A handwriting system that used the simplest possible strokes for letters would, of course, be faster to write with than longhand, which uses several, sometimes as many as four, strokes for each letter. And if the system were phonetic, words couldn't be misspelled!

The usual 26 letter alphabet just doesn't have enough letters to represent all the 32+ sounds used in English, especially vowel sounds, so several letters are often used to represent a single sound. The word "ought," for example, uses five letters to write only two sounds.

So a really slick form of handwriting would use one stroke for one sound. Simple, but too difficult? Not necessarily. You just need to learn to hear the sounds that you use when speaking English so you can write them, and then learn some simple symbols to represent those sounds. Since you have been taught to pay attention to 26 letters and not the actual sounds of English, tuning in to speech sounds may take some time, but can also be quite interesting and fun.

In the box below is a summary of everything you need to learn to start writing faster. As a bonus, hardly anyone (probably no one you know) will be able to read your writing.


Handywrite System Summary

System summary

To better understand the above, study the following. Notice how, in the examples, each sound is often spelled several different ways.

Consonants: (as in....)

n m    knit—mit , knife—calm (no l sound)

t d two—do , stopped (one p, ends in t)—fiddle

k g coat—goat , backghost

r l rake—lake , wrong—tell

p b pin—been , happy (only one p sound)—rabbit

f v fairy—very , laugh—of (v not f)

h w how—wow , who (starts with h)—wine


sh ch shin—chin , ocean—watch

("ch" is the sound of t+sh, but gets a symbol of its own)

zh j azure—jam , measure—bridge

("j" is the sound of d+zh as in "edge")

ng nk sing—sink , long—lank

("nk" is the sound of ng+k)

Th th thin—then (same vowel) , thigh—breathe

("Thin" and "then" are the only two common words distinguished solely by the two forms of th, so if you get them mixed up writing other words, no big deal. By the way, the "th" in "then" or "the" occurs about ten times more often in writing than "Th" in "thin" or "think")

s z sin—zen , scent—has

(s, z, and x may curve two ways, whichever seems best)

x y example—yet , extra—onion

("x" is the sound of k+s in fox, eh+k+s in extra, or eh+g+z in exact—if you need to be excruciatingly exact you could write extra as )

ll ny   llama—manana

(These sounds are from foreign words such as "llama" when pronounced like "y" instead of "l." In Spain "ll" is like the "lli" in "million." The "ny" sound is the "ñ" in "mañana" or "canyon")


Vowels: (as in...)

ae   bat , plaid , half , laugh, can ,

eh   bet , many , said , says , bread ,

ih   bit , mini , Sid , busy , women ,

a   bot or bought, father , Don , far , caught ,

uh   but , done , alone , circus , pencil

ey   bait , age , aid , say , they , vein

i   beet , team , people , key , equal

ay   bite , height , aisle , eye , lie , high

(may be written with a forward or backward slant, but generally down)

o   boat , sew , open , toe , beau , yeoman

yu   butte , new , few , feud , beauty , view

u   boot , shoe , rule , blue , fruit , adieu

c   book, put , full , wolf , good , should

au   bout , house , bough , now, towel

oy   boil , boy , toil , voice , oil

aw   bawl , dawn , law , yawl—y'all ,

(This is a minor vowel very close to the "short o" in Don. In practice this vowel sound can be represented by the  symbol without confusion. So "all" or "awl" could be written or and so forth, but if you need to distinguish between "dawn" and "Don" or "la" and "law," "tock" and "talk," then you can—these being the among the few examples I have encountered that differ solely on the basis of these vowel sounds. Some words, like "bought" (bawt) and "bot" (baht) may be pronounced the same by some people, and so may be written the same. Note that when writing this symbol there is always at least one sharp angle between it and a consonant to distinguish it from the vowels and which may also be tear shaped when they sometimes blend in with two consonants— in which case there is no angle.)

r bur , bird , first , word , honor , zephyr

(A little known or acknowledged fact: "r" is a vowel, not a consonant. Generations of English teachers have mislead you. While I did list "r" with the consonants, I'm now giving you the straight dope. A vowel sound is one you can make in a continuous manner using your vocal cords with mouth open until you run out of breath. Try it. Consonants are the various ways vowels can be modified at the beginning or end of them. Say "ahahahahahahahah," now say "rrrrrrrrrrrrr." Obviously "R" is a vowel. Some admit only that it's a semivowel, but I prefer to say the emperor has no clothes and claim it's a vowel. Next time you're around an English teacher or other language expert, argue this point ad nausium until they concede.)


Consonant Blends

Some consonant sounds often blend with others. For example "bl" or "fr." When possible, the symbols for consonants that blend also blend. Here are some examples.

pr , pl , br , bl , fr , fl , gr , gl

kr , kl , wr , hw, kw , rk , sp , sl

Note that most words starting with "wh" are actually pronounced "hw" with a few exceptions like "who" which is just "h" plus "oo" without a "w" sound.

Also, "nt" can be written or blended into . The vowels in the syllables "ten," "ton," and "tin" are often indistinctly pronounced, especially at the ends of words (as in "cotton"), and may be heard as just "t+n" which can be blended into as in "cott'n pick'n good."

Another handy blend is to use for "d" or "ed" at the end of a word by making the hook with a counter-clockwise motion as in "and" or "bird" . This differs from the vowel usage of this symbol which is always written clockwise as in "know" .


Alternative Vowel Symbols

If you find that distinguishing between clockwise and counter clockwise circles is too confusing, you could eliminate the distinction at the cost of using two-stroke symbols to stand for single sounds. A large circle in any direction would be "uh" in "but," and a small circle in any direction would be used for the "ih" in "bit." This leaves the need to come up with symbols for the "ah" in "father" and "eh" in "bet" sounds. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) uses the following symbols for these sounds and similar symbols could be used in Handywrite.

Try out the alternatives and see what feels best for you.

Typing the Handywrite Alphabet

It is useful to assign the sounds in the Handywrite phonetic alphabet to keyboard characters that are quick to type. Since you already know most of the characters, learning a few more will allow you to type words phonetically. Play around with the following and you may find it isn't that hard to print/type phonetically.

Here are typeable characters for each sound based on international usage:

The above usage will make sense if you are familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Since the IPA is the only really good pronunciation guide, I would suggest studying it, and using the above simplified typeable version to break down words into basic speech sounds.

Because our interest is to write using only the minimum number of distinctive vowel and consonant sounds needed to tell one word from another, it would be correct to say that Handywrite uses a phonemic rather than phonetic alphabet. One symbol may stand for two speech sounds provided they differ only slightly (as allophones) and are not used to differenctiate between words. True homophones, of course, cannot be written differently using a phonemic or phonetic alphabet, so "their" and "there" are written the same.

Since "c" is not used for a consonant sound, it is used to represent the vowel in "bull" or "book."

Sometimes a vowel is indistinct or non-existent. The word "nation" could be pronounced "neyshuhn," "neyshihn," "neyshehn," or with no vowel in "neyshn." In such cases, go with the simplest and write "shn" for "-tion" or "-sion."

Phonetics is phun. As infants we have the ability to hear all possible speech sounds used in any language. With maturity most of us lose the ability to hear speech sounds not in our native language. In some languages, for example, there is no distinction made between "p" and "b" so if you say "pet" then "bet" native speakers will hear both as the same word. With other sounds, English speakers have the same impairment.

The vowel "e," as in Spanish "el bebe," is not normally found in English other than in the diphthong "ey" as in "bait" or Spanish "ley," which is the "e" sound with the slight addition of the "i" in "beet." The "e" vowel is a tensed form of "eh" in "bet," but sounds more like "ey" to English speakers. So English speakers tend to hear "el" to rhyme with "bell (behl)" and "bebe" to rhyme with the first vowel in "baby (beybi), while Spanish speakers hear "ey," they tend not to hear any difference between "eh" and "e." In Handywrite both "eh (bet)" and "e (bebe)" are represented by the same counter-clockwise small loop, even though these sound like two distinct vowel sounds to English speakers. For practical purposes, "eh" or "e" is also the first vowel in "hair," "care," or "air" when followed by "r." In Handywrite, then, "hair" would be .

Here's an example from Spanish:

El mes de julio es un mes de fiestas por todo el mundo hispano.

el mes de hulio es un mes de fiestas por todo el mundo ispano.

Not too many differences, since Spanish is quite phonetic to begin with. An English speaker learning Spanish might phonetically write the above as:

ehl meys dey hulio ehs un meys dey fiehstuhs por todo ehl mundo hispano.

Ah, so that's why I speak Spanish with such a thick accent! Using the international based characters with English would look like this:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogs, and that made me laugh.

thuh kwihk braun fax juhmps ovr thi leyzi dagz, ænd thæt meyd mi læf.

Not nearly as close to normal spelling as with Spanish, but English orthography is only marginally phonetic—about 40%. Note that the vowel in "cat" can be typed as "ae" or as a single character "æ" if you have an international keyboard.

The above international typeable version should be used along with a dictionary that uses the IPA system to help you make sense of phonetics. While the IPA may seem confusing, the other pronunciation guides used by many dictionaries are confusing. 

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External Links

  • Easyscript
  • Learn a bit about this commercialized shorthand.

  • Keyscript
  • Learn a bit about this relatively new alphabetic shorthand.

  • IPA
  • The International Phonetic Association.

  • Unifon
  • A one sound one letter alphabet.

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