The English language is one of the widely spoken and written languages in modern world. The British ruling over a number of countries is one of the reasons. The natives learnt the language to converse with the rulers. Further most of the scientific and other research papers have come to be written in the English language. Hence it has become necessary for those pursuing higher education to be conversant with the language.

The language has basically 26 alphabets, probably one of the lowest for any language. However the main drawback of the language is it is not a phonetic language. Most of the languages were originally only spoken language. When the English language began to have a written script, for some reasons, the language seems to have acquired various combinations of the alphabets which phonetically do not seem to have any relevance to the way the words are spoken / pronounced. Thus what is spoken / read is not the same as what is written. Probably researchers of the language would have found why so much of complications have been introduced.

 Did English start first as a written language and then became a spoken language?

Probably it is the only language where certain alphabets though found written are not pronounced calling them “Silent” alphabets. These ‘Silent’ letters like ‘P’, ‘S’, ‘L’ appear at the beginning of the word or in between also. For example we have ‘Psychology’, ‘psalm’ (both ‘p’ and ‘l’ are silent), ‘Island’, 'Chalk’, ‘Talk’, ‘Circuit’,’ Biscuit’ , ‘Balm’, etc.

 Hence we find that the learners of the language have to know the ‘Spelling ‘of the words while writing. Thus you will find that you will lose marks in an exam if you have not written the spellings correctly. We  also come across the strange phenomenon of contests being held where awards like ‘Spellbee’ are given to those who correctly spell the words pronounced by the conductor of the competition.

However it is also a language where only the alphabets are used in various combinations without any other adjuncts unlike many other languages.

Comparison with other Languages:

 For example in the Devanagari script which is used in Hindi and several other Indian languages various adjunct are attached either on top, bottom, before or after a letter to denote various expressions  eg.  ka, ke, ku, ky, kru, ki, etc. Half letters are also used many times like in words ‘sikka’, ‘ulta’, where an alphabet is written only partly and pronounced only ‘half’.

The Tamil language does not have the Devanagari style of script. Thus the same alphabet ‘ka’ is used to denote various intonations, like ‘ka’,’kha’,’ga’,and ‘gha’.It also has different adjuncts to denote the other forms of the alphabets. Thus the alphabet ‘ka’ is also used to pronounce ‘gha’.  The word for the bird crow in Tamil is ‘kaka’. However in certain contexts the word written as ‘kakam’ is pronounced as ‘kagam’. For a new learner of the language it will take quite some time to grasp the correct pronunciations.

The usage of some of the Alphabets in the English Language:

When a person recites the English alphabets in the order in which they are normally written (A to Z) they are pronounced in a particular way. However when they are formed into words, the pronunciation of the alphabets has no relevance to the way they are individually pronounced.

The spellings will depend on the context and meaning the sentence wants to convey.

Let us take the example of the alphabet ‘C’

While pronouncing it is like the word ‘see’. Thus the word ‘see’ though pronounced like ‘C’ does not have the letter ‘c’ in its construction.

The letter C is used in different ways comparable to the Devanagari script alphabets,

 Though there is  a letter ‘k’ , ‘c’ is pronounced as ‘k’ in many words.

’ka’   -   Cat, catch, common, cut, crunch

 ‘cha’    -  champion, change, choose

 ‘sa’   -  certain, centimetre, cell, circle, city  ( ‘cell’ and ‘sell’ are pronounced in the same way but have totally different meanings)

The alphabet ‘H’

It is pronounced as ‘hech’ in the alphabetical series.. In combination with other alphabets it takes different pronunciations

‘teach’; ‘match’ ; ‘ditch’;  are all pronounced in the same way though spelt differently

 ‘high tech’; ‘ technique’;

The alphabet  ‘i’  ‘I’

This letter is pronounced as ‘i’ in the alphabetical series. However when used in combination with other letters to form words it undergoes drastic modifications:

High   -   the letters ‘g ‘ and ‘h’ in the end seems to be silent

Mitigation       -  ‘i’ is pronounced in different ways in a single word

In some words it has the sound of ‘e’ :       ‘tincture’, pragmatic, ‘tinsel’, ‘ticket’, ‘timid’

There are some words in which ‘i’ is pronounced as ‘ai’    : Titan, Rival, Nine, Sign,


The Alphabet “Q”

A unique feature of this alphabet is that whenever it is used in a word, whether as the first letter or in the middle, it is always followed by alphabet ‘u’ as the next letter.

This alphabet whenever used is pronounced like ‘k’ or ‘c’

Eg. Quick, Quantum, Quorum, Quantity, Quality, Question

      Technique, unique, sequence,

There is a word ‘Queue’ which is pronounced in the same way as “Q” is pronounced in the alphabetical series. One wonders why such a complicated spelling, where except the letter ‘Q’ all other letters are not pronounced at all.

The alphabet  ‘U’

This is pronounced as ‘you’

Whenever ‘u’ is the first letter of any word it is mostly pronounced as ‘a’ for example:

Uncertain, undo, urban, uncle,

However there are a lot of words where ‘u’ is pronounced as ‘u’ for example:

Use, utility, urea,

In many words the ‘u’ is pronounced very differently

Count, should, thought, through, rough, shout,

The alphabet ‘X’

There are hardly a couple of words starting with ’x’ like ‘xerox’, ‘xylophone’ where it is pronounced as ‘zerox’ and ‘zylophone’.

However, when ‘x’ is appearing in the middle of a word it is pronounced as ‘x’ in most of the cases.

  For eg. ‘Dexter’, ‘Matrix’, ‘Maximum’, ‘Texture’, ‘textile’, ‘Axis’, etc.

The alphabet ‘ Y’

This is pronounced as ‘why’ in the alphabetical list.

However when used in combination with other alphabets its pronunciation changes and hardly anywhere is it pronounced the way it is in the alphabetical list

‘why’ , ‘shy’ ,  - i  ;        ‘way’  , ‘say’  - a  ;     ‘yellow’  - ye ;   ‘yeast’  -  e ;  ‘copy’  - e ;   (‘ cope’   - kop   ) ; ‘you’  - u ;  when ‘ I’ can stand alone as a word why not  ‘U’  stand alone for the word ‘you’  ?                                  

‘Youth’ – here both ‘y’ and ‘o’ are silent and the word is pronounced as ‘uth’

The alphabet   “W”

This is pronounced as ‘double u’. Probably it denotes the combination of two ‘u’s , though it is written as a combination of two ‘v’s. However nowhere in the English language is this alphabet pronounced as ‘double u’.

 Most of the times it sounds like ‘va’ like in ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘what’, etc.  So when you have an alphabet ‘ v’ why you should have a ‘w’ ?

It is also pronounced as ‘y’ as in ‘wise’, ‘wire’, ‘wine’ etc. Though you have an alphabet which is pronounced as ‘y’ instead ‘w’ is used.

‘w’ is also silent in many words like ‘write’, ‘wring’, ‘wrest’, ‘wrap’, etc. The problem is there are words without the ‘w’, ‘rite’, ‘ring’, ‘rest’, ‘rap’ and pronounced in the same way but having completely different meaning .

The alphabet ‘Z’

This is pronounced as ‘sed’ or ‘zed’. Probably this is widely used in Russian and other languages rather than in English. However the letter is pronounced as ‘sa’ in most of the words:

‘zoo’, ‘zero’, ‘zing ‘, ‘zoom’, ‘zip’ etc.



Words pronounced similarly but having different meanings:

SUN       SON;         SIGHT       SITE ;     SENT   SCENT   CENT  ;

LOSE    LOOSE;    LIGHT     LITE;       BOY    BUOY;

CALF     COUGH;     IS      EASE;  

HI    high;     Hear    Here;   FAIR     FARE;






The word “SHUN” is spelt in different ways even though it is pronounced in the same way

  • ‘Shun’, ‘Shunted’,
  • A combination of ‘t ‘, ’ i’ , ‘e’ and ‘o’ is used to  provide the sound ‘sh’ when ‘sh’ itself could have been used  -   

  ‘patient’, quotient,  ‘proficient’;  ‘combination’, ‘solution’, ‘relation’, ‘intuition’;    ‘compensation’

  • ‘compassion’, ‘procession’, ‘obsession’
  • ‘intrusion’, ‘suspension’, ‘occasion’, ‘incision’
  • ‘suspicion’, ‘coercion’
  • ‘mathematician’, ‘magician’


The spelling “ture”  and “cher” is normally pronounced as ‘chur’. However with the same pronunciation it is spelt differently in combinations with other alphabets.

‘capture’, ‘rapture’, ‘temperature’, ‘torture’, ‘lecture’,


‘teacher’, , ‘rancher’ , ‘launcher’, ‘scorcher’, ‘preacher’, ‘clincher’

‘stretcher’, ‘butcher’,


The use of the alphabets ‘C’ and ‘S’

There is an everlasting confusion as to in which words ‘c’ should be used and in which‘s’.

The following words are pronounced similarly but spelt differently and have different meanings also:

Rice     Rise;     Price      Prise;     Case    Pace;     Chase    Lace;   Erase   Mace;    Practice   Practise;

Dose     Doze;


Words ending with “re” and “er”

There are several words which end with  ‘er’ or with ‘re’ but are pronounced similarly. It is a problem for new learners of the language as to when they should use ‘er’ and when‘re’.

‘timbre’, ‘metre’,  ‘litre’,     ‘centre’  ,   ‘sombre’,   ‘fibre’,  ‘massacre’,  ‘meagre’, ‘cadre’,  ‘severe’

‘timber’,  ‘meter’, ‘litter’,  ‘amber’, ‘remember’, ‘lever’, ‘meander’, ‘sever’, ‘sewer’,


Words ending with “eak’ and “eek”

Words ending with ‘eak and ‘eek’ are pronounced similarly but have different meanings.  While many words end with ‘’eak’ several words end with ‘eek’. So when to use ‘eak’ and when to use ‘eek’ is a problem for the learners of the language.

‘peak’   ‘peek’  ;  ‘weak’   ‘week’ ; ‘leak’  ;  ‘leek’  (vegetable) ;

‘beak’ ; ‘speak’ ;  ‘freak’ ; ‘teak’ ;  ‘squeak’ ; ‘sneak’ ;

‘seek’ ;  ‘reek’   ; ‘meek’ ;   ‘cheek’ ;  ‘reek’ ; ‘sleek’ ; ‘cheek’ ; ‘geek’ ;  ‘shriek’ ;








Kaushik Vichar

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