialect to dialect in Modern English ... [and] that conventional orthography is probably fairly close to optimal for all modern English dialects, as well as for the attested dialects of the past several hundred years.
In these cases, a given morpheme (i.e. a component of a word) has a fixed spelling even though it is pronounced differently in different words. An example is the past tense suffix -⟨ed⟩, which may be pronounced variously as /t/, /d/, or /ɨd/ (for example, dip /ˈdɪp/, dipped /ˈdɪpt/, boom /ˈbuːm/, boomed /ˈbuːmd/, loot /ˈluːt/, looted /ˈluːtɨd/). As it happens, these different pronunciations of -⟨ed⟩ can be predicted by a few phonological rules, but that is not the reason why its spelling is fixed.
Another example involves the vowel differences (with accompanying stress pattern changes) in several related words. For instance, the word photographer is derived from the word photograph by adding the derivational suffix -⟨er⟩. When this suffix is added, the vowel pronunciations change largely owing to the moveable stress:
Other examples of this type are the -⟨ity⟩ suffix (as in agile vs agility, acid vs acidity, divine vs divinity, sane vs sanity). See also: Trisyllabic laxing.
Another such class of words includes sign // and bomb // with "silent" letters ⟨g⟩ and ⟨b⟩, respectively. However, in the related words signature and bombard these letters are pronounced // and //, respectively. Here it could be argued that the underlying representation of sign and bomb is |saɪɡn| and |bɒmb|, in which the underlying |ɡ| and |b| are only pronounced in the surface forms when followed by certain suffixes (-⟨ature⟩, -⟨ard⟩). Otherwise, the |ɡ| and |b| are not realized in the surface pronunciation (e.g. when standing alone, or when followed by suffixes like -⟨ing⟩ or -⟨er⟩). In these cases, the orthography indicates the underlying consonants that are present in certain words but are absent in other related words. Other examples include the ⟨t⟩ in fast // and fasten //, and the ⟨h⟩ in heir // and inherit //.
Another example includes words like mean // and meant //. Here the vowel spelling ⟨ea⟩ is pronounced differently in the two related words. Thus, again the orthography uses only a single spelling that corresponds to the single morphemic form rather than to the surface phonological form.
English orthography does not always provide an underlying representation; sometimes it provides an intermediate representation between the underlying form and the surface pronunciation. This is the case with the spelling of the regular plural morpheme, which is written as either -⟨s⟩ (as in tick, ticks and mite, mites) or -⟨es⟩ (as in box, boxes). Here the spelling -⟨s⟩ is pronounced either /s/ or /z/ (depending on the environment, e.g. ticks // and pigs //) while -⟨es⟩ is usually pronounced // (e.g. boxes //). Thus, there are two different spellings that correspond to the single underlying representation |z| of the plural suffix and the three surface forms. The spelling indicates the insertion of /ɨ/ before the /z/ in the spelling -⟨es⟩, but does not indicate the devoiced /s/ distinctly from the unaffected /z/ in the spelling -⟨s⟩.
The abstract representation of words as indicated by the orthography can be considered advantageous since it makes etymological relationships more apparent to English readers. This makes writing English more complex, but arguably makes reading English more efficient. However, very abstract underlying representations, such as that of Chomsky & Halle (1968) or of underspecification theories, are sometimes considered too abstract to accurately reflect the communicative competence of native speakers. Followers of these arguments believe the less abstract surface forms are more "psychologically real" and thus more useful in terms of pedagogy.
English includes some words that can be written with accent marks. These words have mostly been imported from other languages, usually French. As imported words become increasingly naturalised, there is an increasing tendency to omit the accent marks, even in formal writing. For example, words such as rôle and hôtel were first seen with accents when they were borrowed into English, but now the accent is almost never used. The words were originally considered foreign – and some people considered that English alternatives were preferable – but today their foreign origin is largely forgotten. The strongest tendency to retain the accent is in words that are atypical of English morphology and therefore still perceived as slightly foreign. For example, café and pâté both have a pronounced final e, which would otherwise be silent under the normal English pronunciation rules. However the former of these two words is now sometimes pronounced "caff", while in the latter, the retention of the acute accent is helpful to distinguish it from "pate".
Further examples of words sometimes retaining diacritics when used in English are: Ångström (partly because the scientific symbol for this unit of measurement is "Å")appliqué, attaché, blasé, bric-à-brac, Brötchen, cliché, crème, crêpe, façade, fiancé(e), flambé, naïve, naïveté, né(e), papier-mâché, passé, piñata, protégé, résumé, risqué, über-, voilà. Italics, with appropriate accents, are generally applied to foreign terms that are uncommonly used in or have not been assimilated into English: for example, adiós, crème brûlée, pièce de résistance, raison d'être, über (Übermensch), vis-à-vis.
It was formerly common in American English to use a diaeresis mark to indicate a hiatus: for example, coöperate, daïs, reëlect. The New Yorker and Technology Review magazines still use it for this purpose, even though it is increasingly rare in modern English. Nowadays the diaeresis is normally left out (cooperate), or a hyphen is used (co-operate). It is, however, still common in loanwords such as naïve and Noël.
Written accents are also used occasionally in poetry and scripts for dramatic performances to indicate that a certain normally unstressed syllable in a word should be stressed for dramatic effect, or to keep with the metre of the poetry. This use is frequently seen in archaic and pseudoarchaic writings with the -ed suffix, to indicate that the e should be fully pronounced, as with cursèd.
In certain older texts (typically British), the use of the ligatures æ and œ is common in words such as archæology, diarrhœa, and encyclopædia. Such words have Latin or Greek origin. Nowadays, the ligatures have been generally replaced in British English by the separated digraph ae and oe (encyclopaedia, diarrhoea); but usually economy, ecology, and in American English by e (encyclopedia, diarrhea; but usually paean, amoeba, oedipal, Caesar). In some cases, usage may vary; for instance, both encyclopedia and encyclopaedia are current in the UK.
English spelling, compared to many other languages, is quite irregular and complex. Although French, among other languages, presents a similar degree of difficulty when encoding (writing), English is more difficult when decoding (reading), as there are clearly many more possible pronunciations of a group of letters. For example, in French the [u] sound (as in "food"), can be spelled ou, ous, out, or oux (ou, nous, tout, choux), but the pronunciation of each of those sequences is always the same. In English, the /uː/ sound can be spelled oo or u, u-e, ui, ue, o, oe, o-e, o-b, ou, ough, or ew (food, truth, rude, fruit, blue, to, shoe, move, tomb, group, through, flew), but 10 of those 12 sequences have other pronunciations as well: flood, rub, build, go, toe, drove, comb, out, rough, sew.
Attempts to regularize or reform the language, including spelling reform, have usually met with failure. The only significant exceptions were the reforms of Noah Webster which resulted in many of the differences between British and American spelling, such as center/centre, and dialog/dialogue. (Other differences, such as -ize/-ise in realize/realise etc., came about separately; see American and British English spelling differences for details.)
Besides the quirks the English spelling system has inherited from its past, there are other idiosyncrasies in spelling that make it tricky to learn. English contains 24–27 (depending on dialect) separate consonant phonemes and, depending on dialect, anywhere from 14 to 20 vowels. However, there are only 26 letters in the modern English alphabet, so there cannot be a one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds. Many sounds are spelled using different letters or multiple letters, and for those words whose pronunciation is predictable from the spelling, the sounds denoted by the letters depend on the surrounding letters. For example, the digraph th represents two different sounds (the voiced interdental fricative and the voiceless interdental fricative) (see Pronunciation of English th), and the voiceless alveolar grooved fricative can be represented by the letters s and c.
It is, however, not only the shortage of letters which makes English spelling irregular. Its irregularities are caused by the use of many different spellings for some of its sounds, such as the long oo, ee and oe sounds (too, true, shoe, flew, through; sleeve, leave, even, seize, siege; stole, coal, bowl, roll, old, mould), and the use of identical sequences for spelling different sounds (over, oven, move).
Furthermore, English makes no attempt to anglicise the spellings of most recent loanwords, but preserves the foreign spellings, even when they employ exotic conventions like the Polish cz in Czech or the Norwegian fj in fjord (although fiord was formerly the most common spelling). Clearly any such anglicisation would greatly increase the difficulty of the language for both foreign speakers of English and native speakers. In fact, instead of loans being respelled to conform to English spelling standards, sometimes the pronunciation changes as a result of pressure from the spelling. One example of this is the word ski, which was adopted from Norwegian in the mid-18th century, although it did not become common until 1900. It used to be pronounced shee, which is similar to the Norwegian pronunciation, but the increasing popularity of the sport after the middle of the 20th century helped the sk pronunciation replace it.
There was also a period when the spelling of a small number of words was altered in what is now regarded as a misguided attempt to make them conform to what were perceived to be the etymological origins of the words. For example, the letter b was added to debt (originally dette) in an attempt to link it to the Latin debitum, and the letter s in island is a misplaced attempt to link it to Latin insula instead of the Old English word īġland, which is the true origin of the English word. The letter p in ptarmigan has no etymological justification whatsoever, only seeking to invoke Greek despite being a Gaelic word.
The spelling of English continues to evolve. Many loanwords come from languages where the pronunciation of vowels corresponds to the way they were pronounced in Old English, which is similar to the Italian or Spanish pronunciation of the vowels, and is the value the vowel symbols [a], [e], [i], [o], and [u] have in the International Phonetic Alphabet. As a result, there is a somewhat regular system of pronouncing "foreign" words in English, and some borrowed words have had their spelling changed to conform to this system. For example, Hindu used to be spelled Hindoo, and the name Maria used to be pronounced like the name Mariah, but was changed to conform to this system.
Commercial advertisers have also had an effect on English spelling. They introduced new or simplified spellings like lite instead of light, thru instead of through, smokey instead of smoky (for "smokey bacon" flavour crisps), and rucsac instead of rucksack. The spellings of personal names have also been a source of spelling innovations: diminutive versions of women's names that sound the same as men's names have been spelled differently: Nikki and Nicky, Toni and Tony, Jo and Joe.
As examples of the idiosyncratic nature of English spelling, the combination ou can be pronounced in at least four different ways: /ə/ in famous, /aʊ/ in loud, /ʊ/ in should, /uː/ in you; and the vowel sound /iː/ in me can be spelt in at least nine different ways: paediatric, me, seat, seem, ceiling, people, machine, siege, phoenix. (These examples assume a more-or-less standard non-regional British English accent. Other accents will vary.)
Sometimes everyday speakers of English change a counterintuitive pronunciation simply because it is counterintuitive. Changes like this are not usually seen as "standard", but can become standard if used enough. An example is the word miniscule, which still competes with its original spelling of minuscule, though this might also be because of analogy with the word mini. A further example is the modern pronunciation of tissue.
Inconsistencies and irregularities in English pronunciation and spelling have gradually increased in number throughout the history of the English language. There are a number of contributing factors. First, gradual changes in pronunciation, such as the Great Vowel Shift, account for a tremendous number of irregularities. Second, relatively recent loan words from other languages generally carry their original spellings, which are often not phonetic in English. The Romanization of languages (e.g., Chinese) using alphabets derived from the Latin alphabet has further complicated this problem, for example when pronouncing Chinese proper names (of people or places).
The regular spelling system of Old English was swept away by the Norman Conquest, and English itself was eclipsed by Norman French for three centuries, eventually emerging with its spelling much influenced by French. English had also borrowed large numbers of words from French, which naturally kept their French spellings as there was no reason or mechanism to change them. The spelling of Middle English, such as in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, is very irregular and inconsistent, with the same word being spelled in different ways, sometimes even in the same sentence. However, these were generally much better guides to the then pronunciation than modern English spelling is.
For example, the sound /ʌ/, normally written u, is spelled with an o in son, love, come, etc., due to Norman spelling conventions which prohibited writing u before v, m, n due to the graphical confusion that would result. (v, u, n were identically written with two minims in Norman handwriting; w was written as two u letters; m was written with three minims, hence mm looked like vun, nvu, uvu, etc.) Similarly, spelling conventions also prohibited final v. Hence the identical spellings of the three different vowel sounds in love, grove and prove are due to ambiguity in the Middle English spelling system, not sound change.
There was also a series of linguistic sound changes towards the end of this period, including the Great Vowel Shift, which resulted in the i in mine, for example, changing from a pure vowel to a diphthong. These changes for the most part did not detract from the rule-governed nature of the spelling system; but in some cases they introduced confusing inconsistencies, like the well-known example of the many pronunciations of ough (rough, through, though, trough, plough, etc.). Most of these changes happened before the arrival of printing in England. However, the arrival of the printing press froze the current system, rather than providing the impetus for a realignment of spelling with pronunciation. Furthermore, it introduced further inconsistencies, partly because of the use of typesetters trained abroad, particularly in the Low Countries. For example, the h in ghost was influenced by Dutch. The addition and deletion of a silent e at the ends of words was also sometimes used to make the right-hand margin line up more neatly.
By the time dictionaries were introduced in the mid 17th century, the spelling system of English had started to stabilise. By the 19th century, most words had set spellings, though it took some time before they diffused throughout the English-speaking world. In The Mill on the Floss (1860), English novelist George Eliot satirized the attitude of the English rural gentry of the 1820s towards orthography:
The modern English spelling system, with its national variants, spread together with the expansion of public education later in the 19th century.
The most notorious group of letters in the English language, ough, is commonly pronounced at least ten different ways, six of which are illustrated in the construct, Though the tough cough and hiccough plough him through, which is quoted by Robert A. Heinlein in The Door into Summer to illustrate the difficulties facing automated speech transcription and reading. Ough is in fact a word in its own right; it is an exclamation of disgust similar to ugh.
Finally, there is the place name Loughborough, where the first ough has the sound as in cuff and the second rhymes with thorough.
In a generative approach to English spelling, Rollins (2004) identifies twenty main orthographic vowels of stressed syllables that are grouped into four main categories: "Lax", "Tense", "Heavy", "Tense-R". (As this classification is based on orthography, not all orthographic "lax" vowels are necessarily phonologically lax.)
For instance, the letter a can represent the lax vowel /æ/, tense /eɪ/, heavy /ɑː/, or (often allophonically) [ɛə] before |r|. Heavy and tense-r vowels are the respective lax and tense counterparts followed by the letter r.
Tense vowels are distinguished from lax vowels with a "silent" e letter that is added at the end of words. Thus, the letter a in hat is lax /æ/, but when the letter e is added in the word hate the letter a is tense /eɪ/. Similarly, heavy and tense-r vowels pattern together: the letters ar in car are heavy /ɑr/, the letters ar followed by silent e in the word care are /ɛər/. The letter u represents two different vowel patterns, one being /ʌ/, /juː/, /ə/, /jʊ/, the other /ʊ/, /uː/, /ʊ/. There is no distinction between heavy and tense-r vowels with the letter o, and the letter u in the /ʊ-uː-ʊ/ pattern does not have a heavy vowel member.
Besides silent e, another strategy for indicating tense and tense-r vowels, is the addition of another orthographic vowel forming a digraph. In this case, the first vowel is usually the main vowel while the second vowel is the "marking" vowel. For example, the word man has a lax a pronounced /æ/, but with the addition of i (as the digraph ai) in the word main the a is marked as tense and pronounced /eɪ/. These two strategies produce words that are spelled differently but pronounced identically, as in mane (silent e strategy), main (digraph strategy) and Maine (both strategies). The use of two different strategies relates to the function of distinguishing between words that would otherwise be homonyms.
Besides the 20 basic vowel spellings, Rollins (2004) has a reduced vowel category (representing the sounds /ə, ɪ/) and a miscellaneous category (representing the sounds /ɔɪ, aʊ, aɪ, aʊ/ and /j/+V, /w/+V, V+V).
To reduce dialectal difficulties, the sound values given here correspond to the conventions at Wikipedia:IPA for English. This table includes W and Y when they represent vowel sounds; for AR, ER, etc. see the third table.
|Examples of major value||Minor values
|Examples of minor value||Exceptions[clarification needed]|
|a before multiple
consonants or in
|/æ/||cat, acrobat, banned||/iː/ karaoke
/eɪ/ bass, chamber
/ɑː/ father, bra
|a...e (stressed)||/eɪ/||violate, grace, ache||/æ/||have|
|a before single
|/eɪ/||dating, famous, alien||/ɛ/
|/ɑː/ gala, sonata|
|a (unstressed syllables)||/ə/||another, about, desperate||Ø||artistically|
|ae||/iː/||encyclopaedia, paediatrician||/ɛ/||aesthetic||/eɪ/ reggae
|ai, ai...e||/eɪ/||bait, cocaine||/ɛ/||said, again||/æ/ plaid
/aɪ/ samurai, shanghaied
|au||/ɔː/||taut, author||/ɔ/||sausage, because, laurel||/eɪ/ gauge
|ay, aye||/eɪ/||day||/aɪ/||kayak, aye||/iː/ quay
|e before single
|e before multiple
consonants or in
|/ɛ/||get, better||/iː/||lethal, axes
(plural of axis)
|word-final e||/iː/||be, simile, catastrophe||but more often silent|
|e (unstressed syllables)||/ə/||taken, wanted|
|e...e||/iː/||cede, gene||/eɪ/ crepe|
|/eɪ/ break, great, steak|
|ee||/iː/||bee, feed||/eɪ/ matinee, fiancee|
|ei, ei...e||/iː/||deceive, seize, ceiling||/eɪ/
|veil, sheikh, vein
|/aɪ/ heist, gneiss
/ɛ/ heifer, leisure
|ei before gh, gn||/eɪ/||eight, reign||/aɪ/||height||/ɪ/ foreign|
|eo||/ɛ/||leopard, jeopardy||/iː/||people||/oʊ/ yeoman
|eu, eue||/juː/||deuce, queue|
|ew, ewe, iew||/juː/||dew, ewe, view||/uː/||dew, new (some dialects)||/oʊ/ sew|
|ey (stressed)||/eɪ/||grey, obey||/iː/||key, geyser|
|i before single
|/aɪ/||shining, cited||/ɪ/||livid, insidious|
|i before multiple
consonants or in
|/ɪ/||bit, hitting||/aɪ/||library, pint||/æ/ meringue|
|i before -nd, -ld, -gh, -gn||/aɪ/||wild, kind, sighing, ensign||/ɪ/||wind (one meaning)|
|i (unstressed syllables)||/ɪ/||livid, typical||/ə/||pencil||Ø business|
|i...e||/aɪ/||shine, guide||/ɪ/||give, medicine||/iː/ machine|
|ia||/aɪə/||dialling, vial, liable||/iə/||India, Arabia|
|ie (monosyllables, word-final)||/aɪ/||die, tie|
|ie (non-word-final)||/iː/||field, series, siege||/aɪ/
|io (stressed)||/aɪə/||riot, diocese||/aɪoʊ/||bio|
|o before multiple
consonants or in
|/ɔ/ or /ɑː/||dot||/ʌ/
|won, monkey, front
|o before single
|/oʊ/||omen, potent, total||/ɒ/||body, topic||/ʊ/ woman
|word-final o||/oʊ/||banjo, go||/uː/||to, who, two|
|o (unstressed syllables)||/ə/||eloquent, wanton|
come, love, done
|oi, oy||/ɔɪ/||coin, boy||/oʊɪ/||stoic||/wɑː/ reservoir|
|oo before k,d||/ʊ/||look, wood||/ʌ/||blood, flood||/uː/ spook|
|oo elsewhere, oo...e||/uː/||hoop, booze||/ʊ/||wool||/oʊ/ brooch
|ou||/aʊ/||out, aloud, bough||/uː/
|soup, you, through
touch, trouble, country
soul, dough, boulder
|/ʊ/ courier, should
|ow (stressed)||/aʊ/||cow, sow, allow||/oʊ/||know, show||/ɒ/ acknowledge|
|ow (unstressed)||/oʊ/||yellow, rainbow|
|u before multiple
consonants or in
|/ʌ/||butter, dump||/ʊ/||put, full, pudding|
|u before single
|/uː/||luminous, muted, tuba||/ʊ/||sugar||/ɪ/ busy, minute
|u (unstressed syllables)||/ə/||supply|
|u...e||/juː/ or /uː/||flute, rune|
|ue||/juː/ or /uː/||blue, cue||/uːə/||fluent||/weɪ/ suede|
/ɪ/ build, biscuit
|uy, uye||/aɪ/||buy, guyed|
|y before multiple
consonants or in
|y before single
|y (unstressed syllables)||/ə/||sibyl, beryl|
|-y||/iː/||city, happy||/aɪ/||sky, why|
|Spelling||Major value (IPA)||Examples of major value||Other values||Examples of other values|
|b, -bb||/b/||bit, rabbit, obtain||Ø||bdellium, debtor, subtle|
|c before e, i, y, ae, or oe||/s/||cellar, city, cyst,
face, prince, nicer
|c elsewhere||/k/||cat, cross|
|-cc before e, i or y||/ks/||accept, eccentric, occidental||/k/
|soccer, recce, siccing
bocce, breccia, cappuccino
|-cc||/k/||account, accrue, occur, yucca|
|ch||/tʃ/||chase, chin, attached, chore||/k/
|chasm, chimera, ached, chord
chaise, machine, cached, parachute
|d, -dd, dh||/d/||dive, ladder, jodhpurs||/dʒ/
|graduate, gradual (both also /dj/ in RP)
|-dg before e, i, or y||/dʒ/||ledger|
|f, -ff||/f/||fine, off||/v/||of|
|g before e, i, y, ae, or oe||/dʒ/||gentle, magic, gyrate,
page, college, algae (GA)
|get, give, girl, beg, algae (RP)
|g, -gg||/ɡ/||go, great, guest, stagger||/dʒ/
|margarine, suggest, exaggerate
/x/ or /k/
/ɡ/, /k/, or /x/
|-ght||/t/||right, daughter, bought||/ft/||draught, laughter|
|-gn||/n/||signing, impugned, champagne||/ɡn/||signify, repugnant|
|h||/h/||he, alcohol||Ø||vehicle, honest, hono(u)r, piranha|
|h- after ex||Ø||exhibit, exhaust||/h/||exhale|
|k, -kk, kh||/k/||key, bake, trekking, sheikh|
|l,||/l/||line, valve, bulk||Ø||halve, balk, salmon|
|m, -mm||/m/||mine, hammer|
|-mb||/m/||climbed, comber, numbing||/mb/||imbed, somber, number|
|-mn||/m/||hymn, autumn, condemner||/mn/||hymnal, alumni, chimney|
|n, -nn||/n/||nice, funny|
|-n before /k/ or /ch/||/ŋ/||link, plonk, anchor|
hanger, singer, clingy
danger, ginger, dingy
|p, -pp||/p/||pill, happy, soup, corpse, script||Ø||coup, receipt|
|ps-||/s/||psyche, psalm, pshaw||/ps/
|pt-||/t/||ptomaine, ptarmigan, receipt|
|r-, -rr||/r/||ray, parrot||Ø in non-rhotic
dialects such as RP,
|rh, -rrh||/r/||rhyme, diarrhoea|
|-r, -rr, -rrh
by a consonant
|Ø in non-rhotic
dialects such as RP,
/r/ in rhotic
dialects such as GA
|bar, bare, catarrh|
|s, -ss||/s/||song, ask, message. misled||/z/
|scissors, dessert, dissolve, Islam
sugar, tissue, aggression
islet, aisle, debris
|-s- between vowel sounds
(see also "se" below)
|word-final -s morpheme
after a voiceless sound
|word-final -s morpheme
after a lenis sound
|sc- before e, i or y||/s/||scene, scepter, scissors, scythe||/sk/
|sch-||/sk/||school, scheme, schizo||/ʃ/
|schedule (also /sk/), schist
schism (also /sk/)
|t, -tt||/t/||ten, bitter,
castle, chasten, ballet
|v, -vv||/v/||vine, savvy|
|w||/w/||sward, swerve, wale||Ø
|sword, answer, gunwale
|wh- before o||/h/||who, whole||/w/||whopping, whorl|
|wh-||/w/, (/hw/ in dialects
with this phoneme)
|-xc before e or i||/ks/||excellent, excited|
|-x||/ks/||box, exit (in some dialects)||/ɡz/
|exit (in some dialects)
|z, -zz||/z/||zoo, pizzazz||/ts/
|Examples of major value||Minor values
|Examples of minor value||Exceptions|
|word-final -age suffix||/ɪdʒ/||damage, bondage|
|air(e)||/ɛə(r)/||cairn, millionaire, dairy|
|al||/æl/||pal, talcum, algae, alp||/ɔːl/||bald, falcon|
|calf, half||/æl/||alfalfa, malfeasance||/ɔlf/ palfrey|
|alk||/ɔːk/||walk, chalking, talkative||/ælk/||alkaline, grimalkin||/ɔlk/ balkanise|
|call, fallout, smaller
shall, callus, fallow
|/ɛl/ (GA) marshmallow, pall-mall|
|alm||/ɑːm/||calm, almond, palmistry||/ælm/
|alter, malt, salty, basalt||/ælt/
|alto, shalt, saltation
|/ɑlt/ gestalt (GA)
/(ə)lt/ royalty, penalty
|ange||/eɪndʒ/||strange, change, danger|
|aoh, oh||/oʊ/||pharaoh, oh|
|ar (before vowel)||/ɛə(r)/||uncaring, wary, various||/ær/||arid|
|ar (before consonant)||/ɑː(r)/||bar, cart||/ɛə(r)/ scarce|
|are||/ɛə(r)/||cares, glare||/ɑː(r)/ are|
|arr before vowel||/ær/||marry, carrying||/ɑː/||marring|
|word-final -ary suffix||/ɛri/||ordinary, necessary|
|ayr, ayer, ayor||/ɛə(r)/||layer, mayor|
|unstressed ci- before a vowel||/ʃ/||special, gracious||/si/||species|
|-cqu||/kw/||acquaint, acquire||/k/||lacquer, racquet|
|ear before consonant||/ɜː(r)/||earth, learn, early||/ɑː(r)/
|ear elsewhere||/ɪə(r)/||hearing, clear||/ɛə(r)/||bear, pear|
|word-final -ed morpheme
after /t/ or /d/*
|word-final -ed morpheme
after a voiceless sound*
|/t/||topped, surfed||/ɛd/||biped, unfed|
|word-final -ed morpheme
after a lenis sound*
|/d/||climbed, failed, ordered||/ɛd/||imbed, misled, infrared|
|eer||/ɪə(r)/||cheering, beer, eerie|
|eir||/ɪə(r)/||weird, weir||/ɛə(r)/||heir, their|
|er (stressed, before vowel)||/ɪə(r)/||serious, series||/ɛr/||heron, merit|
|er (stressed, before consonant)||/ɜː(r)/||herd, kerb||/ɑː(r)/||Kerr, sergeant|
|er (unstressed)||/ə(r)/ or /ɜ(r)/||walker, juggernaut|
|ere||/ɪə(r)/||here||/ɛə(r)/||therefore, werewolf||/ɜː(r)/ were|
|err before vowel||/ɛr/||errand, merry||/ɜː(r)/||referral|
|word-final -es morpheme**||/ɪz/||washes, boxes|
|unstressed ex- before a vowel or h||/ɪɡz/||exist, examine, exhaust||/ɛks/||exhale|
|unstressed -ften||/fən/||soften, often|
|gu- before a||/ɡw/||bilingual, guano, language||/ɡ/
|gu- before e or i||/ɡ/||guest, guide||/ɡw/||linguistics|
|word-final -gue||/ɡ/||catalogue, plague, colleague||/ɡju/||argue, redargue, ague, Montague||/ɡweɪ/ segue|
|iar (stressed)||/aɪə(r)/||liar, friar, diary||/iɑː(r)/||caviar, matriarch|
|iar (unstressed)||/ɪə(r)/||familiar, billiards|
|ier||/ɪə(r)/||pier, fierce, bulkier||/aɪə(r)/||replier, pliers|
|ior (unstressed), iour||/ɪə(r)/||exterior, superior
|ir (before vowel)||/aɪə(r)/||firing, enquiry||/ɪr/||Sirius|
|ir (elsewhere)||/ɜː(r)/||bird, fir||/ɪə(r)/ menhir|
|irr before vowel||/ɪr/||cirrus, mirror||/ɜː(r)/||stirrer|
|word-final -le after a consonant||/əl/||little, table|
|-(a)isle||/aɪəl/||aisle, isle, enisle, lisle|
|word-final -ngue||/ŋ/||tongue, harangue, meringue (dessert)||/ŋɡeɪ/||dengue (also /ŋɡi/), distingué, merengue (music/dance)|
|oir||/wɑːr/||reservoir, memoir||/waɪə(r)/ choir|
|old||/oʊld/||blindfold, older, bold||/əld/||scaffold, kobold (also /ɒld/|
|oll||/ɒl/||doll, follow, colletc., holler||/oʊl/||roll, stroller, polling, tollway|
|olm||/ɒlm/||olm, dolmen||/oʊlm/||enrolment, holmium||/oʊm/ holm (oak)|
|ong||/ɔːŋ/||wrong, strong, song||/ɑːŋ/||Congress, congregation|
|or (stressed)||/ɔː(r)/||ford, boring||/ɜ(r)/
|word, work, worst
|orr before vowel||/ɔr/||torrent, sorry|
|our (stressed)||/ʊə(r)/||tourist, contour||/oʊə(r)/
hour, our, devour
|our (unstressed)||/ə(r)/||colour, neighbour|
|owr, ower||/aʊər/||dowry, tower, flowery||/oʊər/||grower, slower|
|qu-||/kw/||queen, quick||/k/||liquor, mosquito|
|quar- before consonant||/kwɔː(r)/||quarter, quart|
|word-final -que||/k/||mosque, bisque||/keɪ/||risqué||/kjuː/ barbeque|
|word-final -re after a consonant||/ər/||metre, fibre|
|unstressed sci- before a vowel||/ʃ/||conscience||/si/||omniscient (RP)|
|-se (noun)||/s/||house, mouse|
|-se (verb)||/z/||house, raise||/s/||chase|
|unstressed -si before a vowel||/ʃ/||expansion||/ʒ/||division, illusion||/zi/ physiology, busier, caesium
|unstressed -ssi before a vowel||/ʃ/||mission||/si/||potassium, dossier|
|unstressed -sten||/sən/||listen, fasten||/stən/||tungsten, Austen, existent|
|unstressed -stle||/səl/||whistle, rustle|
|unstressed -sure||/ʒər/||leisure, treasure|
|unstressed -ti before a vowel||/ʃ/||nation, ambitious||/ʒ/||equation||/ti/ patio, /taɪ/ cation|
|unstressed -ture||/tʃər/||nature, picture|
|tw||/tw/||twin, between||/t/ two|
|ur (before vowel)||/jʊə(r)/||purity, curing|
|ur (before consonant)||/ɜː(r)/||curdle|
|urr before vowel||/ʌr/||hurry, current|
|wa-||/wɒ/||watch, want, warrior||/wæ/||wacky|
|word-initial wor-||/wɜ(r)/||work, worse|
|war- before consonant||/wɔː(r)/||warning, warts, dwarf|
|yr (before vowel)||/aɪər/||gyration, thyroid||/ɪr/||myriad, pyramid|
|yr (before consonant)||/ɜː(r)/||myrtle, myrrh|
|unstressed -zure||/ʒər/||seizure, azure|
* There is no way to tell if it is the morpheme or an integral part of the word. Compare snaked and naked.
** Same as above; compare the two pronunciations of axes.
Small text indicates rare words. Loans words: SP for Spanish, FR for French.
The following table shows for each sound, the various spelling patterns used to denote it. The symbol "…" stands for an intervening consonant. The letter sequences are in order of frequency with the most common first. Some of these patterns are very rare or unique, such as au for the [æ] sound in laugh (some accents). In some cases, the spellings shown are found in only one known English word (such as "mh" for /m/, or "yrrh" for /ɜr/).
|/p/||p, pp, gh||pill, happy, hiccough|
|/b/||b, bb||bit, rabbit|
|/t/||t, tt, ed, pt, th, ct||ten, hitter, topped, pterodactyl, thyme, ctenoid|
|/d/||d, dd, ed, dh, t (in some dialects), tt (in some dialects)||dive, ladder, failed, dharma, waiter, flatter|
|/ɡ/||g, gg, gue, gh||go, stagger, catalogue, ghost|
|/k/||c, k, ck, ch, cc, qu, cu, que, kk, kh, q||cat, key, tack, chord, account, liquor, biscuit, mosque, trekker, khan, burqa|
|/m/||m, mm, mb, mn, mh, gm, chm||mine, hammer, climb, hymn, mho, diaphragm, drachm|
|/n/||n, nn, kn, gn, pn, nh, cn, mn||nice, funny, knee, gnome, pneumonia, piranha, cnidarian, mnemonic|
|/ŋ/||ng, n, ngue||sing, link, tongue|
|/r/||r, rr, wr, rh, rrh||ray, parrot, wrong, rhyme, diarrh(o)ea|
|/f/||f, ph, ff, gh, pph, u||fine, physical, off, laugh, sapphire, lieutenant (Br)|
|/v/||v, vv, f, ph, w (in some dialects)||vine, savvy, of, Stephen, Diwali|
|/θ/||th, chth, phth, tth, fth (in some dialects)||thin, chthonic, phthisis, Matthew, twelfth|
|/s/||s, c, ss, sc, st, ps, sch (in some dialects), cc, se, ce, z (in some dialects)||song, city, mess, scene, listen, psychology, schism, flaccid, horse, juice, citizen|
|/z/||s, z, x, zz, ss, ze, c (in some dialects)||has, zoo, xylophone, fuzz, scissors, breeze, electricity|
|/ʃ/||sh, ti, ci, ssi, si, ss, ch, s, sci, ce, sch, sc||shin, nation, special, mission, expansion, tissue, machine, sugar, conscience, ocean, schmooze, crescendo|
|/ʒ/||si, s, g, z, j, ti, sh (in some dialects)||division, leisure, genre, seizure, jeté, equation, Pershing|
|/tʃ/||ch, t, tch, ti, c, cc, tsch, cz||chin, nature, batch, bastion (some accents), cello, bocce, putsch, Czech|
|/dʒ/||g, j, dg, dge, d, di, gi, ge, gg||magic, jump, judgment, bridge, graduate, soldier, Belgian, dungeon, exaggerate|
|/h/||h, wh, j, ch||he, who, fajita, chutzpah|
|/j/||y, i, j, ll, e||yes, onion, hallelujah, tortilla, eoarchean|
|/l/||l, ll, lh||line, hallo, Lhasa|
|/w/||w, u, o, ou, wh (in most dialects)||we, persuade, choir, Ouija board, what|
|/hw/||wh (in some dialects)||wheel|
|/iː/||e, ea, ee, e…e, ae, ei, i…e, ie, eo, oe, ie...e, ay, ey, i, y, oi, ue, ey, a||be, beach, bee, cede, Caesar, deceit, machine, field, people, amoeba, hygiene, quay, key, ski, city, chamois, Portuguese, geyser (Br), karaoke|
|/ɪ/||i, y, ui, e, ee, ie, o, u, a, ei, ee, ia, ea, i...e, ai, ii, oe||bit, myth, build, pretty, been (some accents), sieve, women, busy, damage, counterfeit, carriage, mileage, medicine, bargain, shiitake, oedema|
|/uː/||oo, u, o, u…e, ou, ew, ue, o…e, ui, eu, oeu, oe, ough, wo, ioux, ieu, oup, w||tool, luminous, who, flute, soup, jewel, true, lose, fruit, maneuver (US), manoeuvre (Br), canoe, through, two, Sioux, lieutenant (US), coup, cwm|
|/ʊ/||oo, u, o, oo...e, or, ou, oul||look, full, wolf, gooseberry, worsted, courier, should|
|/eɪ/||a, a…e, aa, ae, ai, ai...e, aig, aigh, al, ao, au, ay, e (é), e...e, ea, eg, ei, ei...e, eig, eigh, ee (ée), eh, er, es, et, ey, ez, ie, oeh||bass, rate, quaalude, reggae, rain, cocaine, arraign, straight, Ralph (sometimes in Br), gaol (Br), gauge, pay, ukulele (café), crepe, steak, thegn, veil, beige, reign, eight, matinee (soirée), eh, dossier, demesne, ballet, obey, chez, lingerie (US), boehmite|
|/ə/||a, e, o, u, ai, ou, eig, y, ah, ough, ae, oi||another, anthem, awesome, atrium, mountain, callous, foreign, beryl, Messiah, borough (Br), Michael, porpoise|
|/oʊ/||o, o…e, oa, ow, ou, oe, oo, eau, oh, ew, au, aoh, ough, eo||so, bone, boat, know, soul, foe, brooch, beau, oh, sew, mauve, pharaoh, furlough, yeoman|
|/ɛ/||e, ea, a, ae, ai, ay, ea…e, ei, eo, ie, ieu, u, ue, oe||met, weather, many, aesthetic, said, says, cleanse, heifer, jeopardy, friend, lieutenant (Br), bury, guess, foetid|
|/æ/||a, ai, al, au, i||hand, plaid, salmon, laugh (some accents), meringue|
|/ʌ/||u, o, o…e, oe, ou, oo, wo||sun, son, come, does, touch, flood, twopennce|
|/ɔː/||a, au, aw, ough, augh, o, oa, oo, al, uo, u, ao||fall, author, jaw, bought, caught, cord, broad, door, walk, fluorine (Br), sure (some accents), extraordinary|
|/ɒ/||o, a, eau, ach, au, ou||lock, watch, bureaucracy, yacht, sausage, cough|
|/ɑː/||a, ah, aa, i||father, blah, baa, lingerie (US)|
|/aɪ/||ae, ai, aie, aille, ais, ay, aye, ei, eigh, ey, eye, i, i…e, ia, ie, ic, ig, igh, is, oi, ui, uy, uye, y, y...e, ye||maestro, krait, shanghaied, canaille (RP), aisle, kayak, aye, heist, height, geyser (US), eye, mic, fine, diaper, tie, indict, sign, high, isle, choir, guide, buy, guyed, tryst, type, bye|
|/ɔɪ/||oi, oy, awy, uoy oy…e, eu||foil, toy, lawyer, buoy, gargoyle, Freudian|
|/aʊ/||ou, ow, ough, au||out, now, bough, tau|
|/ɑr/||aar, ar, are, arre, ear, er, our, uar, arrh||bazaar, car, are, bizarre, heart, sergeant, our (some accents), guard, catarrh|
|/ɛər/||aar, aer, air, aire, ar, are, ayer, ayor, ear, eir, er, ere, err, erre, ey're, e'er||Aaron, aerial, hair, millionaire, ware, vary, prayer, mayor, bear, heir, stationery (some accents), where, err (variant), parterre, they're, e'er|
|/ɪər/||ear, eer, eir, eor, ere, ers, e're, ier, iere, ir||ear, beer, weir, theory (US), here, revers, we're, pier, premiere, menhir|
|/ɜr/||er, or, ur, ir, yr, our, ear, err, eur, yrrh, ar, oeu, olo||fern, worst, turn, thirst, myrtle, journey, earth, err, amateur, myrrh, grammar, hors d'oeuvre, colonel|
|/juː/||u, u…e, eu, ue, iew, eau, ieu, ueue, ui, ewe, ew||music*, use, feud, cue, view, beautiful*, adieu*, queue, nuisance*, ewe, few, * in some dialects, see yod-dropping|