Why does the English language have so many exceptions to the rule?

It is difficult to estimate the number of words in the English language. According to The Global Language Monitor there are over 1,000,000 English words with 14 new words being added each day. Fortunately for us, new words generally follow regular spelling rules – selfie, aquafarm, buzzworthy.  It’s the older, more common words that tend to be the exception to the rules.

The English language began about 16 Centuries ago but it was a very different language to the one spoken today. Constant changes have been brought about by invasions, wars, royalty, educators, the printing press and development of technology. Words have entered the language from a variety of sources including – Latin, Old French, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Norse. This is why there is such a variety of words and spellings.

Understanding how words have developed (Etymology) helps to improve spelling knowledge.

Did you know that before the 17th Century the “w” was pronounced in “write” and “wrote” and the ‘k” was pronounced in “knight” and “knife”? These are now “silent letters”. We keep the silent letters in spelling as it helps to distinguish homophones.

Being exceptional helps to make the English language richer but it can’t be too difficult as approximately 375 million people speak it as their first language!

Anne Watson, Literacy Publisher