11 spelling changes that would make English easier
Editorial note: we are not advocating that you use these alternate spellings in formal settings; in fact, these spellings are best avoided unless your style guide prefers them.
The English language is famous for its many quirks and exceptions to the rule, which can make it a difficult language to learn. One of the areas in particular that language-learners struggle with is spelling. The English language offers startling variety when it comes to pronouncing certain arrangements of letters. The letters ough are infamous for this reason, resulting in pronunciations such as cough (‘off’), ought (‘aw’), and through (‘oo’).
Over the centuries, advocates of language reformers have offered solutions to the quagmire that is English spelling. However, only a handful of these alternate spellings ever really caught on.
Here are 11 alternate spellings suggested by reformers that would make our lives easier.
1. doughnut to donut
In American English, the spelling donut is already pretty popular, although it has not yet quite caught on in the rest of the world. But if you do love these delightful treats, it’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t want to take the -ugh- out of them!
2. through to thru
Another strike at the confusion of ough, the change of through to thru is another example that has seen somewhat limited success in American English. Although the spelling is usually informal, it is commonly seen in the term drive-thru.
3. though to tho
Like through, though offers another confusing take on ough. Along with shifting to tho, we might also consider changing although to altho.
4. night to nite
The –gh– lurking in words like night, fright, and blight is another example of an area of English ripe for spelling reform. The alternate spelling nite offers some relief from the -gh- difficulty.
5. borough to boro
Back to the trouble of the -ough, another word that could use a makeover is borough. In North America, you may see boro in locations like highway signs or other places with text limitations, but you’re still likely to still see borough almost everywhere else. This is particularly true in British English, where borough is pronounced with an ‘uh’ sound, rather than an ‘oh’ sound.
6. rhyme to rime
Poetry and music lovers know how much trouble this word can cause. With y taking the role of a vowel and h making a ghostly appearance, the word rhyme would be greatly improved by the alternate spelling rime.In fact, rime was the original spelling of the word, changed in the 17th century by association with the Latin word rhythmus.
7. photo(graph) to foto(graf)
You could add dozens of other words to this entry: phantom, phalanx, telephone, phonetics, phase, not to mention many more. The double trouble with photograph, which includes two ‘f’ sounds that are curiously represented by ‘ph’, is due to the word’s shameless reference to the Greek letter ϕ (‘phi’). Still think that the change looks silly? Look no further than fantasy, which had the alternate spelling phantasy from the 16th to the 19th century, before ‘f’ triumped over ‘ϕ’.
8. friend to frend
We could solve at least one ‘i before e’ case here by shifting friend to frend. This spelling reform actually saw limited success in Australia several decades ago thanks to British/Australian linguist Harry Lindgren. Lindgren proposed changing all words pronounced with the ‘short e’ sound to be spelled with simply an ‘e’. As such, the words friend, head, guess, and said would become frend, hed, gess, and sed.
9. bureaucrat to burocrat
No one likes bureaucracy, anyway, so why not fiddle with the spelling of the word? The triple vowel in the middle has been throwing spellers for a loop ever since English borrowed the word from French. Let’s just cut out the complicated vowels, substitute an ‘o’, and call it a day.
10. doubt to dout
You may well have wondered why that silent ‘b’ in these words was there to begin with. It turns out that the ‘b’ was added to words like doubt and debt as a way to draw attention to the words’ Latin origins (debitum, ‘something owed’, and dubitare, ‘hesitate’, respectively).
11. island to iland
If you’re not frustrated with the word island, then you should be. The pesky ‘s’ at the start of the word was in fact a change in spelling made in the 16th century due to association with the unrelated word isle. Yes, you read that correctly; island and isle are etymologically unrelated. So let’s admit that to ourselves and go back to iland.