Is ' (the apostrophe) the only character which is not part of the English alphabet that can appear in the correct spelling of an English word?


4 Answers 4


No. A hyphen can appear in an English word as well. For example:

a five-year-old boy

  • Or mother-in-law, which is only very rarely written without hyphens. See Ngram. Nov 16, 2014 at 14:51
  • Also an en dash.
    – tchrist
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:43
  • If the example was written without the hyphens, I would consider that an error in grammar, not in spelling. Consider "There are five-year-old boys in my class" vs. "There are five year-old boys in my class". Neither of those are misspelled, but one is wrongly punctuated depending on the intended meaning. I think most people would put punctuation in the realm of grammar, not spelling. Spelling, after all, is concerned with the order of letters in a word, and hyphens aren't letters. Feb 15, 2018 at 22:14

There are the graphemes, œ and æ, which appeared first in medieval Latin to represent the Greek diphthong.

They are still used in everyday English (at least in the Queen's version), in words such as encyclopædia and fœtus. (At least they are usually written ae; those characters are not available on most keyboards).

I have noticed that Americans pronounce the first syllable of pædophile as one would pedestrian (suggesting pedophile - a lover of the feet?).

The reason they do this, presumably, is because they have lost contact with the diphthong.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diphthong

And oh dear, Wikipedia has the same wretched shortcoming. Surely it should be Wikipædia, shouldn't it?

  • 3
    I don't know, I feel like ligatures are a typographic thing, not an orthographic thing? Meaning, you could replace them with the separate characters without any change in meaning, but there's no substitution you could make to replace the apostrophe without changing the meaning of a contraction.
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:40
  • No, æ and œ are not diphthongs (two vowel sounds in a single syllable); they are monophthongs. The OED specifically addresses this misconception when they write: “As pronounced in later L., and in modern use, these are no longer diphthongs, but monophthongs; the OE. ligatures æ and œ always represented monophthongs.” As @DanBron, these are mere ligatures.
    – tchrist
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:40
  • Wait, do British people pronounce it Wiki-PAY-dee-ah? Weird!
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:44
  • @DanBron We pronounce it WikiPEEdia, to rhyme with 'Encyclopaedia'.
    – WS2
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:47
  • 3
    @WS2 Because Americans don't spell the "child" prefix paed- but ped-. And I believe the paediatrician incident was in North East England.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 16, 2014 at 19:53

If we define "a correct spelling of an English word" as one that appears in a reliable dictionary, then, like ' (the apostrophe) and - (the hyphen), we must also include / (the slash) in the repetoire of valid English orthographic characters, because and/or appears in the Oxford English Dictionary:

and/or: a formula denoting that the items joined by it can be taken either together or as alternatives. Cf. either/or.

1855 Law Jrnl. Reports 24 ii. Excheq. 199/2 The parties were to ‘load a full and complete cargo of sugar, molasses, and/or other lawful produce’..the words ‘and’ and ‘or’ being introduced into the charter-party.

1895 F. Pollock & F. W. Maitland Hist. Eng. Law I. i. v. 152 In medieval Latin vel will often stand for and... Often it is like the and/or of our mercantile documents.

1916 H. Barber Aeroplane Speaks ii. 85 The jamming of the rudder and/or elevator.

1929 Penrose's Ann. XXXI. 99 A good proportion of cotton and/or linen in the furnish of a paper.

1941 Official Gaz. Kenya 13 May 305/2 Applicants are at liberty to submit their own proposals and/or programmes for the prospecting, development, and/or mining of the Owour Area.

1960 E. Bowen Time in Rome iii. 82 The young set-apart creature, waiting at home for her fifteenth birthday and/or the next vacancy in the Atrium.

1998 N. Lawson How to Eat (1999) 68 Grate in a cooking apple and/or a quince.

  • The OED occasionally has other non-alphabetic characters in its headwords. For example "C. & W." or "Smith & Wesson". Then there are things like "AK-47".
    – tchrist
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:49
  • @tchrist, Then I think those count, too. If I remember correctly, you have some kind of OED-grepping tool; would it be easy for you to query for a comprehensive list of non-alphabetic characters used in headwords (with an example of each)? If you do, I could include them in my answer (or you could write your own answer).
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 16, 2014 at 15:51
  • 1
    I do, and that’s how I found those. The only other similar instances are a few symbols like © and ® and ℞, even "£1 coin". Note that I have not counted alphabetic characters outside of the A–Z range, of which there are a few. I haven’t counted letters in that range with diacritics, as with Allerød, Ångström, café, and jalapeño. There’s also a bit of Greek in technical terms like α-ketoisovaleric acid. You also have some Middle English with the older letters, like ælf, wiþerlaȝe, ypliȝt and þǽr rihtes. I don’t count lexemic ligatures in loanwords like œil-de-bœuf.
    – tchrist
    Nov 16, 2014 at 16:04
  • 1
    Newer OED additions with the solidus (slash) in them include nav/com and the crappy s/he, which I dislike for leaving out the poor neuters of this world and which should therefore be spelled s/h/it just like it sounds. :)
    – tchrist
    Nov 16, 2014 at 17:49
  • @tchrist Is this greppable OED available publicly? Sounds like a great tool! Nov 11, 2016 at 6:47

The ampersand (& character), is a common spelling of the word and.

  • 2
    Not exactly. That’s like saying ′ and ″ are common spellings for feet and inches, or that ¢ is a common spelling for cents, $ for dollar, # for pound, % for percent, + for plus, and so and and so forth. None of those is a “spelling”. They are signs or symbols used to mean those words, but they are not themselves words, only symbols.
    – tchrist
    Nov 16, 2014 at 20:22
  • 2
    @tchrist I once had a paperback where, presumably in an attempt to save paper, every instance of and was replaced with &; h&iwork, dem&s and so on. I never did finish with the unreadable result.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 2, 2015 at 0:12

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