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Pitman shorthand
Type Borderline abugida-abjad shorthand
Spoken languages English
Created by Isaac Pitman
Time period 1837–present
Child systems Pitman's New Era
Pitman's 2000
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

Pitman shorthand is a system of shorthand for the English language developed by Englishman Sir Isaac Pitman (1813–1897), who first presented it in 1837.[1] Like most systems of shorthand, it is a phonetic system; the symbols do not represent letters, but rather sounds, and words are, for the most part, written as they are spoken.[2] As of 1996, Pitman shorthand was the most popular shorthand system used in the United Kingdom and the second most popular in the United States.[3]

One characteristic feature of Pitman shorthand is that [voiced] sounds (such as /p/ and /b/ or /t/ and /d/) are represented by strokes that differ only in thickness (the thin stroke representing 'light' sounds such as p and t; the thick stroke representing 'heavy' sounds such as b and d).[4]

Another distinguishing feature is that there is more than one way of indicating vowels. The main vowel of a word or phrase is indicated by the position of the stroke with respect to the ruled lines of the notebook. (For example, a small circle drawn above the ruled line translates to as/has ; the same circle drawn on the line translates to is/his). But the marks for as/has and is/his are like irregular verbs: they are an exception to the rule. The predominant way of indicating vowels is to use dots or small dashes drawn close to the stroke of the preceding consonant. Each vowel, whether indicated by a dot for a short vowel, or by a dash or a longer, more drawn-out vowel, has its own position relative to its adjacent stroke (beginning, middle, or end).

There are at least three "dialects" of Pitman's shorthand: the original Pitman's, Pitman's New Era, and Pitman's 2000. The later versions dropped certain symbols and introduced other simplifications to earlier versions. For example, strokes "rer" (heavy curved downstroke) and "kway", (hooked horizontal straight stroke) are present in Pitman's New Era, but not in Pitman's 2000.



Pitman was asked to create a shorthand system of his own in 1837. He had used Samuel Taylor's system for seven years, but his symbols bear greater similarity to the older Byrom system. The first phonetician to invent a system of shorthand, Pitman used similar-looking symbols for phonetically related sounds. He was the first to use thickness of a stroke to indicate voicing (voiced consonants such as 'b' and 'd' are written with heavier lines than unvoiced ones such as 'p' and 't'), and consonants with similar place of articulation were orientated in similar directions, with straight lines for plosives and arcs for fricatives. For example, the dental and alveolar consonants are upright: "|" [t], "|" [d], ) [s], ")" [z], "(" [θ] (as in thigh), "(" [ð] (as in thy).

Pitman's brother Benjamin Pitman settled in Cincinnati, Ohio in the United States, and introduced Pitman's system there. He used it in the 1865–67 trial of the conspirators behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In Australia the system was introduced by another Pitman brother, Jacob. Jacob Pitman is buried in Sydney's Rookwood Necropolis, in Australia. The epitaph is written phonetically.[5]


At one time, Pitman was the most commonly used shorthand system in the entire English-speaking world.[6] Part of its popularity was due to the fact that it was the first subject taught by correspondence course. Today in many regions (especially the U.S.), it has been superseded by Gregg shorthand, developed by John Robert Gregg. Teeline has become more common in recent years, as it is based on spelling, rather than punctuation.


Like Gregg shorthand, Pitman shorthand is completely phonetic; words are written exactly as they are pronounced. There are twenty-four consonants that can be represented in Pitman's shorthand, twelve vowels and four diphthongs. The consonants are indicated by strokes, the vowels by interposed dots.



Pitman Consonants.PNG

The consonants in Pitman's shorthand are: pee, bee, tee, dee, chay, jay, kay, gay, eff, vee, ith, thee, es, zee, ish, zhee, em, en, ing, el, ar, ray, way, yay, and hay. When both an unvoiced consonant and its corresponding voiced consonant are present in this system, the distinction is made by drawing the stroke for the voiced consonant thicker than the one for the unvoiced consonant. (Thus, s is ")", whereas z is ")".) There are two strokes for /r/: ar and ray. The former assumes the form of the top right-hand quarter of a circle, whereas the latter is like chay (/), only less steep. There are rules governing when to use each of these forms.


The long vowels in Pitman's shorthand are: /aː/, /eː/, /iː/, /ɑː/, /oː/, /uː/ (pronounced [ɑː], [eɪ], [iː], [ɔː] or [ɒː], [oʊ], and [uː]). The short vowels are /æ/, /ɛ/, /ɪ/, /ɔ/, /ə/, /ʊ/ (pronounced /æ/, /ɛ/, /ɪ/, /ɔ/, /ʌ/, /ʊ/). The long vowels may be remembered by the sentence, "Pa, may we all go too?" /paː meː wiː ɑːl goː tuː/ [pʰɑː meɪ wiː ɔl goʊ tʰuː], and the short vowels may be remembered by the sentence, "That pen is not much good" /ðæt pɛn ɪz nɔt mətʃ gʊd/ [ðæt pʰɛn ɪz nɔt mʌtʃ gʊd].

A vowel is represented by a dot or a dash, which can be written either lightly or heavily depending on the vowel needed. As this only gives four symbols, they can be written in three different positions - either at the beginning, middle or end of a consonant stroke - to represent the 12 vowels.

The dots and dashes representing long vowels are darker than the ones representing short vowels. For example, say is written as ")•", but seh (if it did exist) would be written as ")·"; see is written as ").", but sih (if there were such a word) would be written as ").".

Another feature of Pitman's shorthand allows most vowels to be omitted in order to speed up the process of writing. As mentioned above, each vowel is written next to the consonant stroke at the beginning, middle or end of the stroke. Pitman's shorthand is designed to be written on lined paper and when a word's first vowel is a "first position" vowel (ie. it is written at the beginning of the stroke), the whole shorthand outline for the word is written above the paper's ruled line. When it is a second position vowel, the outline is written on the line. And when it is a third position vowel it is written through the line. In this way, the position of the outline indicates that the first vowel can only be one of four possibilities. In most cases, this means that the first and often all the other vowels can be omitted entirely.


There are four diphthongs in Pitman shorthand, representing the sounds in the words "I enjoy Gow's music". These appear as small angular marks that look rather like a small version of the "less than" symbol ( < ) written on its side or upside down. The "u" sound is written as a small semi-circle. Each of these diphthongs is written in the same way as the vowels – in one of the three positions next to the consonant stroke. And in the same way, the whole outline is placed above, on or through the paper's ruled line.

Common words like and, because, can, it, shall, think, to, with, thank, the and many more are all represented by Grammalogues.


The circles are of two sizes - small & large. Small circle represents 's' (sing) & 'z' (gaze). Big circle represents 'ses' & 'swa'. If the big circle comes initially in the stroke it represents 'swa' (sweep, but not sway). Elsewhere it represents 'ses' (the vowel in the middle can be any of the vowel or diphthong (crisis, crises & exercise). If the vowel is anything other than 'e' then it must be represented inside the circle.


The loops are of two sizes - small and big. The small loop represents 'st' & 'sd' (cost and based) - pronounced stee loop. The big loop represents 'ster' (master and masterpiece). 'ster' loop does not come in the beginning of a word (sterling).

Small Hooks

Small Hook in the beginning

For straight strokes pee, bee, tee, dee, chay, jay, kay and gay the hook comes in both the sides of the stroke. Hook in clockwise direction represents 'r' after the stroke (tray, Nichrome, bigger). Hook in counter-clockwise direction represents 'l' after the stroke (ply, amplify, angle).

For curved strokes eff, vee, ith, thee, ish, zhee, em, en, ing the hook is written in before the stroke is written and it represents 'r' after the stroke (other, measure, manner, every).

Small Hook in the end

For straight strokes pee, bee, tee, dee, chay, jay, kay and gay the hook comes in both the sides of the stroke. Hook in clockwise direction represents 'en' after the stroke (train, chin, genuine). Hook in counter-clockwise direction represents 'eff' or 'vee' after the stroke (pave, calf, toughen).

For curved strokes eff, vee, ith, thee, ish, zhee, em, en, ing the hook is written in after the stroke is written and it represents 'n' after the stroke (men, thin).

Shun Hook

The big hook after any stroke represents 'shun', 'zhun' etc. (fusion, vision). 1. For straight strokes with initial circle or loop or hook, the shun hook is written in opposite direction (section). Depression & depletion have shun hooks in different directions. 2. For simple straight strokes, the shun hook is written in the direction opposite to the occurrence of the vowel. Caution & auction have shun hooks in different directions. 3. For curved strokes, the shun hook is written after the stroke, continuing the curve (motion, notion).

Other Hooks

Big Hook for 'wh'

The big hook in the beginning of the stroke way represents 'wh' (whine).

Hook before ell

The small hook before ell represents 'way' before it (well).

The big hook before ell represents 'wh' before it (while).

The halving principle

Many strokes (both straight and curved) may be halved in length to denote a final "t" or "d". The halving principle may be combined with an initial or final hook (or both) to make words such as "trained" appear as a single short vertical light stroke with an initial and final hook.

Doubling of curved strokes

If ter, der, ture, ther, dher comes in the word the preceding stroke is written double the size (matter, nature, mother).

Doubling of straight strokes

Doubling principle has an exception when 'ter' et al., is preceded by only a straight stroke. Doubling is not employed in that case (cadre). If it has more than stroke before 'ter' et al., or has hook in the end then doubling principle is employed (tender).

Grammalogues (Short Forms)

In shorthand, frequently or commonly occurring words are represented in a single outline which are termed as Grammalogues (or "Short Forms" in Pitman's New Era) and the shorthand outlines that represent the grammalogues are called logograms.

Grammalogues facilitate speed and are convenient to use when taking shorthand dictation. These are an essential part of shorthand transcription. Shortkeys help for increasing the speed.

Cultural references

The protagonist of David R. Palmer's novels 'Emergence' and 'Tracking' purportedly writes her journals in Pitman Shorthand, declaring it the "best, potentially fastest, most versatile of various pen systems".


Pitman, Isaac. Pitman Shorthand Instructor and Key: A Complete Exposition of Sir Isaac Pitman's System of Shorthand. Carlton, Victoria (Australia): Pitman Australia. ISBN 0858960656. 


  1. ^ "Preface". Pitman's Shorthand Instructor: A Complete Exposition of Sir Isaac Pitman's System of Shorthand (Second Australian ed.). Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd. "This second Australian edition of the Instructor commemorates the centenary of the system of shorthand invented by Sir Isaac Pitman, who, in 1837, published his first treatise on the art." 
  2. ^ One major exception to this is the fact that rs are always transcribed, even when recording non-rhotic accents. One possible reason for this could be that in the early 19th century, British English had not yet started to drop its non-intervocalic rs.
  3. ^ Daniels, Peter T. "Shorthand", in Daniels, Peter T. and Bright, William, The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996, p. 811. ISBN 0-19-507993-0.
  4. ^ Doing this requires a writing instrument which is responsive to the user's drawing pressure: specialist fountain pens (with fine, flexible nibs) were originally used, but pencils are now more commonly used.
  5. ^ The New Church Newsletter - Hurstville Society August 2002
  6. ^ Pitman Shorthand. Toronto: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons (Canada), Ltd.. 1937. 

External links


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