Dictionary.com Word FAQs
How irregular is English spelling?
We find English spelling so daunting because of its irregularity. The spelling of many words differs from their pronunciation because while the spellings stabilized centuries ago, the pronunciations continued to change. Spoken forms are always changing over the centuries, whereas writing, particularly since the invention of printing, is very conservative. English also borrows a great deal from other languages, which complicates the sound-symbol relationship. Our alphabet, originally designed for writing Latin, is sometimes deficient in representing some sounds, while having too many choices for representing other sounds. For example we have one letter e with numerous ways to pronounce it, but we have c and s to represent the same s sound; there is the notorious ough spellings in English, which stand for different sounds and sound sequences (rough, cough, dough, plough, ought); plus many other such words. These conventions have arisen from historical changes that have driven spelling and pronunciation further apart. Spelling reform is not entirely out of the question, but think of the sheer volume of printed matter in the modern world. It would not be very convenient to correct the historically produced disharmonies between spelling and pronunciation. So, since there are so many ways to pronounce common English words, any simplified standard spelling would still be irregular for many people.