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The Five Basic Structures of English Spelling Patterns: 
The Simple, Fancy, Insane, Tricky, and Scrunched Up

  

Basic

Intermediate

Advanced

 
Simple
cat, big, call,
dog, run, stay,
jump, ate, shop, quick, queen

shunned, chewing,
missed, pinning,
outfielder, preacher, defroster, understanding

peddled, strictly,
belittled, reenacted,
enabled, shackled, misunderstandings


Fancy
onion, notice,  station, caution,
special, crucial, Christ, sessions

suspicious, suspicions, unique, personalities, initially, linguistic, hysteria, Christianity, memoirs 

flambeau, Chablis, 
ennui, psychology, psychic, rendezvous, picturesque, mosque

 
Insane
one, does, was, 
have, laugh, 
laughter, cousin, daughter, should

lingerie, aye, draught,
soldering, indictment,
salve, corps, Chanukah, renege, cologne

hors d'oeuvres, ciao,
conch, jai alai, Qin, ribald, loughs, victuals, quays 


Tricky
deer/dear, aunt/ant,
be/bee, bear/bare
red/read/reed

do/dew/due, aisle/isle/I'll, missed/mist, passed/past, affect/effect, lox/locks/lochs, accept/except 

allusion/illusion,
cache/cash,
spade/spayed, descent/dissent


Scrunched Up
It’s, didn't, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Ave., Dr., St., they’re, we’re

'tis, 'twas, ASAP, CIA,
PED XING, used to / "usta",
going to / "gonna", supposed to / "sposta", @#$%&!" 

e.g., "whudja",
Ste., Y2K, i.e., sic,
et al., SQ3R, WPA, POTUS, IDA

Five Types of English Spelling Examples and Frequency Chart (PDF)

Simple words that have a base of one syllable.  The word fishermen has three syllables but its base is the one syllable word fish.  The -le words such as little, castle, and candle can be considered as one syllable words, or the only two-syllable based words to be "simple."

  • The Basic Simple Words are taught in almost all phonics programs.
  • The Intermediate Simple Words generally are not taught specifically or intensively.  What usually occurs is that the base word such as bat is taught but not the other structural forms such as bats, batted, batting, batter, batters, battered, battering, battery, and batteries.  It generally is assumed that students can apply the rules about adding -s -ed -ing -er etc.  Some can and do, but certainly not all.
  • The Advanced Simple Words are usually assumed to be learned by osmosis.

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Fancy words are those that usually cannot be reduced to a one syllable base.  These words have come into our language from Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, etc. with their basic phonic patterns (which are different from English) retained.  

  • The Basic Fancy Patterns are sometimes taught or encountered in some reading programs.  Some examples of these are the -tion = "shun" or the -cial = "shul" as in special and the -cious = "shus" as in precious.
  • The Intermediate Fancy Patterns are rarely systematically taught.  Examples of these are -tial = "shull" as in impartial, the ch = "sh" as in chef, or the -et = "ay", as in buffet.
  • The Advanced Fancy Patterns are not taught specifically or intensively and are usually assumed to be learned by osmosis.  Examples of these are -eau = "oh" as chateau, u = w as in suite and suede, and -ique = "eek" as in mystique.

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Insane words are not pronounceable using any standard rules of phonics.  

  • The Basic Insane Words such as does, was were, gone, and eyes are taught or encountered in most reading programs as sight words.  
  • The Intermediate Insane Words are not taught specifically nor intensively.  They are words such as salve, lingerie, and soldering.
  • The Advanced Insane Words are usually assumed to be learned by osmosis.  Examples of these are ciao, hors d'oeuvres, and victuals (often misspelled as vittles even by highly educated people).

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Tricky words are homophones, homographs, and words with similar configurations that tend to confuse or trick the writer.

  • The Basic Tricky Words are taught or encountered in most reading programs.  Words such as red/read, be/bee, eye/I, and dear/deer are generally taught to mastery, although some basic tricky words such as its/it's, their/there/they're, and fair/fare are often not mastered.
  • The Intermediate Tricky Words are generally neither taught specifically nor not intensively.  Examples of these are effect/affect, (child) abuse/abuse (a child), (to) present/(a) present, and accept/except/expect.
  • The Advanced Tricky Words are usually assumed to be learned by osmosis.  Examples of these are allusion/illusion, resume (writing)/(write a) resume, material/materiel, and personal/personnel.

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Scrunched Up words are those word phrases for which linguists have coined the esoteric terms sandhi (pronounced "Sunday") and synalepha.  We have also included acronyms and abbreviations.

  • The Basic Scrunched Up Words are generally taught or encountered in most reading programs.  Examples of these are the common contractions I'm, I'll, don't, doesn't, and won't.
  • The Intermediate Scrunched Up Words are rarely taught in any reading/spelling program.  The lack of teaching these allows the proliferation of misspellings as "were gonna," "hafta," "should of," "gotta," and "wudjuhgit" for "we're going to," "have to," "should have," "got to," and "what did you get."
  • The Advanced Scrunched Up Words generally are not taught specifically or intensively.  Rather, they are assumed that, with reading and higher education, they can be learned by osmosis.  This is not true as evidenced by the numbers of educated people who say "EYE EE" when reading the abbreviation  i.e. (which stands for id est and should be read as "that is" or those who say "EE Period JEE Period" instead of "for example."   Included are acronyms such as SNAFU (situation normal all "fouled" up) as well as the Latin word sic which simply means: "Yes, I know that somewhere in the matter I quoted there is a misspelling and/or incorrect syntax, but I'm quoting directly and I am not allowed to edit the quotation, so please don't write to me about it." 

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The AVKO Educational Research Foundation would like to see the educational establishment (which includes the universities and the publishing industry) begin to provide training and materials to the teachers so that students can be taught and not just left to their own devices to learn their language.

  • For methods that can be used to teach all five varieties of English Spelling, teachers and/or homeschooling parents may want to use The Teaching of Reading & Spelling: a Continuum from Kindergarten through College.

  • For a source book in which a teacher, researcher, writer, publisher, or homeschooling parent can look up any word in the English language (except bathroom wall words) and find all the words that share the same pattern, see The Patterns of English Spelling.

  • For a Spelling Series that contains over 35,000 words arranged sequentially by the difficulty of the easiest word within the pattern, see Sequential Spelling and print out the first seven lessons that lead students into learning to spell the difficult word beginning by starting with the easiest word in.

  • See our book of the same name for help in teaching students learn the basic Tricky Words.

  • For help in teaching students the "Scrunched Up" words or eliminating their phonic misspellings of gonna, were sposta, you hafta, etc., see Speech to Spelling.

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