Spelling is a set of conventions for written language regarding how graphemes should correspond to the sounds of spoken language.[1] Spelling is one of the elements of orthography, and highly standardized spelling is a prescriptive element.

Spellings originated as transcriptions of the sounds of speech according to the alphabetic principle. Fully phonemic orthography is usually only approximated, due to factors including changes in pronunciation over time, and the borrowing of vocabulary from other languages without adapting its spelling. Homophones may be spelled differently on purpose in order to disambiguate words that would otherwise have identical spellings.

Standards and conventions

Standardization of spelling is connected with the development of writing and the establishment of modern standard dialects.[2][3] Languages with established orthography are those languages that enjoy an official status and a degree of institutional support in a country. Therefore, normative spelling is a relatively recent development linked to the compiling of dictionaries (in many languages, special spelling dictionaries, also called orthographic dictionaries, are compiled, showing prescribed spelling of words but not their meanings), the founding of national academies and other institutions of language maintenance, including widespread education and literacy, and often does not apply to minority and regional languages.

In countries or regions where there is an authoritative language academy, such as France, the Netherlands, and the German-speaking areas, reforms have occasionally been introduced (not always successfully) so that spelling better matches the changing pronunciation.

Examples are:

There have occasionally been English-language spelling reform proposals, at least since the 16th century, but they have made little impact apart from a few spellings preferred by Noah Webster having contributed to American and British English spelling differences.



Learning proper spelling by rote is a traditional element of elementary education, and divergence from standard spelling is often perceived as an indicator of low intelligence, illiteracy, or lower class standing.[4]

Spelling tests are commonly used to assess a student's mastery of the words in the spelling lessons the student has received so far. They can also be an effective practice method. Spelling bees are competitions to determine the best speller of a group. Prominent spelling bees are sometimes even televised, such as the National Spelling Bee in the United States.


Main article: Sensational spelling

Divergent spelling is a popular advertising technique, used to attract attention or to render a trademark "suggestive" rather than "merely descriptive", or to evade copyright restrictions. The pastry chains Dunkin' Donuts and Krispy Kreme, for example, employ non-standard spellings.


Main article: Commonly misspelled words

A misspelling of purchased on a service station sign.

While some words admit multiple spellings, some spellings are not considered standard. These are commonly called "misspellings". A misspelled word can be a series of letters that represents no correctly spelled word of the same language at all (such as "leik" for "like") or a correct spelling of another word (such as writing "here" when one means "hear", or "no" when one means "know"). Misspellings of the latter type are called "atomic typos", and they can easily make their way into printed material because they are not caught by simple computer spell checkers. Deliberate misspellings that emphasize the pronunciation of a regional dialect are part of eye dialect (such as writing "'Murica'" instead of "America", or "helluva" instead of "hell of a").

Misspellings may be due to accidental typing errors (e.g. the transposition error teh for the), lack of knowledge of the normative spelling, or lack of concern over spelling rules at all. Whether or not a word is misspelled may depend on context and the orthographic conventions adopted, as is the case with American/British English distinctions. Misspelling can also be a matter of opinion when variant spellings are accepted by some and not by others. For example, "miniscule" (for "minuscule") is a misspelling to many,[5] and yet it is listed as an acceptable variant in some dictionaries.[6][7]

A well-known internet scam involves the registration of domain names that are deliberate misspellings of well-known corporate names to mislead or defraud. The practice is commonly known as "typosquatting".[8]

Notable English misspellings in history


English orthography has a broad degree of standardization. However, there are several ways to spell almost every sound, and most letters have several variants of pronunciation depending on their position in the word and context. Therefore, some spelling mistakes are common even among native speakers.[14] This is mainly due to large number of words that were borrowed from other languages with no successful attempts of complete spelling reform.[15] Most spelling rules usually do not reflect phonetic changes that have taken place since the end of the 15th century (for example, the Great Vowel Shift).[16]

Other languages

Portuguese spelling is not strictly phonematic. It is associated with an extension of the Portuguese language and the emergence of numerous regional and dialect variants. In 2009 the global reform of the Portuguese language was initiated to eliminate 98% of inconsistencies in spelling between various countries.[17]

the orthography of the Icelandic language is based on etymological principle (as English is); thus the Icelanders themselves experience difficulties in writing.[18][19] The modern Icelandic alphabet is based on the standard introduced by the Danish philologist Rasmus Rask.

The fundamental principles of the Spanish orthography are phonological and etymological, that is why there are several letters with identical phonemes.[20] Beginning from the 17th century, various options for orthographic reforms were suggested that would create a one-to-one correspondence between grapheme and phoneme, but all of them were rejected. Most modern proposals to reform spelling are limited to the removal of homophone letters that are preserved for etymological reasons.[21]

In many languages, types of mis-spelling arise from features of those languages which are not present in English: for example,

See also

English spelling

Other languages


  1. ^ Coulmas, F. (1996), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, Oxford:Blackwell
  2. ^ Ulrich Ammon (2004), "Standard variety", Sociolinguistics, vol. 1, Walter de Gruyter, pp. 273–283, ISBN 978-3-11-014189-4
  3. ^ František Trávníček (1940), Nástroj myšlení a dorozumělní: hrst úvah o spisovné češtině (in Czech), F. Borový, p. 206
  4. ^ 1992: Gaffe with an 'e' at the end, by Paul Mickle / The Trentonian
  5. ^ "minuscule", Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary; states that this spelling is "widely regarded as an error"
  6. ^ "minuscule", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  7. ^ "minuscule", Cambridge Dictionary of American English
  8. ^ "Typosquatters Act May Apply to Misspelling Domain Names to Mislead Surfers", Shari Claire Lewis, New York Law Journal, September 15, 2004,
  9. ^ Oldfield, Molly; Mitchinson, John (15 Apr 2009). "QI: Quite Interesting facts about 100". Telegraph. Archived from the original on Jan 29, 2010.
  10. ^ "Define Referer". Dictionary.com. Archived from the original on Mar 3, 2010.
  11. ^ Robinson, J. (2005). "Sequim History" (PDF). City of Sequim, Washington. Archived from the original (PDF) on Oct 3, 2008. Retrieved July 24, 2008.
  12. ^ Town of Quartzsite 2003 General Plan[dead link]
  13. ^ Norbury, J. K. W. Word Formation in the Noun and Adjective.
  14. ^ "Second Grade Spelling Words". primarylearning.org. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  15. ^ "The Relationship between Spelling and Pronunciation in English Language" (PDF). languageinindia.com. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  16. ^ "English language". britannica.com. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  17. ^ "Then and Now: The Brazilian Portuguese Spelling Reform". unitedlanguagegroup.com. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  18. ^ "Baráttan gegn málvillum" (PDF). skemman.is. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  19. ^ "Skólamálfræði Hver er hún og hver ætti hún að vera?" (PDF). opinvisindi.is. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  20. ^ "SPANISH ALPHABET". donquijote.org. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  21. ^ "Spanish Homophones and Homographs". thoughtco.com. Retrieved June 14, 2021.

Further reading