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 The Online Scots Dictionary — Spelling Guide

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The Online Scots Dictionary — Spelling Guide

The traditional Scots spelling conventions used here can, on the whole, be read and pronounced in any Scots dialect. Therefore the Online Scots Dictionary usually only returns one spelling for each word based on the criterion described below.

The phonetic symbols are those used by the International Phonetic Association.

Base forms of words are usually spelled phonemically - not in a one-letter to one-sound manner but in a more graphemically economic manner. In this system position, environment and overt markers enable the same letter or cluster of letters to perform several distinct functions. Several letters or letter clusters may also represent the same sound.

Compounds and derivatives tend to be spelled morphemically, the established grapheme bases are usually retained regardless of the phonemic alterations involved. The assumption being that the reader knows the phonemic alterations that accompany the formation of derivatives and inflections. This may be a hindrance to learning Scots pronunciation from the spellings, but Scots spelling is geared for the convenience of native speakers, not for the learner.

Punctuation and Use of Capital letters

Standard English usage is followed.


Apostrophes are strictly avoided where they supposedly represent "missing" Standard English letters. These letters never were "missing" in Scots.
Apostrophes are used where they represent contracted Scots forms e.g. e'er, 'at and that's etc.


Some words which only have a slightly different pronunciation in Scots than in Scottish Standard English (usually the vowel sound), generally have same the spelling as in Standard English . Do not assume that because a word is spelled the same as in Standard English it is pronounced as such.

Some words are spelled the same as in Standard English but have a different pronunciation in Scots e.g. aunt(y), swap, want and wash etc. <a(u)> /a/. Bull, full v. and pull etc. <u> /ʌ/. Bind, find and wind v. etc. <i> /ɪ/. (Note in these words the final <d> is often silent.) Quo [ko].

Words that sound the same in Scots as in Scottish Standard English usually retain the same spelling e.g. come, for, some, the, tongue and young etc., except where a Scots spelling has become established or the words have a different 'stressed' form, e.g. A (I), ma (my), thare and thaim etc.

In some words the spellings have been altered to represent the Scots pronunciation, e.g. lenth and strenth etc.

In unstressed positions the pronunciation /ə/ may be represented by <a, e, i, o or u> i.e. aboot, the, oxter, loanin, bannock, and smeddum.

The spelling <a> is usually used finally for the vowel sound in words like awa, twa and wha etc.
Usually pronounced /ɑː/ or /ɔː/ in central dialects except South East Central where it may be pronounced /e(ː)/. In Northern dialects /aː/ prevails.

The spellings <au>, <aw>, for the vowel sound in words like faw, glaur and snaw etc.
In Southern, Central and Ulster dialects these are usually pronounced /ɑː/ or /ɔː/. In Northern dialects /a(ː)/ prevails. <aa> is only used in a few words, for example haar, and Insular Scots and caithness words derived from Norn.

The spelling <au> is usually used initially and medially, giving: auld, cauld, caunle, draucht, haund, laund, saund, and wauken etc.
The cluster <auld> is also pronounced /ʌul/ in Ulster.
Note laund has an unstressed vowel in compounds and is spelled land e.g. hieland and Scotland etc.

The spelling <aw> is usually used finally, giving: braw, draw, gnaw, law, maw, saw, and claw etc.

In Mid Northern Scots, in the words above, <au> may be pronounced /(j)aː/ and final <aw> may be pronounced /(j)aːv/.

The spelling <aw> is also used where Standard English cognates have <all>, giving: aw, awbody, baw, caw and haw. etc.

The spelling <a-e>, usually used initially and medially, for the vowel /e/ in words like brae, face, gate, hale and hame etc. In Northern Scots that vowel in the cluster <-ane> is pronounced /i/ e.g. ane, ance, bane, stane etc. /i/ also occurs in a few words such as ace and dame.

The spelling <ae>, usually used finally, for the vowel /e/ in words such as ae, frae, sae and strae etc. Note ae may be /je:/ in southern and central dialects. <ae> occasionally occurs medially in words such as claes and faem.

The spelling <ai> is usually used initially and medially . The pronunciation often varies between /e(ː)/ and /ɛ/, especially before /r/, giving: aiple, airm, bairn, braith, cairt, cairn, jaiket, lair, pair, pairt, sair, shairp, stair and wairm etc.
Some spellings with <e> may occur e.g. ferm and hert etc.

The spelling <ay>, usually used finally, for the vowel /e(ː)/ in words such as day, gray, lay, pray and say etc.

In Mid Northern Scots a /k/ before <a-e> and <ai> often produces a yod-gilde + /a/, /kja/ in words like caird, cake and curn. Similarly with <naC-> /nja/ in words like nakit, naiter and naig. In Mid Northern Scots /əi/ often occurs especially after /w/ e.g. wait, wale and wame etc.

The spelling <ea>, used initially and medially, in common with many Standard English cognates. Though in Standard English the spelling represents two pronunciations /i(ː)/ as in meat and /ɛ/ as in head.
In Scots <ea> is usually pronounced /i(ː)/ or /e(ː)/ depending on dialect or particular words giving: eat, east, beard, lead v., heap, beast, read, creash, ease, meal, meat, gear and fear etc.
The pronunciation /ɛ/ may occur before /r/ in words like early, earn, hearth, lear, learn and search etc.

The spelling <ei> is also used used initially and medially in Scots to represent the /i(ː)/ or /e(ː)/ pronunciations. Especially where Standard English cognates have <ea> as in head in for example deith, eith, beir, breid, breinge, deid, deif, dreid, eleiven, heid, leid n., meidae, pleisur, seicont, seiven, sweir, teir v. and weir etc.

In Mid Northern Scots <ea> and <ei> are often pronounced /əi/, especially after /w/, in words such as quean, sweit, weave and also weed etc.

The spelling <ea> is retained in words pronounced the same in Scots and Scottish Standard English in words such as read (past tense).

The spelling <e-e> is usually always pronounced /i(ː)/ in words such as fere and here etc.

The spelling <ee> for the vowel /i(ː)/, except in Southern Scots, when root final, the pronunciation is /əi/, in words such as creep,ee, feel, freend, freet, leed, neebour, neer, permeesion, wee, seek, weel and weet etc. The spelling <ea> occasionally occurs in a few words such as lea, plea, sea and tea.

The digraph <ei> before <ch> /x/ is usually pronounced /i/ in words such as dreich, heich, skeich and wheich etc.

The spelling <ei> pronounced /i(ː)/ occurs in a few words such as deil, neist and speir.

The spelling <ie>, also /i(ː)/, usually before <v>, <l> and in words shared with Standard English such as bield, chief, chield, lief, nieve, scrieve, shield and shielin etc.

The spelling <ie>, for /i(ː)/, is used finally in words such as gie and hie etc.

The traditional terminal digraph <ie> is used for diminutives giving: grannie, laddie, lassie, shoppie and wifie etc.

<ie> and <y> are used for forming adjectives, <ie> tends to be used in particularly Scots words and <y> in words the same or similar to Standard English.<y> is usually used for adverbial endings giving: reekie, pernicketie, sairy, stany, stourie, brawly, bonnily, cannie, cannily, feckly, fully, geyly, likely, specially, sairly, shuirly and uncoly etc.
The internal inconsistency caused by unpredicatably using <ie> or <y> will be found on this site. Some writers simply use one or the other.

When forming the participle from verbs ending in <ie> the <ie> changes to <y> giving cairyin and couryin etc.

The spelling <e> for the vowel /ɛ/ in words such as dern, ken, gled, ferm and yett etc.

The spelling <eu> represents the diphthong pronounced either /(j)u/ or /(j)ʌ/ depending on dialect,in words such as beuk, eneuch, teuch, neuk and heuch etc. (See also <ui> below.)

The spelling <ew> is used for the initial and final diphthong /ju/ in words such as ewest, new and tew etc. In Northern dialects a final <ew> may be pronounced /jʌu/.

The spelling <i> for the short vowel in words such as bird, brig, find, kist, shilpit, whisper, will, wir, wird, wirm, wirthy, and wittins etc.
The pronunciation often varies between /ɪ/ and /ʌ/ especially after <w> and <wh>. The pronunciation /ï/ (/æ̈/) also occurs in Antrim and /ɛ̈/ in some Northern dialects and Donegal.
Some writers spell some of the above words with <u>.

The spelling <i-e> for the diphthong /əi/ or /aɪ/ in words pronounced similarly in Scots and Scottish Standard English e.g. wife, knife, thrice and lice etc. Particularly Scots words are often spelled with the traditional Scots <y-e> e.g. dyke, fyle, syne and tyne etc.

The traditional spelling <y> is used in words like wynd and also in mynd (mind) and kynd (kind) in order to indicate the Scots pronunciation difference from words like find (find) and bind (bind) - rhyme with 'pinn(ed)'.

Some writers use <y-e> in all words with that diphthong.

The spellings <y>, <ye>, <ey> are used for that diphthong in words such as aye (always), ay (yes), kye etc.
<ey> also represents that sound initially and finally in words such as eydent, cley, gey, pey and wey etc.

<o> and <oa> have merged to /o/ in many dialects but some retain the distiction between /ɔ/ and /o/. In Mid Northern Scots, after /k/, /wəi/ may occur in wirds such as coal and coat etc.

The spellings <ow> and <owe> (finally) for the diphthong /ʌu/ in words such as growe, growthe, thowe, howff, dowie, fowk, lowp and cowp etc.
Before <k> The diphthong <ow> may be vocalised to /o/ e.g. bowk, fowk and yowk etc.

The spelling <oo> is used for the vowel sound /u(ː)/ in words like hoose, aboot and soond in order to avoid confusing <ou> with the Standard English pronunciation.

The traditional Scots spelling <ou> for /u(ː)/ is used in all other words where confusion with the Standard English pronunciation is unlikely. For example allou, brou, broun, bouk, cou, coum, cour, dou, doun, dout, fou, hou, nou, poupit, sou, thoum and you etc.

In Southern Scots, when final, <ou> and <oo> are pronounced /ʌu/.

The spelling <u-e> for the vowel sound /u(ː)/ in words such as dule, bure and hure etc.

The spelling <u> for the vowel sound /ʌ/ in words such as dubs, bull, drumly and hunder etc.

The spelling <ui> for the vowel sound in words such as guid, ruif, tuim, spuin, puir, juist and truith etc. This is pronounced /y/ or /øː/ in conservative dialects. In Northern dialects, Donegal and Mid Down this is usually pronounced /i(ː)/ and in Mid Northern /wi/ after /g/ and /k/. In North Northern Scots <ui> before <r> is pronounced /uːr/.In North East Central Scots, North Antrim and Northeast Derry <ui> is often only pronounced /e(ː)/. In Central dialects, Mid Antrim and North Down this is pronounced /ɪ/ when short and /eː/ when long. (See the Scots Vowel-Length Rule in Phonetic Symbols).

Note uise and uiss are [jeːz] and [jɪs] in central dialects.
Many of these words have Standard English cognates which are spelled <oo> as a result some writers mistakenly spell some words with <ui> where, in fact, they should be spelled <eu>. Before /k/ and /x/ the original vowel sound became /(j)u/ or /(j)ʌ/ depending on dialect. (See <eu> above.)
Note fit (foot), room, wid (wood) and oo (wool).

The spelling <ch> for /x/ or /ç/ in words such as loch, dreich, brocht and nicht, In Mid Northern Scots medial and final <cht> is sometimes pronounced /θ/ in words such as dochter and micht etc. Word initial <ch> usually represents /ʧ/ in words such as chield, cheetie and chouk and where it follows <r> in words like airch. Otherwise <tch> in words such as catch and pootch etc.
The cluster <nch> is always pronounced /nʃ/ in words such as brainch, clinch, dunch, French, hainch, Inch etc.

The spelling <c> for /s/ is usually used before the letters <e> and <i>. Such words are generally of Romance origin, giving: censor, ceevil, cedent, ceil and mediciner etc.

Initial <c> for /k/ is usually used:

Before vowels, spelled <a>, <ai>, <au>, <aw>, <o>, <oa>, <oo>, <ou> and <u>.
Before the vowel sound (a few exceptions) spelled <ui>,
Before the diphthong spelled <ow>, <owe>.
Before <l> and <r>,
giving caw, caddie, carle, caird, cairt, cleid, creash, cou, cloot, croun, coff, corrupt, cosy, cruldge, cushat, cowp, cowt, cley, cryne, cuist and cuit etc.

Initial <k> is usually used:

Before the vowels spelled <e> and <ei>, <ee> and <ea>.
A few exceptions with the vowels spelled <ai> and <ae> and <ui>, exist, before the diphthong spelled <i-e> and <y-e>.
Before <n>, giving: keek, keeng, kebbock, Keith, kelter, ken, kye, kyte, kythe, kail, kaim and knife etc.

Initial <sc> is usually used:

Before the vowels, spelled <a>, <aa>, <au>, <aw>, <oo>, <ou>, <o>, <oa>, <u> and <ui>,
before the diphthong spelled <ow> and <owe>,
before <l> and <r>,
giving: scantlins, sclaff, sclate, scaud, scaur, scaw, scone, scoor, scowe, scouth, scunner, scrieve and scuip etc.

Initial <sk> is usually used:

Before vowels spelled <ai>, <ae> and <a-e>,
before the diphthong spelled <i-e> and <y-e>,
giving: skail, skaith, skelf, skelp, skeel, skirl, skive, skyme and skyte etc.

The terminal <ck> is used at the end of words like beck, feck, and puddock etc.

The terminal <le> is used in words like muckle, souple and trauchle. This should be changed to <el> in the past tense and past participle to give soupelt and trauchelt etc.

Single letter final vowel spellings in two letter words avoid homographs. The single vowel spelling is usually an abbreviation of the two letter spelling it is pronounced as such.

<e> = <ee> in be and we.
<y> = <ye> in by.
Note: <i> in wi and <y> by and is usually pronounced /ɪ/. /i/ also occurs and /e/ is common in the West and Ulster.
Note: <o> in jo and no is usually pronounced /o(ː)/.

The final lexical <e> in verbs preventing homographs of plural nouns in brouse - brous, please - pleas, tease - teas etc.

The initial <th> in thanks, thing, awthing and think is often pronounced /h/.
The final <g> in thing is often silent. It is used in writing because the final <ing> is not the suffix for the gerund or present participle. This word is cognate with German Ding and Scandinavian ting.

Final <the> to indicate the voiced consonant /ð/ in bathe, kythe, laithe and skaithe etc.

The pronunciation /s/ or /z/ for final <s> or elided and genitive forms with <'s> or <s'>.
The pronunciation /s/usually occurs after /f/,/k/, /p/, /t/, /θ/ and /x/. e.g. laifs, wifes, wife's, lochs and threaps etc.

The pronunciation /z/ usually occurs in plurals ending with <es> and after a vowel sound or /b/, /d/, /g/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /r/, /v/, /ð/ and /ŋ/. e.g. dous, haunds, ludges, steams, gie's, his, hers and thairs etc.

Final <ss> is usually pronounced /s/ e.g. miss, bliss, bress, uiss and wiss etc.

Final <se> is more complicated and it may be worthwhile consulting a pronunciation dictionary.
Final <se> is usually pronounced /s/after short vowels, /l/, /n/, /p/ and (long vowels before) /r/.
e.g. coorse, grilse, hoose, manse, mense and traipse etc.
Final <se> is usually pronounced /z/ after long vowels and diphthongs. e.g. jalouse, lowse, phrase, please and uise etc.

<wh> /ʍ/ is always used for the older <quh>. The Mid Northern and North Northern Scots (North East, Caithness) pronunciation is usually /f/ in all words and the South Northern Scots (Angus) pronunciation is /f/ in interrogatives only.

<z> for /z/, is seldom used in Scots, though it does occur in some words as a substitute for the older <ȝ> (yogh) representing the pronunciations /ŋ/, /ŋj/ and /nj/. <> became /lj/. This has led to a number of variants using the spellings <z>, <y>, <n> and <ng>. e.g. brulzie - brulyie, gaberlunzie - gaberlunyie, senzie - senyie, Cockenzie - Cockennie, Mackenzie - Mackennie and Menzies - Mingis etc.

Double consonants

As in Standard English, in disyllabic words where the first syllable is stressed, the consonant following the single vowel in the first syllable is doubled giving blatter, watter, verra, fremmit, biggit, dizzen, donnert and butter etc.
The following letters are not doubled. <h, j, q, v, w, x,> and <y>.

Double consonants are avoided where simple differences to Standard English spelling exist.


The internal consonant in the past tense and past perfect of verbs like sell, tell, spell and coff become single giving selt, telt, spelt and coft etc.

Emphatic and Unemphatic Forms

Many words have stressed (emphatic) and unstressed forms, especially pronouns, adverbs and some verbs. These are not usually indicated in writing. e.g. A (I), an (and), are, for, ma (my), thaim (them), thair (their), and thare (there).
Some writers use spelling variations to reflect the use of stressed an unstressed forms.

Silent Letters

Some letters in Scots words are not pronounced.

In Many dialects the terminal <d> of <nd> and <ld> is usually silent but is often pronounced in the derived forms (especially past tenses) of many words. In order to achieve orthographic consistency such words are spelled with the <nd>, e.g. haund and soond, and haundit and soondit. Entries in dictionaries often include the terminal <d> in brackets, e.g. haun(d), soon(d), sen(d).
In many words the final <d> of a medial <nd> is also silent. Many words no longer have the <d> pronounced at all. Such words are now spelled using a medial <nn> or <n>.
I consider spellings like bind, blind, find and wind adequate. Some writers use spellings like finn(d) in order to indicate the Scots pronunciation.

Similarly the final <d> in <ld> is often silent in some dialects, but is often pronounced in the derived forms of many words. In order to achieve orthographic consistency such words are spelled with the <ld>, e.g. auld and cauld.

The <t> after medial <ch> /x/, in medial <st> and before final <en> e.g. cuisten, fochten, frichten, kirsten, lichtnin, listen, tichten and saften etc.

Final <ct> and <pt> are often silent. These are often written <ck> and <p> although the <t> is often pronounced in derived forms e.g. act, attempt, contact, corrupt, fact and tempt etc.

Connected Speech

Words are of course written as separate units but in everyday speech there is a difference in the pronounciation of words in isolation and in connected speech. The changes are usually regular an predictable.
This usually involves:

Deletion - or the loss of sounds similar to the silent letters explained above.
Assimilation- where a sound changes to become like a neibouring sound.
Reduction - here vowels are reduced to /ɪ/ or /ə/.

This occurs in Scots much the same as it does in Standard English.

Glottal Stops

Glottal stops are not represented in writing.

Place Names

The spellings of many place names on maps predate the introduction of Standard English to Scotland, therefore those cannot be described as "English" names. Such place names have come to be pronounced, in English, according the the spelling-to-sound correspondences of Standard English rather than those of Older Scots. The Older Scots pronunciations of such placenames being the precursors to the Modern Scots ones.

Place names derived from Pictish, Gaelic, Old Norse and Old English, such as Aberdeen, Alyth, Glasgow, Pittenweem, Sorbie, Springkell, Torphin and Yetholm, are usually meaningless to Scots speakers so, in this dictionary, are spelt as pronounced using the Modern Scots conventions described above. That results in some of the map spellings being modified slightly while others remain the same giving Aiberdeen, Ailyth, Glesgae, Pittenweem, Sorbie, Springkell, Torphin and Yettham.

In some place names, such as Aquhorthies, Boquhan, Blairquhan and Urquhart, the Older Scots spelling <quh> occurs representing the sounds that are now usually spelt <wh> /ʍ/ and <ch> /x/ giving Auchorthies, Bowhan, Blairwhan and Urchart.

In some place names, such as Cadzow, Culzean, Dalziel, Drumelzier, Finzean and Kirkgunzeon, <z> is used in place of the older yogh <ȝ> as described above. Here <z> is replaced following the conventions described above giving Cadyou, Cullain, Diyel, Drumelyer, Fingan and Kirkguneon.

Recognisable Scots place name elements that appear on maps are often spelt using Standard English conventions such as bridge, coat, fold, ford, haugh, hall, home, hollow, holm, knoll, moor, nook, ridge, town, wood and gate. Those, and others, are spelt using the Scots conventions described above giving brae, brig, burn, carse, cot, fauld, fuird, hauch, haw, hame, howe, howm, knowe, law, muir, neuk, rig, shaw, shiel, toun, wid and yett.