Standard Written English

Standard Written English

Standard Written English is an alphabetic, morphophonemic representation of the English language, and is the world’s most commonly used alphabetic code. It is used as the basis for handwriting, print, Braille, and Signed English. It is relatively transcendent of varying dialects, though has a number of standard orthographies for colloquialisms and informal writing (see: Written Scots language). It is arbitrated by consensus among publishers and school curricula. It has two main national standards: British and American.


These 100 words constitute approximately half of all Written English text. They are listed here in descending order of frequency. Note that they are all of Anglo-Saxon origin, except for "people".

the of to and a in is it you that he was for on are with as I his they be at one have this from or had by hot word but what some we can out other were all there when up use your how said an each she which do their time if will way about many then them write would like so these her long make thing see him two has look more day could go come did number sound no most people my over know water than call first who may down side been now find

Relationship with spoken English


There are grammatical constructions and words that one uses in speech that one generally avoids in written compositions. Even in the most colloquial of online chats, interjections such as "like" are rarer than in speech. The reverse is also true: The acronym "FAQ", for example, has no accepted pronunciation.Fact|date=February 2007

Written English has no standard method for directly emulating the effects of tone of voice, volume, and other such subtleties. This is compensated for piecemeal by various communities. For example, in internet communications such as Usenet posting, capitalisation is equivalent to shouting. Sometimes the boldness, italicising or underlining of a font can recreate the benefit of verbal emphasis.

Steven Fry stated his view on the exclusivities of Written English in an anonymous essay on Wodehouse::"The language, however, lives and breathes in its written, printed form. Let me use an example, taken at random.:"I flip open a book of stories and happen on Bertie and Jeeves discussing a young man called Cyril Bassington-Bassington. :"Jeeves: "I am familiar with the name Bassington-Bassington, sir. There are three branches of the Bassington-Bassington family – the :"Shropshire Bassington-Bassingtons, the Hampshire Bassington-Bassingtons, and the Kent Bassington-Bassingtons.":Well, try as hard as actors might, such an exchange will always work best on the page."

Indeed, Wodehouse uses this aspect of the written language when the name "Psmith" is explained on the page as being "Psmith" with a silent "P" as in "Pshrimp." This humour cannot be translated into the spoken word.


A close natural example of a dialect extractable from modern spelling is that upon which it is mainly fashioned: that of the intelligentsia of fifteenth to seventeenth century south-east England, to whom "daughter" rhymed with "laughter", etc. The concrete nature of Written English, coupled with the plurality of accents and dialects that it is used to represent, means it is phonemically askew. However, this discrepancy does not affect all speakers equally. For example, in Scotland and Ireland, "you" & "house", and "book" & "poor" are often said with the same vowels, as the text implies. This subjectivity is one reason why no overall improvement has been widely adopted (see: Spelling reform). Another important reason for this irregularity is the internal conflict between its twin functions of representing both phonology and morphology (see Morphophonology).


The common morphemic powers of graphemes are "roughly" aligned: ABDEGHKLMNOPQRTUWXYZ S CV I F J

E.g.: CountryCountries ; They heir ; SolveSolution ; TroyTrojan; believeelief.

Lifelong users of English often intuitively recognise some morphological combinations as being more harmonious than others: They view “closeness” and “proximity” as more harmonious than “closety”. This is called etymological harmony, and is a vague awareness of different morphological classes. Moreover, although all these words have the same denotation, one is viewed as more formal and scientific than the other. One might say that the fictional word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is a Romance word. The inventor of the word intuitively knew how to make a word look such, to give the humorous illusion of authenticity.

However, the solidity of this supposed intuition is highly questionable: Words such as “Internet” and “redo” suggest that this a stagnant practice.

The relevance of this to Standard Written English specifically is that one can often identify one of these supposed classes in text more easily than in speech.

Note that there are certain morphemes such as -ing -ed and un- that are seldom considered misplaced.

:Anglo-Saxon words: It is nearly impossible to complete a coherent paragraph without using these words. These are usually characterised by a cloudy morphology (“earlyere”), wildly unphonemic spelling, the prevalence of “gh” and “ea”, and audible resemblance to other Germanic words. Common affixes are “un-”, “-ful”, and “-ness”. These are the most common words used to describe everyday, informal and interpersonal matters. Most profanities are Anglo-Saxon.

:Romance words: Most people can have a complete online chat using only these and Anglo-Saxon words. They are sometimes as morphemically elusive as Anglo-Saxon words, but bear closer resemblance to French morphemes and words (“very””vrais”). They are often phonemically more regular.

:Latinate and Greek words: This set can be conflated somewhat with the Romance, but is set apart by very methological morphology, Classical Latin and Greek morphemes, and, owing to their youth, consistent phonology, with the major exception of vowel lengths. They usually have rigid definitions and are favoured as scientific (esp.biological), technical, philosophical and legal jargon.

:Hybrids: E.g. "Okay", "Byte", "Prisoner". These have the relative formality and familiarity of Romance words. Sometimes disharmony is used to a humorous effect: e.g. "Heterorumpypumyality".

Previous forms

To most modern readers, the temporal horizon of intelligibility of Written English (independently of speech) is very roughly 600 years ere, assuming minimal regional variation. There are exceptions. An astute modern reader might extrapolate "Well thou writest." from the millennium-old sentence "Wel ðu writst."

Dated circa 1000 AD. Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us to dæg and forgyf us ure gyltas swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge ac alys us of yfele soþlice.

Dated 1384 AD. Ovre fadir þat art in hevenes halwid be þi name; þi revme or kyngdom come to be. Be þi wille don in herþe as it is dovn in hevene. yeve to vs today ovre eche dayes bred. And foryeve to vs ovre dettis þat is ovre synnys as we foryeven to ovre dettovris þat is to men þat han synned in us. And lede vs not into temptacion bvt delyvere vs from evyl.

Dated 1611 AD. Ovr father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give vs this day ovr daily bread. And forgive vs ovr debts as we forgive ovr debters. And lead vs not into temptation, bvt deliver vs from evill. Amen.

Written English as Standard English

Vocally spelling a word is usually the final but successful solution used by two English speakers of different dialects attempting to communicate.

Text, along with underlying forms, is sometimes used as a prescriptive tiebreaker for validity of speech and vocabulary. We can rhyme "spent" with "eloquent" in poetry, although never in normal speech. The hallmark of a standard word is usually considered to be a standard orthography; There are exceptions, such as "aint".

John H. Fisher, author of "The Emergence of Standard English" observes that in Spanish, Italian, French, and English, the written languages became standardised before the spoken languages, and that these provide frames of reference for what we consider standard speech. He said, in the following interview to [] :

I came to the conclusion that all of the discussion of standardisation of language was a discussion of the written forms of language. It had nothing to do with spoken language. We don’t have the spoken language standardised yet. When we say that we’re speaking Standard English, what we’re doing is transferring unto our spoken vocabulary and syntax the elements of the written language. What is standard in what you and I are talking now is what we get from our writing.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Formal written English — is a version of the language that is used by educated English speakers around the world. It takes similar forms regardless of the local spoken dialect. In spoken English, there are a vast number of differences between dialects, accents, and… …   Wikipedia

  • Standard Cantonese — is the standard variant of the Cantonese (Yuet) language. It is spoken natively in and around the cities of Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau in Southern China. Standard Cantonese is the de facto official language of Hong Kong and Macau, and a… …   Wikipedia

  • Standard English — (often shortened to S.E. within linguistic circles) refers to whatever form of the English language is accepted as a national norm in an Anglophone country.[1] It encompasses grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. In the British Isles, particularly… …   Wikipedia

  • Standard Mandarin — Standard Mandarin, also known as Standard Spoken Chinese, is the official modern Chinese spoken language used in mainland China and Taiwan, and is one of the four official languages of Singapore.The phonology of Standard Mandarin is based on the… …   Wikipedia

  • English grammar — is a body of rules (grammar) specifying how phrases and sentences are constructed in the English language. Accounts of English grammar tend to fall into two groups: the descriptivist , which describes the grammatical system of English; and the… …   Wikipedia

  • English modal verb — English grammar series English grammar Contraction Disputes in English grammar English compound English honorifics English personal pronouns English plural English relative clauses English verbs English irregular verbs English moda …   Wikipedia

  • Standard English — Standard ,English noun uncount the form of spoken and written English that is considered acceptable by most people …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • English language — English Pronunciation /ˈ …   Wikipedia

  • English language — Language belonging to the Germanic languages branch of the Indo European language family, widely spoken on six continents. The primary language of the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and various Caribbean and Pacific… …   Universalium

  • Standard language — A standard language (also standard dialect, standardized dialect, or standardised dialect) is a particular variety of a language that has been given either legal or quasi legal status. As it is usually the form promoted in schools and the media,… …   Wikipedia