Irregular Spelling Patterns

Why the English spelling system is not as irregular as you think

Adapted from Louisa Moats, How Spelling Supports Reading, American Educator, 2006.

The spelling of English words is often said to be unpredictable and words just need to be learned. However, there are more regular spellings and patterns than you might think. Apparently half of all English words can be spelled correctly by simply matching sounds to letters, meaning that the letters used to spell these words are predictable and represent regular sound patterns. These sound patterns may be somewhat complex to and the “rules” for their use need to be learned.

There are a further 34% of English words which contain only one error if spelled on the basis of sound and letter matching alone. That means that the spelling of 84% of words is mostly predictable. Many more words can be spelled correctly if you know a little about them such as what the word means and where the word originally comes from. According to Hanna, Hanna, Hodges and Rudorf (1996) there are only 4% of English words which have truly irregular spelling patterns.

There is hope! Spelling can be learned! They key is to spelling almost any word is

  • To know the origin and history of a word (e.g. What language is it from?)
  • Understand what the word means and know what part of speech it belongs to (e.g. noun, adjective, adverb, pronoun etc)
  • Understand that speech sounds can be represented by single letters or a combination of up to 4 letters (know your phonograms)
  • Know that the spelling of a given sound can vary according to its position within a word.
  • Know that the spellings of some sounds are governed by established conventions of letter sequences and patterns.

Newcastle Speech Pathology can guide you through the minefield of learning to spell, and can strengthen your knowledge and skills. Call today to discuss how Newcastle Speech Pathology can tailor a personal plan to build your spelling skills.

To read more about how English developed these irregular spelling patterns click here.

Written by Alison
Speech Pathologist
Newcastle Speech Pathology