The Full Wiki

Formal written English: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to Standard Written English article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 but has a number of standard orthographies for colloquialisms and informal writing. It is arbitrated by consensus among publishers and school curricula. It has several national standards, chief among which are British and American English.



These 100 words constitute approximately half of all Written English text. They are listed here in descending order of frequency. They are all of Anglo-Saxon origin, except for "they" and "them" which are from Old Norse; and ultimately, "number," "people," "sound" and "use" are from Old French which are derived from Latin.[1]

  • 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 acronym "FAQ" can be pronounced a number of ways, for example, as a word (fæk) or by saying the letters that make it up (ˈɛfˈeɪˈkyu).[2]

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 instant messaging posting capitalisation is equivalent to shouting. Sometimes the boldness, italicising or underlining of a font can recreate the benefit of verbal emphasis.

Stephen 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 that it is phonemically askew. However, this discrepancy does not affect all speakers equally. For example, in Scotland and Ireland, "you" and "house", and "book" and "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:

     S           CV  I
                  F  J

E.g.: Country\Countries ; They\their ; Solve\Solution ; Troy\Trojan; believe\belief.

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 Sherman Brothers 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 is 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.

There are some 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 (“early\ere”), 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 methodical 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 used more frequently in formal writing and are favoured as scientific (especially 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
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. 

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. "Spent" can be rhymed with "eloquent" in poetry but never in normal speech. The hallmark of a standard word is usually considered to be a standard orthography; there are exceptions, such as "ain't".

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 is considered standard speech. He said, in the following interview for the Children of the Code project:

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.

See also


  1. ^ "Enter words to see their etymology at"
  2. ^ "FAQ" at


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address