The History of Spelling

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11967

Hough dew ewe lern too rite werdz four English? It is a difficult language with broken rules, odd spellings, and unnecessary letters. Learn the odd history of spelling, then make your own alphabet!



learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Why is it so hard to spell correctly in English?

Spelling in English is, quite simply, a pain in the neck.

Sure, we have created rules to help us with our spelling. You have probably heard this gem: I before e except after c.

It's not a very useful rule though, as is clear from common rule-busting words like science, leisure, weigh, neither, and many others.

The famous Irish writer George Bernard Shaw complained bitterly about the challenges of English spelling. He humorously pointed out that the English word fish could be spelled ghoti.

  • How is that possible?
  • gh as in the word enough
  • o as in the word women
  • ti as in the word nation

You probably didn't think it was possible to spell fish that way, but there you have it.

The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein came up with this sentence to demonstrate the insanity of English spelling:

Though the tough cough and hiccough plough him through.

Look at both these examples and consider the following questions:

  • How do each of these examples demonstrate the special challenges of spelling in English?
  • What are some other examples you can come up with to show the illogic of English spelling?
  • What do you think could be done to solve the problem of spelling in English?

To gain some insight from someone who has tackled English for 102 years, watch Ed Rondthaler explain the nonsense of English spelling (robertdobalina):

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Many other languages have a much easier time spelling. Languages like Spanish, German, and Arabic are spelled mostly as they sound.

However, in the case of English, you have to study and memorize the spelling of countless words. Spelling rules are little more than guidelines with many, many exceptions.

In the Got It? section, uncover the history of spelling in the English language to understand just why it got this way.

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