Sounds a bit like

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Right so you have a word with a funny spelling that isn't in a dictionary? Or you heard an unfamiliar word and can't quite figure out how to spell it? Well, I can't guarantee I can fix your problem but here is a list of helpful hints that I've collected over the years, ranging from the simple and fairly obvious to the arcane and fiddly. I'll try listing them roughly from simple to tricky but in real life, you really have to juggle these at the same time as they can appear on top of each other.


This is a fairly basic one. Lenition changes the beginning of a word. Common pitfalls are:

  • bh and mh both come out as /v/ or /vj/
  • sh and th both come out as /h/ or /hj/
  • fh is usually silent so the first sound you hear may actually be the second sound so if your word begins with l, r, n or a vowel, consider it might actually be f + l n r or a vowel

Broad vs slender

It's quite common for dative or genitive forms to turn into nominatives i.e. for a slenderised form to become the new nominative. So you end up with two forms, sometimes leading to different plurals and/or genitives, for example cròc has a plural in cròcan but where cròic has become the new nominative, the plural is cròicean.


So parsing is all about how you chop up a string of sounds. Because of the way sounds (and our ears) work, things are often not what they seem to be. So when you're puzzled about the start of a word and you heard this surrounded by other words, ask yourself if the first sound might actually be the last sound of the preceding word. Common ones are:

  • an initial n sound might well the be the final n from a preceding definite article
  • an initial g sound could be the g from a preceding ag if you're looking at a verbal noun

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