Listen to Poems on English Spelling & Pronunciation
Founder & Head Speech Pathologist
Poems on English Spelling and Pronunciation
These fun poems highlight just how CRAZY and unpredictable spelling and pronunciation is in English.
Many languages are ‘phonetic languages. This means that each letter makes a particular sound – this makes learning the pronunciation easy. English is definitely NOT like that! English is not a phonetic language.
There are 44 phonemes or sounds in English (listen & record all the sounds in English). There are only 26 letters in the English language. So each letter can make a number of different sounds or can be silent. This is the main reason that English pronunciation is so challenging!
Why is English like this? Basically it’s because over many, many years English has borrowed words from many different languages. As a result, we have ended up with lots of different and variable spelling patterns.
Below are two of the best poems on English spelling and pronunciation. They cover many words that are commonly mispronounced by non-native speakers because of the unusual spelling patterns.
I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, lough and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead – it’s said like bed, not bead.
For goodness sake, don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat.
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for pear and bear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up — and goose and choose.
And cork and work and card and ward.
And font and front and word and sword.
And do and go, then thwart and cart.
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I’d mastered it when I was five!
Quoted by Vivian Cook and Melvin Bragg 2004, by Richard Krogh, in D Bolinger & D A Sears, Aspects of Language, 1981, and in Spelling Progress Bulletin March 1961, Attributed to T S Watt, 1954.
And… another poem on English spelling!
When the English tongue we speak.
Why is break not rhymed with freak?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say sew but likewise few?
And the maker of the verse,
Cannot rhyme his horse with worse?
Beard is not the same as heard
Cord is different from word.
Cow is cow but low is low
Shoe is never rhymed with foe.
Think of hose, dose, and lose
And think of goose and yet with choose
Think of comb, tomb and bomb,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone –
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don’t agree.
Phew! How did you go? I hope you enjoyed these poems that highlight the unpredictability of English spelling and pronunciation.
Check out our other English Pronunciation Blog Posts that explore the crazy spelling and pronunciation of English:
- Learn about the 9 Ways to Pronounce the Letters ‘ough’ eg cough, through etc
- Check out these Commonly Mispronounced English Words with Silent Letters.
This variable spelling in English is why we use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) when we talk about English Pronunciation. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) tells us exactly how to pronounce a word correctly in English and it also tells us where the word stress should be.
More on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) here.
- what is the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and why you should use it to help you
- see and hear all the sounds in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
- see more on how Word Stress is shown in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).