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7 Mind-Blowing Facts about English Spelling

7 Mind-Blowing Facts About English Spelling

English spelling has more exceptions than rules. In some languages, you are able to read as soon as you learn the phonetic alphabet. In English, the phonetic alphabet will let your read less than a half of all words. Every word seems to have its own rules, to live its own life. However, most of us are so accustomed to the quirky side of the language that we do not even notice it.
Enjoy some of the most amazing facts about English spelling to understand that you know such a cool language!
Fact #1. ‘Ough’ can be pronounced in ten different ways. You don’t believe it? Then read the following words aloud and don’t forget to count:
- cough
- rough
- lough
- plough
- through
- slough
- though
- hiccough
- bought
- thorough
Fact #2. There are only 44 distinct sounds in English, but over 1,110 ways to spell them. No other language can break this record. And yes, that’s what linguists mean when they say English is NOT a phonetic language.
There are several reasons for such spelling challenges in English. One of them is that spelling has not changed for centuries, while the way people pronounce words has changed. Also, there are a lot of borrowed words that keep their original spelling, but are pronounced according to English rules. To make matters worse, there are also borrowed words that keep their original pronunciation and, therefore, do not obey rules of English.
Fact #3. It is possible to find words that have the same pronunciation but no letters in common. You and ewe, for instance.
Fact #4. Some non-native speakers of English pronounce the words knock, knee, knuckle, gnaw, and gnat like Vikings did, i.e. with 'k' and 'g'.
In the modern English language 'k' and 'g' became silent letters, but it wasn’t like this earlier. These letters were pronounced in Old English (9th to 13th centuries), Middle English (until the late 15th century), and in Viking (Old Norse) language, from which the ‘kn-‘ and ‘gn-‘ words came into English.
Fact #5. Almost no words of the English origin end in ‘j’, ‘v’, or ‘u’. 'V' and 'u' are typically followed by ‘e’. All the exceptions to this rule are borrowings (menu, raj, haj), slang (chav, spiv), ancient words (you), or abbreviations (flu – influenza).
Fact #6. The word ‘Dord’ has a spelling, but no meaning. The ‘ghost word’ appeared in the English dictionary in 1932 as a result of a printing error.
Fact #7. It’s possible to spot 10 words in ‘therein’. You don’t even have to move any letters to read these words: the, he, ere, in, there, rein, her, here, therein, herein.
Most of us had a hard time learning how to write English words at school. Yet, the more you find out about English spelling, the more you appreciate its complexity and diversity. The very form of many words gives you a hint on their history, shows you who and when introduced them into English. Little by little, words start revealing their secrets. Even the most short and common words, like “you”, may tell you a long and interesting story, which is imprinted on its spelling.
About the Author
Steven Arndt is a passionate writer, educator and a former History teacher. He tends to reconsider the role of modern education in our society and watches with awe the freedom the youth now has. He works as a guest writer at